MT MOUNTAIN “COSMOS TERROS” ALBUM LAUNCH @ THE ROSEMOUNT, SATURDAY MAY 14 & THE GREENS URBAN FOREST PLAN LAUNCH @ STATE LIBRARY OF WA, MONDAY MAY 16
Edward the Uber driver ferries me along Vincent Street, past the deserted dark of Hyde Park, which is also called boodjamooling, and which centers on one of the surviving lakes from Perth’s ancient wetlands network. We get to the Fitzgerald/Angove corner, I descend to the bitumen and swing Edward’s Lancer door shut with a soft thud.
Through the beer garden and a couple of corridors, a bright doorway opens into a dark room, ERASERS on stage at the far end. The duo, comprising Rebecca Orchard and Rupert Thomas, glide into a gorgeously lopsided beat that I first heard at this same venue a few months back – shuffling skewed drum patterns held down by gooey synth chords and airy vocals. Some unhurried pools of ruby-red ambience, then album standout ‘Haze and Clouds’ and a percussion-heavy newie with big, emphatic chord shifts. Almost every time I see Erasers they sound subtly better than the last: song transitions more seamless, production more nuanced, delivery more effortless and exacting. Their music seems to grow and evolve slowly but stridently, like the remote plants and sprawling landscapes it readily evokes.
Ostensibly worlds away, but somehow resulting in a smooth segue, we now have peddlers of heaviness SKULLCAVE. Based on chats I’ve had it seems like this relatively new band has polarized opinion – with some hailing them as the fresh princes of sludgey loudness, and others dismissing them as doom poseurs trying too hard not quite hitting the mark. I go into it optimistically, although certainly expecting a showcase of tried-and-true doom metal tropes, per my recollections from In The Pines. What I’m met with is actually a whole lot of variation, with the power trio traversing post-Motorhead chug, Sleep-like stoner lumbering, the melodic-monolith approach of Pelican and, occasionally, the sparse grimness endemic to the doom-drone genre. All up their monochrome eclecticism probably reminds me most of Boris and their myriad experiments. Some moments are less convincing than others – occasionally, for example, the group’s vocals sound feebly high and thin against the Marshall-stack onslaught – but when it comes off, it’s wildly satisfying. No doubt some of the criticism leveled at Skullcave arises from their history: all three members once formed the instrumental component of notorious garage-rock upstarts The Novocaines, whose adolescent rock star affectations occasionally got the better of them. Not that that has any bearing on Skullcave’s sound, but I guess purists might see them as dilettantes, dabblers. I for one am a huge fan of dilettantism and dabbling and think more people should partake. If anything, Skullcave’s poppier pedigree lends a melodic bent and structural focus that – if employed tastefully – could come to set them apart.
Anyway, their last song is the best one. More guttural vocals, dramatic sparse sludge explosions and crushing riffs culminate in an epic slow-burner; a fitting end to a impressive set.
We put away some cool Swanny D in the equally chilly beer garden and enjoy the warm sounds of ANDREW SINCLAIR and ISABELLA HENDERSON on DJ duty, before heading back in for TANGLED THOUGHTS OF LEAVING. I haven’t seen these guys for ages but they seem to enjoy this near-legendary status and I’m keen to catch up on their loud and intricate explorations.
We ease in with melancholic piano, which to my ear is often terminally cheesy in a heavy rock context. But they make it work, and soon enough we’re awash in their singular brand of tight but impressionistic instrumental heft.
Is it post-rock? Prog? Math rock? None of these terms quite fit but, moreover, words seem totally redundant in the face of these hectic qualia, which grip your senses like a vice and throw you down a whirlpool of abstract beauty and violence. If I have one criticism – and I do – it’s that this set goes on a bunch too long; TTOL seem to think their music requires a long duration to do its thing successfully. I disagree, given that these tunes feel gripping at first, then merely impressive, and eventually just blur into a bloated horizon. John Cage advised us that “if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four; if still boring, then eight; then sixteen, then thirty-two” and so on, until one discovers fascination in the apparently boring thing. Thing is, Tangled Thoughts of Leaving are fascinating within twenty minutes: maybe they needn’t double it or double it again.
Over to MT MOUNTAIN. If you want to know what these darkly-clad boys are about you’ll find all the clues in their name. Bigness, density, hardness, immensity. Mount, mountain, repeat, repetition. They mount the stage with keys, guitars, drums, amps and retro oil-lamp projection in tow, sinking swiftly into a slate-grey paisley murk somewhere in the overlapping lineage of Sabbath and Floyd.
Steady, reverberating vocals curdle under thick, opiated blues riffs that boom and slap the back wall. Drums pound with an impressive sense of inevitability. Guitars and keys coagulate into something simultaneously ferocious and passive, like a mountain as lava dutifully spews up, abiding by the forces of nature and the cosmos.
All this occurs, but to what end? I wish I could say I loved Mt Mountain’s set, firstly because I really like the guys in the band, secondly (and more importantly) because I sympathize with their aesthetic project and I don’t believe psychedelic rock is necessarily redundant or passé. Their playing is impeccable, their sound is cohesive, their songs are, at worst, not overtly hackneyed or imitative. So what’s the problem?
Perhaps in part it’s the dispassionate delivery – making big sounds like it’s no big deal, indeed like it’s not much fun. Certainly that’s cooler than flapping around like a toddler who just discovered bubbles, but it also saps the viewer’s energy. Probably more to the point, this palette of “psychedelic” sound is generally too well-trodden to invoke the ideals and feelings it derives from: experimentation, giddiness, the abandonment of stability and decorum. While technically impressive, artistically it all feels too easy; there are no surprises, no risks. Don’t get me wrong: I neither expect nor want every band I hear to reinvent their genre of choice. But given Mt Mountain’s patent skill and work ethic, I’d expect them to want to push their creative limits more. Maybe that’s on the agenda. Time will tell.
Two nights later I find myself in the 200-seat seminar room at the State Library of Western Australia. I say “I find myself” because I really didn’t expect to be here, I was heading home and found out the Greens were launching an “urban forest” plan, I thought why not. As I enter I encounter a few buddies and then – pleasant surprise of the day – it becomes apparent that MEI SARASWATI is going to sing to kick off proceedings. Bravely taking up the reverb-bereft wireless lecture mic, she first attends to her laptop, leading us through a suburban ecology soundscape: birds, insects, water and leaves woven over a backdrop of cars and metropolitan hum. Then she sings – the song is “Swamp Gospel” – and ode to that now near-invisible wetlands network I rode past on my way to the Rosemount. Halfway through her laptop craps out, leaving her in the lurch in front of 200+ silent Greens supporters. The consummate casual professional, Mei sings the second verse a capella, resulting in a triumphant recovery and a truly moving communal moment. Having this followed up by Dr. Noel Nannup’s words of wisdom and hope, informed by thousands of years of aboriginal spirituality, is almost too much for the heart to handle. Scott Ludlam outlining the Greens’ plan to implement green corridors to reconnect existing ecologies is the icing on the cake I guess, I’ve already got more than I bargained for. If Mt Mountain riff on the colossal indifference of rocky peaks; if Tangled Thoughts of Leaving channel the arcane and overwhelming dynamics of a thunderstorm; if Skullcave celebrate that hillside skull-cave fixture at Adventure World, if Erasers take your imagination soaring across endless patterned plains, and if Mei Saraswati sings the swamp gospel – it is surely because the landscape speaks so directly to the soul, and in turn the soul speaks so readily through music. OK, the skull cave at Adventure World doesn’t really fit into this equation very well. But you get the point.