SUPER WILD HORSES @ THE BIRD, SATURDAY MAY 25
Feeling free as a brumby, I stroll past the cemetery. My nonchalance backfires, and the train roars past up ahead. Saturday night in Perth: the next train is not for over half an hour. With a furrowed brow I kick pebbles on the roadside and hail down a cab. We pick up a buddy of mine en route, and after a good few minutes confabulation with the particularly vivacious taxi driver, jump out at William Street’s night-darkened corner.
We arrive as the DIANAS are setting up. Never ones for banter, they don’t introduce themselves, preferring to slip surreptitiously into one of the most remarkable harmony-driven minimal-rock songs I’ve heard in ages. When I first saw Dianas, I was immediately won over; but it was by a sound that was (at the time) deeply rooted in 1960s pop and DIY tropes, familiar sounds reworked into something wonderful but not necessarily sustainable forever (BYO nostalgia/fossil fuels analogy). Tonight, though not a perfect set, tells me that Dianas are in it for the long haul (if they want to be) – new songs, more inventive arrangements, a wider breadth of influences and generally more creative ambition. Dianas never sounded cliché, but some of these new tunes – in which drums pummel unpredictably, bass zig-zags melodically in its upper register and harmonies see-saw intriguingly from major to minor tonalities – make you realise just how much prodigious potential this band has. At the same time, this is no contrived or jarring new approach – simply a growth, and the fresh ideas sit comfortably alongside their established surfy/garage/dark-bubblegum-pop aesthetic. (Dark bubblegum? This is why people hate music journalists! I’m going to hell!) The set rounds out with a particularly thoughtful, broody and powerful track evoking the sunburned Old West; it’s a tune that’s reminiscent of Natalie Pavlovic’s more somber compositions within her other band the Big Old Bears. Here, rather than a lack of focus, I infer a willingness to expand beyond people’s idea of what a given band represents. Besides which, a little cross-pollination never goes astray.
We duck over the road to the thoroughly exciting FEYEK show at the Kickstart Youth Hub, sadly only lingering for a short spell, receiving fresh coffee from its pop-up café and hurrying back into the Bird before it reaches capacity and we’re locked out.
GUNNS are prompt in making us feel okay about returning to The Bird. The group’s gone through something of a line-up shuffle, now featuring Chemist keysman/HAMJAM skinsman/Savoir member and you-beaut beat producer James Ireland at the drum kit. His style is self-taught but totally dynamic and deft, providing an enviable backbone for Clinton Oliver and Jenny Aslett to graft their hefty guitar/bass layers onto. The sum of the parts is a thick, hulking mass of rumble and crunch, building and dipping but certainly never stopping for a breath. Despite remaining clearly indebted to bands such as Wavves and Thee Oh Sees, they’ve now reached an equilibrium of uniqueness, as readily channeling early Nirvana as the aforementioned Californians. Gunns may not have set out to reinvent the garage-punk wheel, but with with their tremendous balls and newfound tightness (they used to affect just a bit too much slacker-style sloppiness), they duly remind you just how satisfying and bracing that wheel can be.
SUPER WILD HORSES emerge from the now dense throng, hinting at their preoccupations as they set up short-scale 1960s guitars and a wheezy-looking analog synth sat precariously over the floor tom. I first saw the duo of Amy Franz and Hayley McKee back in early 2009 (time flies!) and wrote some vaguely positive things about them in this here mailout, but was ultimately pretty unmoved by their set and their cutesy shambolic shtick. This time round (while certainly not chief ambassadors of instrumental prowess and rhythmic slickness) they seem to have committed themself to upping the ante musically, and it’s paid dividends. The twin vocals align gracefully, even when projected as chihuahua-like yelps; the guitar playing is solid and pleasantly varied. Franz and McKee swap instruments regularly, relaying between guitar and kit, and similarly alternating lead vocals – it’s a testament to their musical compatibility that the various configurations don’t come across as separate entities but rather cohesive variations on a theme. Fresh to the mix are diversions into dreamy country contemplations, some intriguing covers and a keen understanding of when to ramp up the dynamics. Mind you, the clean-guitar-and-drums combo isn’t always convincing; the omission of bass tends to be glaring, with just lonely kick drum fending for itself in the low register. Sometimes less is more; often it’s less. As such, the tunes that add throbbing synth basslines are the ones that really hit home runs (‘Ono In a Space Bubble’ is a rip-snorter), and one song featuring guest spaced-out guitar from The Panics’ Drew Wootton reveals what can be achieved here with a few more frequencies and textures. I’m not saying “get a bass player” (probably the most tiresome criticism one could level at a duo), but rather that these experiments in expanding the sound are working. Four-and-a-half years since I saw them last, the Super Wild Horses have grown, become more convincing, more endearing, and with the songwriting advances heard in their new record “Crosswords,” longevity suddenly enters their lexicon. What’s needed is less use of their aesthetic crutches, less genre-based cliche, more adventure and more of the irony-stripped earnestness they’re just starting to display. Two albums in, Super Wild Horses are a good band and getting better. Maybe when we check in a few years down the track, they’ll be not just good, but great.