I've been writing about all manner of experimental performance in this column recently, but sure as death and taxes, I will always return to pop songs. There are few things I like better when done well, though doing them well is a challenging task. Here are two records from Perth (and/or its diaspora) that grabbed me by the ears this week.
TURTLE BAY TELEVISION - REST WELL IN YOUR SHELL (EP, self-released)
One of my chief beefs with lots of contemporary rock music is how overworked it often sounds. Arrangements can shine when polished and tight, but it’s a waste of time if you trade in the spontaneity, directness and live energy that gives the genre its fundamental appeal.
This EP from Turtle Bay Television, then, is a welcome salve. It bursts into being via effortless riffs, slack-wristed grooves and refreshingly prosaic lyrics like: “I was an accountant for a year and a half […] I had to resign to save my life.” If some lines are too crude to go down smooth (“I need money,” or “[I] put my hands between your thighs”), it’s still preferable to the empty couplets that litter so much alt-chart radio rock.
Despite its immediacy, Rest Well In Your Shell isn’t the snotty puff of garage jam ephemera you might be imagining. It’s thoughtful, even artful, with a hint of dandy irreverence, and every line is delivered with a smoothly balanced baritone. ‘Horror Movie’ hints playfully at gothic post-punk while keeping one foot in a suburban backyard. The teasingly brief hammond-ballad ‘Andrea’ is pseudo-schmalzy in a way that few have been able to pull off since Edwyn Collins. Upon repeat listens, these four unassuming songs reveal their careful production and cleverness. But the no-nonsense aesthetic, the melodic manoeuvres, and the sense of personality at hand - these are the things that will give the EP an enduring charm. We can certainly look forward to a full-length album from Turtle Bay Television, who here show all the early signs of indie-pop greatness.
LONELY KOREA - EXCITED (LP, self-released)
Andy Burns is undoubtedly one of the most underrated songwriters Perth has produced in recent years. Formerly of local band Dave, Burns has since relocated to Tokyo and co-founded the outfit Baby Fire. But Excited marks his first solo outing, taking up the moniker Lonely Korea - a name inspired by a documentary about a woman who sells tea to nobody for six months a year in the DPRK.
These eight concise tracks boast many of the qualities that made Dave a great proposition: melodic, guitar-driven jigsaws of songs, deftly layered instrumental parts and wry, crooned lyrics. But the album also draws together a surprising diversity of sounds, from Japanese classical music (‘Matsuri’) to lo-fi piano contemplations (‘Meguro,’ ’Pemberton’) and spacious, 80s-leaning dream pop ('Rosie,' 'Scobie.')
The resulting impression of these sounds combined recalls acts like The Magnetic Fields, Of Montreal, Jens Lekman and Alex Cameron: earnest and hummable pop-music ventures tempered with varying levels of bitter irony, experimental flourish, campy eccentricity and a literary bent. Across the lyrical narratives that allude to doomed romances, App-based dating and singing Disney songs to strangers via a call centre, it's alternately funny and sad, and often both at once (as per the Beckett-esque image of the solitary tea seller).
Perhaps the album's only drawback its its relative scantness: it could use a couple more songs like the robust title track, and the quietly driving, arpeggiating 'Disney in Ice' - which brings to mind Television in its studious take on post-punk catchiness. Nevertheless, its brevity also adds a kind of charm, per the breezing-through quality of a novella - and invites you to listen over and over.
Get Excited: Here