The last wisps of 2013 are leaking out the window. Was it a good year? Every year is, after all, an incredible year, a great year, an awful year, a catastrophic year, a busy year, a strange year. Some years are worse than others – 541 AD, 1260, 1941, 65,000,000 BC (mass annihilation of the dinosaurs) – these were all particularly bad. For all its misgivings, I don’t think 2013 was in that kind of league. So that’s nice.
But the relative goodness of a year has no real bearing on what we do on New Year’s Eve. If our year has been great, we thank our god or cosmic force of choice, reflect on our favourite moments, and hope the next revolution around the sun follows suit. If our year sucked, we celebrate in the bright-eyed hope of a kinder twelve months to come; we dance to forget our troubles. One way or another, we party.
So it is. We roll up at Mojo’s in a golden boat, riding the waves of time’s passage with the sun still on our shoulders. We swim past the stretched-out queue with guitars and electric trinkets and as the sun sinks we let myths play out in music.
Someone hands me a Melbourne Bitter and happily it splashes down my throat. A band called WHAILS fires up on the indoor stage and although they hammer that sort of blues-scale psych-rock melody whine that’s far too prevalent lately, they approach everything with a welcoming light-heartedness that is endearing. It’s an inclusive, silly, innocent and well-delivered approach to psychedelic pop reminiscent of T-Rex, or even Gong.
The courtyard out back is filling up and CHILDSAINT are tightening cymbals, plugging in guitars. Long-haired boys with floppy hats ignite the ends of cigarettes, drinks chink and pour and spill. Childsaint (the duo of Chloe and Jane, now featuring Ashlyn on drums) seethe pleasingly through their set of shadowy tunefulness, by turns recalling the angular moods of Warpaint and the crusty, satisfying dirge-folk of the Dirty Three or Bad Seeds. As a unit, there’s a looseness – which suits their sound, though at times it’s loose to the point of losing cohesion and detracts rather than enhances. That’s the sort of crinkle that gets ironed out almost of its own accord, with time, and I’m sure it will; until then there is plenty to like about Childsaint.
FLOWER DRUMS unfurl, back inside. Tonight’s set is the most interesting and effortless Flower Drums outing I’ve encountered, with tunes readily swapping between sunny pop freewheeling and curious experimentalism. The setup is straightforward: four people, on bass, drums, guitar and guitar/synth/vocals respectively, but they seem to transcend the predictable trappings of such a lineup as if it were wholly natural to them… the blurring of tradition and idiosyncrasy reminds me of acts like Deerhunter and Kurt Vile. “In One Place” gets a well-earned guernsey, with its watery melodies and beguilingly simple refrain. I really need to find out what their last song is called, a galloping instrumental in which groove itself is the lead voice. That one’s an absolute cracker.
MOANA intensifies things, leaving no ear in the courtyard untouched by her hot-knife-through-butter voice. When I first saw Moana Lutton she was a soloist playing a motley assortment of tunes on a guitar; the name now signifies a fully-fledged rock band brimming with organic energy, an energy which proves contagious as it undulates through the now well-lubricated throng. Moana never drop(s) the ball. “One to watch in 2014,” as they say.
MT MOUNTAIN are another band who’ve absolutely blossomed this year. Super-intelligent stoner/psych rock; the genre tag belies the sophistication of their songwriting and arrangements, but is nevertheless accurate. Tonight they dip their toes further into the pools one might call “ambient,” “doom” and “drone” whilst keeping groove and lyricism at the fore. They don’t exactly look excited as they play; visually they could be giving a shy tutorial presentation on the key essays of David Hume. But the proof is in the pudding that melts joyfully into your ear canals.
The risk of being unimpressed by SPACEMANANTICS has been steadily declining over the last year or two to the point where it is now a non-concern. This band has vitality and skill coming out of every one of its many orifices and they use it to create dense, dynamic, creamy psychedelia in the lineage of Bowie and (more contemporaneously) MGMT; or, as a former member of Mink Mussel Creek today mused on Facebook, a bit like Mink “but less heavy and dirty and way better at music.” Despite being crammed into a minuscule corner they’ve decided to actually add another member, Jamie Canny on saxophone. I have never been one to criticise the decision of adding a saxophone to anything, and I certainly won’t start now. Keep it up, Spacemen.
I must admit things start to get hazy around the time of HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, though their tightly-wound ridiculousness is still echoing in my skull in some capacity, as per the masculine riff-centric momentum of RED ENGINE CAVES and the increasingly smouldering power-blast of FOAM. The overwhelming feeling throughout is a burgeoning sense of togetherness; people are here with themselves and with their friends and their bandmates and their fellow performers, but more and more they are simply here with everyone. It’s a feeling that permeates all the music tonight, too, the musical and thematic threads that run through the bands selected by the mighty BRUNO SWEETDOG, enigmatic record-label-cum-events-promoter extraordinare. Bruno knows about community (particularly about Fremantle and its rock and roll lifeblood) and community is perhaps they guiding light on to the path to goodness right now. We tip over the midnight gong, rolling and tumbling through heady darkness, smoke, liquid and lights, into 2014 and the unknown. We do it with grins, and the knowledge we are not alone on this mysterious journey. Here, before us, slowly beginning its self-unveiling, is a year of new music, new friends, new adventures. We throw open the window and begin to drink it in.
Photo by Alistair Walsh