It had been a week of movement and stillness – which is true of every week I guess, but this week I noticed it more. I rode the bumpy wind from Chicago to Hong Kong to Perth where I bobbed around for a few days. In the cool and tranquil evenings I drank in heartwarming tunes – namely those of SARAH PELLICANO and LILT and SAM PERRY; ERASERS and MEI SARASWATI and deejay MR SINCLAIR – all within the friendly walls of The Bird. And with the weekend over, pleasant surprises continued: afternoon sets by LEAVING and CRAIG McELHINNEY in a Northbridge sun-room, followed by loose jams on pentatonic vibraphones down in the cultural centre playground. With some reluctance I packed my suitcase again, rolled up in the ever-dingy Perth Domestic and took the foggy flight to Melbourne town.
Two nights later I’m ready to emerge from my heated-room cocoon and take in some more sounds, inevitably tempted by a certain lineup at a certain venue. The venue is the Grace Darling, and I arrive, dodging the rain, in time to drink a pre-show beer and then settle down to watch and hear LUCY ROLEFF.
I was first introduced to Lucy when we played a show together: me as Leafy Suburbs and her as one half of electronic art-pop duo MAGIC HANDS. Magic Hands were one of the best things I’d yet heard in Melbourne; her solo work is something vastly different, but that description still stands.
Alone, Roleff makes music that is somber, reflective, deep and in motion – like a river at night. Before you’ve unpicked even a line of her intricately articulated lyrics, which are intoned with a warm and authoritative resonance reminiscent of Joni Mitchell or Sibylle Baier, the whole thing exudes meaning and magnitude. At the same time, the songs aren’t self-important; brimming with complexity, deftly-delivered guitar pirouettes and astral vocal projections, they nevertheless drift in and out with the elemental nonchalance of a sea breeze. Fans of intelligent folk music, particularly the more ambitious outings of the ‘60s and ‘70s, will find a lot to love in Roleff’s live show. And fiends for lush, unconventional orchestration (a la Pallett, Newsom, Holter, St Vincent) will happily get lost in her recorded material. The songs Roleff plays tonight are the sorts of things I spend hours searching for amid mounds of folksy mediocrity online; and here they are, gleaming as gemstones, readily, in the mostly-empty Grace Darling upstairs.
Up next are HOLY LOTUS, Melbourne’s premier mystic DIY dance-pop trio. I’ve written about Holy Lotus before but they never cease to beguile, so I won’t stop singing their praises. The combination of Leonie Brialey (Lil Leonie Lionheart/Crotch), Greg Taw (Ghost of 29 Megacycles/Pacific By Rail) and Lucy Donovan results in some superbly melodic, driving and faintly dusty post-punk mellifluousness; with increased electronic dabbling on Brialey’s part and a burgeoning infatuation with psychedelic FX-interludes from Taw, their palette continues to expand like a blossoming aquatic flower. I smile and recline (it’s not really a dancing sort of night) and absorb their charming vibes as rain tickles the window panes. It’s not their tightest or most energetic set, but its rough-edged watercolour flow fits the mood perfectly.
Then it’s Rough River, which is in actual fact singer-songwriter Kate Skinner plus entourage (including brother Michael, of King Gizzard + the Lizard Wizard note). Skinner performs the first few tunes on her own; cruisy, strummy folk-pop outings performed with general aplomb (and a few slip-ups and blunders which are far less serious than she seems to think at the time). When she’s joined by her band, it has the dual effect of lifting the overall dynamic and shrouding her lyricism within a general cloud of sonic density. Maybe that comes down to the room or the mix, but in any case it’s a reasonable trade-off in the context: the room has now filled up quite a bit, and energy is probably to be favoured over details at this point. The set is buoyed with that nouveau Australian type of indie-folk hootenannyism; shuffling snares, smooth voices, twanging Fenders. It’s good, though not unique enough to be memorable: I’ll be keen to revisit Skinner’s music as she exhausts her default tendencies and lets her songwriting wander down the road less travelled.
The weekend rolls on, all the way to Monday night, where I absorb rich and weird and confronting and beautiful sounds at the Old Bar for the ‘Ladyz of Noiz’ compilation launch featuring COMPLIMENTARY DEATH GLARE, (Perth’s) CAT HOPE, ROSALIND HALL, EVE and BLEACH BOYS. The $3 tinnies flow, unexpected buddies appear, and the soundscapes envelope me. Melbourne’s frosty winter might not be the most welcoming thing to return to. But the rest of it is pretty swell.