Between my last article and this one, I’ve relocated to Melbourne for a stint (again), which means that now I only wear black, and stand around in the rain, looking sad. This works out well because my Perth-focused review for this week comes with a distinctive gothic bent: it’s the bleak but very enjoyable debut LP from the west coast’s best “dark new wave” band, Nerve Quakes.
The group (who lift their name from a Lubricated Goat song) involves members from bands like Cold Meat and Helta Skelta, so it’s no surprise they’re usually mentioned in the same sentence as the word “punk” - punk is their pedigree and their ethos. But from a purely sonic perspective, the band spins a classic kind of melodic indie rock, the kind of stuff that might give you flashbacks to early Cure, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Killing Joke. The sound’s suffused by layers of cloudy analog synth, underpinned by snappy drums and woody, insistent bass. But maybe the most definitive aspects of their aesthetic are Caleb’s chorus-heavy guitar and Catie’s vocals, which twist and mingle around each song’s skeleton in imaginative counterpoint.
The thing that marks Nerve Quakes as Australian is not really their instrumental sound (you could index every element to a British band, really) or even the vocal accent, which is kind of neutral / “international post punk.” Rather, it’s their lyrical themes, which give local and political currency to the universable genre tropes. ‘Blood Money’ laments corruption and systematic violence; the sharp-edged ‘Monarch’ urges you to “free your body, but not your mind […] what she wants, what she says” which feels like it’s riffing on our psychic shackles to the Old country. ‘Shirley’ is a song about Shirley Finn, a Perth madam from the 60s/70s whose murder went under-investigated for many years. Other tracks are less locally minded, but no less potent in their themes: ‘The Uninvited’ wails about sleep paralysis and associated demons, ‘Celestial’ worries about space collisions bringing on planetary doom.
Beyond the swirling guitar and keys, the propulsive rhythm section and the A+ vocals there’s another joy to be had in A New State: it’s the weird joy that comes from seeing your own anxieties, darker experiences and wonderings reflected in someone else’s art. “Gothic rock” derives from sadness, but it’s a sadness that’s shared and exorcised and aestheticised in the process becomes a party. Maybe that ambivalence is the ‘new state’ in the title. Although it’s more fun to imagine it as the alternative vision of WA that Caleb described in his March interview with Unbelievably Bad: “Run the city’s power on pig manure and appoint Tina Turner as premier after Colin Barnett has been fed to a shark.” However you read it, get your paws on Nerve Quakes’ album, which is getting its Australian launch this Saturday night (May 13) at The Bird. It’s the grimmest fun you’ll have all winter.