Mink Mussel Creek is the big, gnarled, sap-oozing tree from which grew the fabled, blazing branches the world knows as TAME IMPALA and POND. There are other strong boughs swaying valiantly in the breeze, like GUM and SHINY JOE and the (somewhat lesser known) SPACE LIME PEACOCK, KEVIN SPACEY, RING and who knows how many other little spindly bits. But though branches owe their existence to the tree, it can come to pass that they obscure and occlude it, creating a verdant barrier between the hallowed bole and the crucial light of day.
Mind you, you can’t really blame MMC’s offshoots for the band’s relative obscurity (hitherto, at least) beyond Perth City Limits. The fact that Mink splintered and that this vital, quintessence-siphoning album was seemingly lost to the ages, is a reality whose causes are varied and still partially mysterious. Why wouldn’t that sound engineer give them the tracks, anyway? Why the change of heart now? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that ‘Mink Mussel Manticore’ – the original – is now finally upon us, in all its rich, heavy, sloppy, exuberant, far-out glory.
In their time as a regular gigging act, Mink Mussel Creek were my favourite Perth band and I followed them pretty much from “go” (the all-ages “Ampfest” band competition) to “woah” (their fairly recent “reunion” gigs). This does not make me special; everyone loved Mink, and they had plenty of avid long-standing fans. But what it does mean is that I was lucky enough to observe the general arc of their sound, and never did they strike up a more perfect balance than can be heard on this record. It’s thick with Sabbath-y sludge-blues riffs; heady with Brainticket-esque kosmische wanderings; frilled with flute, acoustic guitar and percussion adornments that would befit Aqualung-era Jethro Tull, or Floyd in ’68/69.
These overt ‘dad-psych’ reference points are unavoidable, and should be celebrated – though not at the expense of mentioning Mink’s thrilling uniqueness, which owes largely to the quirks of Nick Allbrook (on the electric mouth & guitar), and various nightmarish, doomy inflections which I suspect are largely (bassist) Steve Summerlin’s influence. Nick’s pre-Pond voice is even more eccentric, and at times so bent out of shape that it becomes a sort of noise instrument. It’s not idiosyncrasy borne of amateurism, however: this is proper amazing singing, lovingly cultivated to exude an ideal modicum of weird. His lyrics follow suit; from the Camelot-vibin’ romance of “Meeting Waterboy” to the Barret-esque non-sequiturs of “Hands Off The Mannequin, Charlie,” the lines are loaded with dark whimsy, oddball hilarity and, at times, genuine pathos.
Despite their throwback inclinations, Mink Mussel Creek have never felt like pastiche – if anything, they’re more like an anachronism. The real deal, who fell into a wormhole and emerged on Australia’s west coast in the Mid-2000’s. If I had to choose one band whose nucleus felt akin to Mink’s, it would be Gong, the long-running, oft-morphing freak-psych act fronted by Australian Daevid Allen. Both bands seem to have uncommon access to a strange world that’s locked up both inside your psyche and beyond your imagination: a world more reminiscent of warped children’s literature than it is of conventional psychedelic rock. A world of itinerant patchwork weirdos, jocular monsters, flickering lights, mud, shadowy folklore, perverts, contorted rainbows, suburban daydreams and zig-zagging astral joyrides. Are you curious? Good. Dive into the tree’s gaping hollow, and be swallowed whole by the Manticore that awaits.
SHINY JOE RYAN – …& THE COSMIC MICROWAVE BACKGROUND
Shiny Joe – unequivocally the most Irish-born, Afro-boasting, goggle-wearing, silver-astronaut-jacket brandishing member of Mink Mussel Creek and Pond – hasn’t really made his standalone musical identity known in the past. It’s always been stirred up in a glimmering soup with the likes of Nick Allbrook, Kevin Parker and Jay ‘Gumby’ Watson, to the point where you don’t really know whose ideas are whose.
As such, fans and inquisitive admirers of the curly-headed grinning space-child will be thrilled to experience this record, which just dropped on May 30. At last – a release which distills the songwriting preoccupations and textural predilections of our man Shiny Joe. So what does it sound like? Interestingly, it both meets and somehow totally usurps expectations.
Watching Joe perform with Pond, his style seems freewheeling; his demeanour exudes a sort of chaotic, giddy restlessness. So although this record is every bit as “vintage psych rock” as you might expect, it’s curious to realise just how neatly, painstakingly arranged it is: how little allowance has been made for “jamming” and freeform exploration.
Indeed, these tunes are crisp and even concise, following less in the footsteps of the genre’s ardent noodlers and tending towards the pop-focused sensibilities of Beatles solo albums, Bowie and – more contemporaneously- the Flaming Lips.
This sense of focus, mind you, doesn’t mean that Joe sits in one place over the course of the record. ‘Devonare $amson’ is a doo-woppy bit of flower pop, cut from the same cloth as early Beach Boys hits; ‘Whatever Happened To The Space Race’ fuses hurtling, anthemic garage-rock momentum with IDM flourishes; ‘The Cosmic Microwave Background Pt 2’ could be the theme to an ’80s sci-fi that you just slid into your fading VHS player.
By and large, these are big, crunchy, zoomed-out rock explosions. ‘The God Particle’ seems to channel a bit of Shiny Joe’s celtic heritage in its major-key folksy melody (Joe used to play ulliean pipes, too), and ‘Can We Ever Make It’ sounds sort of like an Elton John bedroom demo soaked in Venusian space-juice. Generally speaking – expect big, soaring pop tunes that you can sing along to (provided you can decipher the lyrics amid veritable nebulae of shimmering reverb).