COOL PERTH RELEASES: END-OF-SPRING HIGHLIGHTS '14
KUCKA – “DIVINITY” (Digital single)
“Cultivating…interest” come the first few whisper-sung syllables of “Divinity” and heck, if there’s one musical conjurer in Perth who’s relentlessly good at doing that, it’s KUCKA. The solo/trio musical brainchild of Laura Jane-Lowther has a flawless track record of counterposing leftfield mystery to hi-fi pop moreishness in such a way that, at the very least, your curiosity will be piqued. This new moody burner is no exception, though it is a dip into new, crepuscular sonic waters.
We kick off with a dry, thin robo-snare stuttering itself into a semiquaver anacrusis – unabashedly announcing the tune’s brooding trap leanings from the outset – before sinking into a warm black bathtub of vapourous synth, deep humming bass, tight offbeat fingerclicks, rose petal arpeggiations and – what is that, filtered radio noise? All up, a heady brew.
The track is co-produced by fellow local wunderkind James Ireland and it shows: typically there’s something more sparse, glitchy and faintly alien about Lowther’s production, whereas “Divinity” sends a syncopated trip-hop panther slinking through a swirling haze in a way that definitely smacks of Ireland’s beatsmithy (both solo and with trio Savoir). Overall, the vibe is arguably less idiosyncratic than past outings – particularly the fringe concrete-pop tinkerings of Kucka’s debut EP – and compares readily to say, a darker Tokimonsta offering or Purity Ring tune. But that distinctive Kucka character still cuts through, particularly in Lowther’s vocal delivery – which is her most self-assured, crisp and compelling to date.
Around the three-minute mark, after one of the song’s memorable choruses,
HIDEOUS SUN DEMON – “SWEAT” (LP)
“Hideous Sun Demon” cleared out everyone’s sinuses at Camp Doogs a few weeks back, and they’re about to do so again by dropping this big hot slab of wax/plastic/audio data on our dopey mugs. “SWEAT” is an urgent and fitting document of the band’s volcanic, taut, irreverent sound – captured in crisp high quality, but with strictly no frills, as though Steve Albini oversaw tracking and production. Who DID record this? I’d like to know. It sounds great. Anyway, the songs:
Opening tunes “Flex” and “Moan For Jesus” announce a sort of unhinged, neo-60’s psychobilly/garage vibe, which sits somewhere between ECSR and early Horrors – the latter evoked mainly by fuzzy, slapback-laden, nasal vocals. “Brick Lover” opens with a crusty drum machine which nods in other directions, however, and gradually the aesthetic opens up: there’s “It’s Velcro” and its pissed-off motorik stride; “Ego Shred” with its swampy slow-burn blues (recalling that “Perth sound” circa 2008); the blazing proto-punk straightforwardness of “Work” and “Thanks Kim.” Other offerings like “Wraparound Renaissance” (fucking amazing title, btw) and “Neon Sound” lend a bit more “stoner” riffing to the mix, though invariably have recourse to the scuzzy garage that is at the heart of HSD’s sound.
Everybody’s pulling their weight here. From the no-bullshit yet paradoxically jazzy touch of Blake-on-Drums, to the nimble thump of Jake-on-Bass, the impressive but never flashy thrash-n-wail of Andy-on-Guitar and the intense, eccentric but never cartoonish croon/spit-of-Vincent, the quartet form a collective to be reckoned with. This is most evident in the live setting, when vision and kinetic energy propels things along, but these recordings are as full of life as you could hope. If I had to criticise one aspect, it’d be duration: the first two songs are aptly brief, but some latter tracks manage to overstay their welcome, and explore unnecessary pro detours. There’s nothing wrong with long or complex punk songs, but such excursions need breathing room – and with everything (especially guitars) going full bore throughout, “SWEAT” threatens to exhaust the ears at times. Or maybe I’m just chickenshit? Up for debate. Anyway, you CAN have too much of a good thing. I should know. I just ate an entire “Large” cheese pizza (admittedly, I regret nothing).
It’ll be interesting to see where these fellers go next. In any case, “SWEAT” is a great summation of their loud and perspiratory existence to date. If you like your post-punk bluesy, your blues fucked-up, and your fucked-up fantasies and mental monologues embedded in heavy riffing and noise, this is your jam.
SAVOIR – “MALALA b/w ETERNAL” (12” Single)
Phwoar. Local power trio Savoir – who unite much more talent than is fair or reasonable, via Andrew Sinclar, Mei ‘Saraswati’ Swan and James Ireland – have finally served up some fresh tuna. I say “finally” because their last offering was the phenomenal “Zinli Rhythm” which kicked off 2013, and since then we’ve all been on tenterhooks. I don’t even know what a tenterhook is but I know I’ve been on one.
Luckily, if predictably, this pair of ebullient jams is worth the wait. “Malala” opens with pattering marimba, vamping chords and slinky rhodes in the Ethiopian jazz vein, before Mei drops in with her unmistakable, RnB-informed melodics. A cheeky snare grabbs you by the scruff and then, oh yes, the kick is pumping and there is literally no escpae from the groove. We’re now in the throes of a ferociously life-affirming afrohouse workout, infused with Mei’s beautiful and refreshingly unironic lyrics paying tribute to the titular peace and education advocate, Malala Yousafzai.
“Eternal” is (perhaps fittingly) less immediate, but just as finely crafted a tune. It rides along at a laid-back hip hop tempo, underpinned by blown out kicks, shuffling hi-hats, throbbing bass and tiney electric piano. This song probably won’t get the thrashing that “Malala” will, though in some ways it’s more compositionally rich: metallic percussion weaves itself around phrases, textures come and go dynamically, and Mei layers subtle but utterly glorious harmonies onto the ends of her lines. The chorus is simultaneously monochrome-minimal and deeply funky, like a horizon pulsating with potential. I’m feeling like the song is probably about the cyclical nature of the universe, the endless rotation of energy in the cosmos, the interconnectedness of all things; “Eternal’s” pronounced philosophising couples handsomely with the contemplative instrumental. Which moves along gleefully: there are some charming old school RZA-esque moments where the beat drops out for added drama, and finally, in the song’s most curious turn, we’re treated to a sort of Madlib-style lounge-hop reworking of the theme.
While one part of me just wants more Savoir music, all the time, another part of me wonders if the sparseness of releases is a sort of clandestine mercy. Many more tunes of this calibre and the rest of us are just going to look plain silly.
HAMJAM – “s/t” (10”/digital EP)
Hamjam Bandcamp. Try saying that seven times fast. Or, if you DON’T want to feel like an idiot, visit the damn webby page itself and listen to their debut eponymous EP, ‘cause that’s a smart move.
Look, I admit, there’s a cynical little voice inside me that asks “does the world really need another garage rock record in the slacker tradition that references mundane mid-20s hedonism and slathers on the reverb?” and of course the answer is, when you hear an example of that as good as this, you just hand that little voice a beer and tell it to shut up.
Hamjam consists primarily of Hamish Rahn and James Ireland (cripes, Jimmy’s cropping up a lot this week eh! the veritable Timbaland of the Perth underground), though other buddies join them for real-world parties.
These songs are deceptively crusty-sounding – not far below the lo-fi surface lies very nifty playing, sweet vocal harmonies that recall acts as slick as The Byrds, and a thoughtful, mellow, songwriting approach. In this way (as well as in others, such as the warbly vibrato guitar effect), Hamjam have a kindred spirit in Mac DeMarco – whose ne’er-do-bathe aesthetic and feckless persona belies his evident commitment to musicality and craftsmanship.
Plenty of listeners out there are understandably disinterested in music that outwardly channels and reworks 1960’s guitar band tropes. But then you get sneaky mavericks like DeMarco, Ty Segall and indeed Perth’s own Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) who find exhilarating new life in those spheres. Hamjam are on a similar tip, embracing the simplicity, fun and wistful familiarity of garage pop before running it through the lens of self-awareness and creative remaining. So slap on the sunscreen babe and jump on board before you’re asking yourself why you didn’t sooner.
GUNNS – “The Fool” (Digital Single)
Gunns’ sound orbits the same star as HAMJAM’s, which is unsurprising when you consider that Hamish and James are both <>in Gunns. But then again, that might be mixing up cause and effect. Gunns existed before those guys joined up, and I guess like-minded explorers attract.
“The Fool,” released on the ever-rising Spinning Top Music juggernaut (Tame Impala, Pond, Felicity Groom, Peter Bibby etc), sheds a bit of the surfy beachside abandon usually present in Gunns’ inventory in exchange for a more introspective, ambling fuzz-fest. There’s a toothy synth arpeggio smiling melancholically over the slow guitar strums, both of which are ultimately nudged ever-forward by an optimistic rhythmic section.
The sun comes out, warm and tingly, in the chorus, and you want to hug your family. Real nice work, Gunners.
HAMJAM & GUNNS – SPLIT 7”
Fuck it, we’re on a roll with these two, so why not see it out?
These joined-at-the-hip acts are now officially joined-at-the-vinyl, releasing a song each on either side of a Synthetic Resin Phonograph Disc sheathed in the HAWTest dang record artwork (it’s by Killer Acid – pictured!) you’re gonna see all summer, or I’ll eat my swimming trunks.
HAMJAM’s side, “Double Ride” is a sublime bit of flattened-out, crunched-up post-Beatles pop. Woody bass forms the tune’s robust skeleton, while lithe lead guitar and gospelly organ skate over the sepia slopes. Eventually, weirdly overblown and hollowed out guitar soars in from another dimension and sends shockwaves through the biodome, in Hamjam’s most genuinely and satisfyingly psychedelic moment to date. Damn, this song is Good To Listen To!
Gunn’s “Give Me Sunshine” is tipsy-on-sangria flower-pop run through a fuzz pedal and a rotary speaker, served on ice with a fat wedge of lemon. Tambourine oscillates in your skull like a jingly piston. And while it’s a good-timey song with massive singalong potential, there’s a healthy dash of darkness in there too. The solo – which might be a synth, guitar, or alien flute of some kind – is nicely spooky, and noisy detritus eddies around. Damn, this song is Good To Listen To Too!