Among the latest crop of Perth bands, few acts have produced such staggeringly unique and skilfully executed music with so little hype as MUDLARK. Perhaps it’s their online reticence, their unabashed lack of pop tropes, or the fact that until now they hadn’t really released anything in a formal or physical way. Contemporary shifts towards internet listening and distribution habits notwithstanding, the latter consideration remains a crucial rite of passage for any emerging band, and Mudlark have pretty much nailed it with ‘Zimdahl’ – a 5-song EP distilling the labyrinthine guitar-and-drums sound they’ve honed thus far while hinting at new ideas and tangents. Out on the prestigious format that is 180 gram 12-inch vinyl, and via the noble Australian experimental label Wood & Wire, this is a pretty perfect debut; captured entirely live with a truckload of mics and no overdubs, it’s a direct and unapologetic introduction to the sometimes dizzying Mudlark experience.
You enter the thing via the simply-titled ‘&.’ After a screeching burst of noise, we plummet into a sweetly reverberating web of guitar tangle and sweep and tightly-packed percussion. There’s something calming about it all despite the feverish pace and rapid-fire airing of motifs. Perhaps, as Pitchfork’s Andy Battaglia remarked of Honest Jon’s 2010 ‘Shangaan Electro’ compilation, a certain intensity of speed can overwhelm itself, until you’re forced to zoom out and view it all with a serene detachment. Melodically, this opener is focused and mellow despite being so rhythmically busy, even hyperactive – like a swarm of fireflies flitting fast-motion in an opiate haze. Clocking in at close to seven minutes, it’s the EP’s longest effort, but the top-heavy approach works well – particularly when ‘&’ is so intensely listenable.
‘Fine Ointment’ begins more sparsely, allowing each percussive hit to boast its unique attack, warm flourish and quiet nadir. Briefly we are propelled by a dense, driving beat before ambient swells mark a return to contemplation. This sort of nuanced, dynamic back-and-forth (and-all-around) continues throughout the track’s 5 minutes and 55 seconds, throwing conventional song trajectories out the window. The seemingly arbitrary (but nonetheless deeply compelling) shifts between moods seem to imply an undisclosed visual: as if the tune were soundtracking a mercurial short film oscillating between intense action and zen stillness. It’s the most unusual tune on the record and, in some ways, my favourite.
‘Proud Nubian Princess’ gives you a bit more to cling onto in terms of conventional composition and groove. After an intro of sepia-tone guitar swells and woody rattling, a discernible handful of hurtling minor key riffs dance over an insistent (though, as always, complex) 4/4 pattern. Lost in the heady momentum, the tune seems to end in no time at all; a hissing 30-second denouement of what sounds like innocuous household appliance noise sees out the track’s brief epilogue.
It’s amusing, refreshing and slightly distressing to find that track 4 is called ‘Troy Buswell Sniffing Seats’ – on the one hand, way too many post-rock (or whatever) bands have a dull habit of giving every tune a lofty, pseudo-intellectual title, possibly containing Latin words or arcane references. The invocation of old mate Troy serves the purpose of sucking us back into the local realm, in all its grotesque glory, and meanwhile foregrounds the absurdity of naming strictly instrumental music in the first place (there’s no evocative link, to my ears, between the tune and Troy’s pervy antics; I certainly wouldn’t call it programme music). The sounds are vintage Mudlark – tempo shifts, wild flurry, intricate drums and melodically dense, unfurling guitar – until the two minute mark, when it suddenly makes way for a pared back, funky mood.
‘Resting on Hollow Laurels, Resting’ brings things to a close, with its pitter patter snare-off snare, hi-hat incisions, moody upper-register chords and stormy tremolo guitar. It’s got an almost jazzy spookiness to it that feels fitting as an outro to the record. True to form, the tune is frantic and enigmatic – it doesn’t offer up a sense of peace or comfortable finality. Like a thriller film wrapping up with loose ends and itching questions, Mudlark’s ‘Zimdahl’ ends how it plays out – as a weird riddle, a fascinating and deeply enjoyable mystery.