Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

Lyndon Blue: Review

Filtering by Category: review

DAN O'CONNOR - IN/EX LP (TONE LIST)

Andrew Ryan

DAN O’CONNOR – IN/EX LP (TONE LIST)

There’s a new DIY record label for weird music in town, which is very good news, because they are pretty few and far between these days. This might be a reflection of the perceived dispensability of labels in the age of Bandcamp et al. But labels had already long since ceased to be a necessity when we had local leftfield music coming out on the likes of Grave New World, Meupe, Badminton Bandit. The beauty of small, artistic labels is that they foster a kind of sound-world; a curated trail of work (some familiar, some not) that you can follow or reliably return to. Though it’s early days, this is my expectation for TONE LIST – run by a small group of young composers and performers who’ve emerged from WAAPA’s experimental underbelly.

Notably, mind you, they omit that particular word – experimental – from their mission statement, instead professing a focus on “exploratory” music. It’s a subtle, but wise differentiation – the former term has all but ossified into a set of signifiers and brings to mind a particular aesthetic, which is self-defeating. Exploratory music could still be anything: and while any kind of arcane tinkering with uncertainty can pass as an experiment, exploration implies a wilful journey into the unknown, a concerted lunge at the blurry edges of the map.

I’ve been sent Tone List’s first ever release – Dan O’Connor’s “In/Ex” – to review. It’s the middle of the night, I’m eating some Cadbury Roses I was given yesterday, wondering how to appraise exploration. Is the traversal of unfamiliar territory an ends in itself? Novelty has its appeal, definitely, but it’s not a measure of success. A recording of my socks in a blender would be novel but so far I’ve had no bites from labels re: my Sock Destruction 3: Shredded Threads mixtape. So; here I am, sucking on a Hazelnut Whirl, feeling endlessly fascinated by music that flouts all convention – but wondering how assessment happens when that yardstick blows away in the wind. At the very least, it seems exploratory music works best when clarity of concept coincides with a genuinely interesting sonic outcome. Yeah, the “interest” can arise from formal novelty (against the backdrop of the musical canon) but also from the immanent aesthetics of the thing: the contours of timbre and pitch, the primal and/or cerebral attraction of rhythms, the eloquence of melody and harmony.

IN/EX boasts a magnificently simple, intriguing and clever unifying concept: each track is a trumpet improvisation performed with a single breath. As with most good concept-driven art, extraneous frills are forgone – so instead of titles per se, each track is just a number, “one” through “seventeen.” The scene is set – the tantalising question is, what will Dan do with his seventeen breaths?

“One” presents a rapid-fire collage of noise gossamer, air rushing at varying speeds and intensities through the brass, the occasional nip of tongue dampening the polychrome parade. “Two” begins with a pure, golden tone – a single note like a ray of sun – but eventually begins to crackle and splutter like a fading radio as you drive out past the hills. If you want you can read these tracks less as music and more as performance art, an intimate document of O’Connor’s strain as he desperately empties his lungs. But this would be to dismiss the qualities of the sounds in themselves, which I think would be a shame.

Listen closely and you begin to uncover an incredibly rich variation of tones, frequencies and, it seems, sentiments being exhaled from this one mouth into this one trumpet. That’s the bonzer thing about minimalism, I guess – and this is, at least, minimalistic in its orchestration – a chance to dig into the minutiae. I’m on my fourth listen through the 12-minute album and only now is it really starting to open up: pops, filtered sucks and blows, valve taps and slippery scales. Ghosts of tunes and the happy reclamation of performative detritus.

Most of these tracks are noise-oriented, eschewing melodic improvisation, and I’d like to hear more of the latter given that the note-oriented breaths – like “eleven” and “twelve” – are among the most fascinating. Mouth noise isn’t inherently more intriguing than notes, I don’t think, once you really get stuck in. Having said that, O’Connor is really good at creating compelling mouth noise, so – why not?

A few listens deep, and I feel remarkably connected to my senses. To my ears, and to the vibrations nearby. Am I going to crank Dan O’Connor’s “IN/EX” every morning while I cook my eggs? No; am I going to listen to it in the bath, or while jogging? You never know, but probably not. This is an album for dedicated listening, close attention, per an artwork in a gallery. Some people might suggest it’s not really music, mainly because there’s a tendency to romanticise the concept. “Music,” we’re told, is the soundtrack to our youth, our romances, our parties, that stuff we sing along to or that makes us want to do windmills with our hair. But music has also always been the close study of sound, an opportunity to get proximate with the raw materials that make up our heard landscape. It’s a chance to find out what our lungs and brain and fingers can do with a single breath, and to see what others may make of the irregular Rorscach blot that emerges. Here, seventeen unique and unrepeatable moments, crystal clear and bone-bare for your indefinite perusal.


IN/EX is coming out on June 14, 2016, in a limited edition of 100 CD-Rs with a 6-panel card gatefold sleeve with artwork by O’Connor.

http://www.tonelist.com.au/ 
https://tonelist.bandcamp.com/

SHIPS IN THE NIGHT #13 @ PAPER MOUNTAIN, THURSDAY MAY 19

Andrew Ryan

Part One

Thursday, early evening… I clock out of work. I’m lucky enough to like the places and people that employ me; still, if someone’s paying you to do something, it’s probably because it needs to be done and nobody wants to do it for free. So you’re a utility, and on less inspired days you can feel like a mere bit of machinery. Not even the proverbial cog, which has a certain slow rotational grandeur and evokes luxury watches, but something more crude and forgettable – a washer, maybe. So today I’m feeling like a washer, and we all have washer days, which is fine, as long as it doesn’t surreptitiously snowball into washer life. And maybe the preventive for washer life, indeed a key antidote to capitalism, is poetry, which is everything that washer life isn’t.

None of this is going through my head as I buy a cheap sushi roll from Is Donburi, but perhaps some intuitive awareness of it is ebbing in my bones, because I find myself suddenly set on attending the local poetry showcase Ships In The Night. In this twilight hour, I manage to wangle a Black Sabbath t-shirt so as to discard my work uniform, and begin to feel less like a washer, Ozzy’s primordial wail echoing in the back of my brain. I wander aimlessly in Northbridge for a little while, noticing things, smelling the air, feeling the pavement as my feet clap down on it. Eating my sushi roll.

I climb the stairs into Paper Mountain – which if you don’t already know, is an art space above a café on William Street. Its central white-walled gallery is hemmed in by artist studios and a communal space called The Common Room. We find ourselves in the latter tonight. There’s a small PA and nominal stage at one end. Makeshift bar (bottles in ice buckets) at the other. Floor littered with cushions and other comforts, the walls lined with books, art-things and plants. And now Albie walks in – that’s Albert Pritchard from Shit Narnia – acoustic guitar in hand.

Playing the opening set to a silent, gazing crowd in a small, well-lit space is no easy task. Some would say it’s daunting. But if Albie’s daunted as he strums us into his songworld (which he here calls NEW NAUSEA), it doesn’t show. He seems both nonchalant and diligent as he clamps and plucks steel strings, and exhales charming melodies. The melodies carry redolent stories and images: tales of personal recollection or communal memory, old sentiments rendered in fresh phrasing, and flashes of the Western Australian landscape – from Claremont Quarter to the sweeping south-west. There’s a blistering Shit Narnia song in the mix, and plenty of hushed, minimal reflections that suggest a more soft-edged Gareth Liddiard. Despite its irony and bittersweet humour, there’s absolutely nothing cynical about this music – which feels as pure and worthwhile as the first song that ever got sung.

Local creative and feminist comedy-night instigator ALYCE WILSON is our host for the evening, bringing her marvellously awkward deadpan to bear on the unsuspecting flock. She thanks Albie and leads us through some metahumour surrounding jokes she’d prepared earlier, before introducing the next guest.

This is CICOCIA OLA, which is a pseudonym for Zoe Kilbourn, who apparently didn’t prepare any poetry to recite, pulled out at the last minute, and then pulled back in at the last-er minute.
Her reading is thus (reportedly) ad-hoc, but all the better for it. Zoe reflects on how she never quite finished her grandmother’s eulogy before reading it at the funeral, and how it was marked by pleasant generalities. Here, she attempts a kind of rectification, exploring her memories of her grandmother both good and bad; digging up strange facts, contradictions, glorious realisations and uncomfortable truths. As much as this is a tribute to her grandmother, the reading is also self-reflexive, a rumination on Zoe’s perceived inability to finish anything she starts or to adequately prepare for deadlines. Embracing these kinds of insecurities doesn’t always come off aesthetically, but here it really works, amounting to a performance that is raw and honest, thoroughly human, and which effaces its own flaws: in the end, Zoe had prepared exactly as she needed to.

AXEL CARRINGTON now stands before us. The man is best known for his work in various Perth bands (currently Hip Priest, Rag and Bone) and for writing some you-beaut, earnest music criticism. He begins tonight with some of the latter, reading a review of Shit Narnia’s EP from last year. It’s a good review, full of insight and warmth, and it’s delivered well. I only question the choice of reading in context, given that two members of Shit Narnia are performing tonight; it all feels a bit too pats-on-the-back. Still it’s plenty endearing. He follows up reciting the lyrics to his song ‘Tall Ships,’ seemingly a lament reflecting on early settlement. This sits easier: poetic, evocative, political without being self-righteous.

HUGH MANNING is the aforementioned other member of Shit Narnia, ever the poet, even when fronting the punk band. I first met Hugh at a double-denim party, he was stomping around the loungeroom bellowing his poetry apropos of nothing. It was fantastic. Tonight’s not so different but the room is still, Hugh is still; we all shut up listen closely.


This stuff is singular. Angry, gentle, unmistakably Australian and “unaustralian,” lyrical and direct all at once. In musical pentameter, he riffs on relationships, self-doubt, social paradoxes, leaving Albany. And though it gets bitter and loud and close to the bone, it never veers towards to the crude brashness endemic to “slam” poetry. Everything is measured, worked, carefully placed. It’s not a poet in a punk’s body or vice versa. It’s just Hugh, at his inspirational best.

ELIZABETH LEWIS rises to the stage, the redness of her dress punctuated by a stack of white poem-etched palm cards that she shuffles through, choosing verses not quite at random. “Stop me after five minutes,” she requests, “or else I’ll just keep going.” These poems are relatively short – such that they often evoke the evanescent brevity of a haiku, without actually being haiku – and orbit the themes of love, loneliness and self-knowledge. There’s a stirring poem about Elizabeth’s mother (who’s in the crowd) and her ambivalent self-sacrifice. Others trace moments of unexpected emotional overload: having to cover up a photo of a beautiful smile, or leaning into strangers on a train to apprehend some closeness. The act of fishing becomes a metaphor for prescribed masculinity and self-sufficiency; distance becomes winter, and bones become warmth. These conceits belong to old traditions, but are used to great effect. Perhaps more than anyone’s tonight, these poems speak to an inner life, the private and unspoken world.

GOLDEN STRING is Mai Barnes, and sometimes Hayley-Jane Ayres or others, but tonight just Mai Barnes. Mai’s a remarkable songsmith, having appeared with her project seemingly fully-formed a few years back: warm-hued, piano driven compositions awash with misty vocals, canned percussion and swirling loops. Tonight feels like a valiant stride forward, at least from where I’m sitting. There are heaps I’ve new songs (I only recognise one or two), new textures and rhythms, and a more intense stage presence (Mai’s dancing like a fiend and literally climbing the furniture). Furthermore, her quotidian, self-deprecating banter now feels less apologetic and more like a light-hearted anchor to the real world. Without it we might all float away into the gilded heavens and never return.

Part Two

We’re onto our “headliners,” TRISTAN FIDLER and LAURIE STEED. Exactly what constitutes a headliner (in any context) is unclear but in any case, these two gentlemen have certainly had a tremendous output of top-notch creativity in their time. I’m itching to hear what they’ve readied for us.

With Tristan, it’s a short story called ‘Please Be More Sombre’: divided into two parts, tailed by an epilogue. The story follows the fictional Evelyn, once a member of an esteemed Australian post-punk band, now a jaded office drudge. Tristan paints a hilarious portrait of corporate culture, more vividly familiar than say, The Office; richer for its inner monologues and local specificity. Evelyn entertains herself by dropping stationary to torment her colleagues, is harangued by her younger male boss, avoids crowds and listens to Suicide while waiting for the train. In part two she encounters an insufferable life-affirming flashmob (Tristan renders the inane pop-songs they wheel out perfectly) and is inadvertently featured in a viral youtube video. Despite having to read faster than he might’ve liked to fit in the time limit, Tristan does a magnificent job of reciting his hilarious tale – a piece of writing evidently informed by pop culture, observational humour and the incisive, gently hysterical musings offered by the likes of David Sedaris. Highly recommended if you can track this story down, but otherwise, busy yourself with Tristan’s excellent A Rich Tapestry webcomic/print sine.

Laurie Steed also serves us a short story (or rather, an excerpt from a forthcoming book) in two parts. Rather than “part one and two” it’s presented as Side A and B of a cassette, Just Hits ’85, a nostalgic compilation that frames the narrative. We meet a young boy, obsessed with Lionel Ritchie, who may or may not be a version of Steed’s younger self (I’m merely speculating, but there’s no doubt real life and fiction intermingle here). He picks daisies with a girl on the school oval, plays video games until dinnertime, watches his brother’s underwhelming footy matches and reads his sister’s diary. And of course, listens to pop songs on tape. It’s all sweetly familiar – almost achingly familiar – stuff. Everything takes a more melancholic turn around the end of Side A: divorce, confusion, allusions to an affair and a mother’s depression. Still everything is wrought through a bright-eyed, innocent voice that prefigures grim reality; I’m reminded of Tim Winton’s Lockie Leonard books, where sadness sometimes bleeds from between the childlike lines. Ultimately, Laurie’s most impressive feat is combining every detail – be it funny, tragic, or picturesque – into a singular thread, a snapshot of time and feeling that’s so cohesive it’s real. From chewing on a popsicle stick at school camp, to contemplating the realities of love, these scenes feel as vivid and tender as any memory I can lay claim to.

The evening wraps up per Ships in the Night tradition with an Open Mic segment. We get some good offerings: mostly artful spins on love, lust and attendant regret. Easily the highlight, I’ve gotta say, is the wide-eyed, lank-haired Geoffrey Power-King who delivers some truly surreal and revelatory standup. It’s a mashup of deadpan bad puns, fragmented social commentary and genuinely original jokes that have me laughing till my ribs hurt. When his brief time-slot’s up, Geoffrey rebuts: “It’s Ships in the Night, not Censorships in the night!” and continues, ultimately delivering the most drawn-out gag of the year. Weird and great. More of this please.

Epilogue

Two nights later I find myself at Jack Rabbit Slim’s: Shannon of KISSINGER X KRUZ firing rapid bars over Nathan Tempra’s sanguine beats, Nelson of POW! NEGRO launching wild rhapsodies, and then the amazing SAMPA THE GREAT belting her smart, dense, assured and optimistic verses. One thing I notice is that tonight’s and Thursday’s worlds of poetry are – if only incidentally – divided along racial lines, in any case along concurrent “genre” lines, perhaps lines that could happily overlap more freely. The archaic division between rap and literary verse are gladly dissolved in many pockets of the world and arts communities, but then again, scenes develop according to commonality of experience, and hefty beats or lack thereof. The main thing is that poetry is all around, a heady spiral towards the ceiling, rich lyrical expression not only occurring but doing so productively, in a way that seems to advance hopeful messages and expanded awareness. Of the world and the self. And we feel like human beings.

MT MOUNTAIN “COSMOS TERROS” ALBUM LAUNCH @ THE ROSEMOUNT, SATURDAY MAY 14 & THE GREENS URBAN FOREST PLAN LAUNCH @ STATE LIBRARY OF WA, MONDAY MAY 16

Andrew Ryan

Edward the Uber driver ferries me along Vincent Street, past the deserted dark of Hyde Park, which is also called boodjamooling, and which centers on one of the surviving lakes from Perth’s ancient wetlands network. We get to the Fitzgerald/Angove corner, I descend to the bitumen and swing Edward’s Lancer door shut with a soft thud.

Through the beer garden and a couple of corridors, a bright doorway opens into a dark room, ERASERS on stage at the far end. The duo, comprising Rebecca Orchard and Rupert Thomas, glide into a gorgeously lopsided beat that I first heard at this same venue a few months back – shuffling skewed drum patterns held down by gooey synth chords and airy vocals. Some unhurried pools of ruby-red ambience, then album standout ‘Haze and Clouds’ and a percussion-heavy newie with big, emphatic chord shifts. Almost every time I see Erasers they sound subtly better than the last: song transitions more seamless, production more nuanced, delivery more effortless and exacting. Their music seems to grow and evolve slowly but stridently, like the remote plants and sprawling landscapes it readily evokes.

Ostensibly worlds away, but somehow resulting in a smooth segue, we now have peddlers of heaviness SKULLCAVE. Based on chats I’ve had it seems like this relatively new band has polarized opinion – with some hailing them as the fresh princes of sludgey loudness, and others dismissing them as doom poseurs trying too hard not quite hitting the mark. I go into it optimistically, although certainly expecting a showcase of tried-and-true doom metal tropes, per my recollections from In The Pines. What I’m met with is actually a whole lot of variation, with the power trio traversing post-Motorhead chug, Sleep-like stoner lumbering, the melodic-monolith approach of Pelican and, occasionally, the sparse grimness endemic to the doom-drone genre. All up their monochrome eclecticism probably reminds me most of Boris and their myriad experiments. Some moments are less convincing than others – occasionally, for example, the group’s vocals sound feebly high and thin against the Marshall-stack onslaught – but when it comes off, it’s wildly satisfying. No doubt some of the criticism leveled at Skullcave arises from their history: all three members once formed the instrumental component of notorious garage-rock upstarts The Novocaines, whose adolescent rock star affectations occasionally got the better of them. Not that that has any bearing on Skullcave’s sound, but I guess purists might see them as dilettantes, dabblers. I for one am a huge fan of dilettantism and dabbling and think more people should partake. If anything, Skullcave’s poppier pedigree lends a melodic bent and structural focus that – if employed tastefully – could come to set them apart.
Anyway, their last song is the best one. More guttural vocals, dramatic sparse sludge explosions and crushing riffs culminate in an epic slow-burner; a fitting end to a impressive set.

We put away some cool Swanny D in the equally chilly beer garden and enjoy the warm sounds of ANDREW SINCLAIR and ISABELLA HENDERSON on DJ duty, before heading back in for TANGLED THOUGHTS OF LEAVING. I haven’t seen these guys for ages but they seem to enjoy this near-legendary status and I’m keen to catch up on their loud and intricate explorations.
We ease in with melancholic piano, which to my ear is often terminally cheesy in a heavy rock context. But they make it work, and soon enough we’re awash in their singular brand of tight but impressionistic instrumental heft.

Is it post-rock? Prog? Math rock? None of these terms quite fit but, moreover, words seem totally redundant in the face of these hectic qualia, which grip your senses like a vice and throw you down a whirlpool of abstract beauty and violence. If I have one criticism – and I do – it’s that this set goes on a bunch too long; TTOL seem to think their music requires a long duration to do its thing successfully. I disagree, given that these tunes feel gripping at first, then merely impressive, and eventually just blur into a bloated horizon. John Cage advised us that “if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four; if still boring, then eight; then sixteen, then thirty-two” and so on, until one discovers fascination in the apparently boring thing. Thing is, Tangled Thoughts of Leaving are fascinating within twenty minutes: maybe they needn’t double it or double it again.

Over to MT MOUNTAIN. If you want to know what these darkly-clad boys are about you’ll find all the clues in their name. Bigness, density, hardness, immensity. Mount, mountain, repeat, repetition. They mount the stage with keys, guitars, drums, amps and retro oil-lamp projection in tow, sinking swiftly into a slate-grey paisley murk somewhere in the overlapping lineage of Sabbath and Floyd.

Steady, reverberating vocals curdle under thick, opiated blues riffs that boom and slap the back wall. Drums pound with an impressive sense of inevitability. Guitars and keys coagulate into something simultaneously ferocious and passive, like a mountain as lava dutifully spews up, abiding by the forces of nature and the cosmos.

All this occurs, but to what end? I wish I could say I loved Mt Mountain’s set, firstly because I really like the guys in the band, secondly (and more importantly) because I sympathize with their aesthetic project and I don’t believe psychedelic rock is necessarily redundant or passé. Their playing is impeccable, their sound is cohesive, their songs are, at worst, not overtly hackneyed or imitative. So what’s the problem?

Perhaps in part it’s the dispassionate delivery – making big sounds like it’s no big deal, indeed like it’s not much fun. Certainly that’s cooler than flapping around like a toddler who just discovered bubbles, but it also saps the viewer’s energy. Probably more to the point, this palette of “psychedelic” sound is generally too well-trodden to invoke the ideals and feelings it derives from: experimentation, giddiness, the abandonment of stability and decorum. While technically impressive, artistically it all feels too easy; there are no surprises, no risks. Don’t get me wrong: I neither expect nor want every band I hear to reinvent their genre of choice. But given Mt Mountain’s patent skill and work ethic, I’d expect them to want to push their creative limits more. Maybe that’s on the agenda. Time will tell.

—-

Two nights later I find myself in the 200-seat seminar room at the State Library of Western Australia. I say “I find myself” because I really didn’t expect to be here, I was heading home and found out the Greens were launching an “urban forest” plan, I thought why not. As I enter I encounter a few buddies and then – pleasant surprise of the day – it becomes apparent that MEI SARASWATI is going to sing to kick off proceedings. Bravely taking up the reverb-bereft wireless lecture mic, she first attends to her laptop, leading us through a suburban ecology soundscape: birds, insects, water and leaves woven over a backdrop of cars and metropolitan hum. Then she sings – the song is “Swamp Gospel” – and ode to that now near-invisible wetlands network I rode past on my way to the Rosemount. Halfway through her laptop craps out, leaving her in the lurch in front of 200+ silent Greens supporters. The consummate casual professional, Mei sings the second verse a capella, resulting in a triumphant recovery and a truly moving communal moment. Having this followed up by Dr. Noel Nannup’s words of wisdom and hope, informed by thousands of years of aboriginal spirituality, is almost too much for the heart to handle. Scott Ludlam outlining the Greens’ plan to implement green corridors to reconnect existing ecologies is the icing on the cake I guess, I’ve already got more than I bargained for. If Mt Mountain riff on the colossal indifference of rocky peaks; if Tangled Thoughts of Leaving channel the arcane and overwhelming dynamics of a thunderstorm; if Skullcave celebrate that hillside skull-cave fixture at Adventure World, if Erasers take your imagination soaring across endless patterned plains, and if Mei Saraswati sings the swamp gospel – it is surely because the landscape speaks so directly to the soul, and in turn the soul speaks so readily through music. OK, the skull cave at Adventure World doesn’t really fit into this equation very well. But you get the point.

I OH YOU feat. Collarbones, The Harpoons & More @ Ding Dong Lounge, Sunday April 5

Andrew Ryan

The hot cross buns have been baked and gobbled, or else fobbed at a discounted price; the Easter eggs have been consumed and their wrappers splayed leaving distorted foil patterns on tabletops. On this calendar-attested long weekend I find myself back in Melbourne, and for the most part I swan about aimlessly: leafing through books, avoiding rain, affording myself a beer here and a game of pinball there. But it would have seemed remiss not to attend a gig, and luckily enough there’s a particularly appealing one tonight, Easter Sunday, at a venue I’ve never attended featuring a band I’ve been meaning to see live (The Harpoons). So I meet with A & C, and C makes us some burgers and we stroll in autumnal chilliness to the tram which chugs, squeaks and dings us to our destination.

When we enter, near the start of proceedings, it’s MILWAULKEE BANKS gracing the stage. Two men looking pretty serious, in caps and black longsleeves; one is hovering behind a laptop and trigger device, cradling a mic in one hand, while the other prowls around the front of the podium – mic to his mouth, eyes slightly widened, centre of gravity lowered. They are a hip-hop duo, though musically, they eschew the genre’s more common tropes – there’s no boom-bap, no funk/soul sampling, nor are they overtly channelling the slow syncopated extremes of trap or the stomp of hip-house. Instead, they seem to be treating their tracks as dark contemporary electronic pop, subsequently layering rap vocals. It’s a neat concept, one that should allow them to straddle different demographics and wiggle into a range of bills, but does it work? Mostly – the combination sits best when the vocals are at their most subdued, and the laptop-handler’s occasional pitched-down vocals add a nice spooky touch. When things get rowdier on the mic, it starts to feel like an awkward clash; “m*therf**ker” getting barked in an Aussie twang makes for a strange bedfellow with moody, stylish synth-beatsmithy. But hey, maybe I’m just being a square. In any case, it seems to be working for them, and if they can further hone their idiosyncrasies they might become a really memorable force.

Next up are those fated HARPOONS, who A & C have been telling me to go see for many moons, and it’s cool that we’re all doing so together. We drink some whisky on the charmingly decorated balcony/smoking area – potted plants floor to ceiling greet us, backlit by moonlight and neon – before racing inside so as to not miss any of the hotly anticipated set. To be fair, a crummy mix – whereby everything somehow sounds too loud and too quiet, and altogether muffled and indistinct – means that it wouldn’t have been too big a shame to have missed the first few songs. But that soon gets sorted out, and we’re able to fully appreciate the sultry neo-RnB slow jam excellence of this much-loved local ensemble. There’s no doubting their remarkable collective talent: everyone pulls their weight, with Marty on electronic beats and semi-acoustic marimba (drum-kit’s gotten the boot, it seems), Henry and Jack nailing guitar and bass duties, and Bec – undoubtedly the most viscerally impressive of the lot – absolutely shreds it up on the voice-aeronautics. “RIP to the competition,” as Lil B would say. But a few songs in I’m wondering: is there anything new on offer here? Or is it just four kids who grew up in the ‘90s channelling contemporary RnB for a quietly nostalgia-hungry crowd?

The answer soon arrives: yes, there is innovation in the Harpoons’ sound, and for every homage to the brilliant production and vocals stylings of yesteryear’s smooth-moving heroes, there are bold hints of experimentation. We hear excursions into ambient pop, lush four-part harmony, global folk influences and punishing club rhythms. Weaving itself throughout is a sort of life-affirming motown/soul sensibility that harks to the band’s more traditional roots. By the tail end of the set, the crowd is hurling itself at the ceiling in a rhythmic way, and singing along in a joyful unselfconscious way, and it’s almost a rude shock to the system when The Harpoons don’t play an encore. But all is well. And we are happy.

GOLD FIELDS soon take command of the airwaves, dusting every surface with a generous coating of rich cheese powder: but in the best way possible. We have back-to-back indulgent hits from the likes of Kelis, Outkast, Michael Jackson and other such heroes. My jaw periodically drops: surely they’re not playing “The Next Episode” straight after “Beautiful (feat. Pharrel)”? But oh, how they go there. And suddenly the shameless sacred backlog of bangers unfurls, clunkily and gleefully.

In stark contrast come the first few songs by COLLARBONES: dark and distantly nihilistic, throbbing but never quite inviting you into the party, with washed-out vocals and cacophonous production keeping you at arm’s length. But soon a distinctly positive vibe reasserts itself, with picture-perfect frontman Marcus Whale offering cheery, silly banter and beatmaster Travis Cook grooving dorkily up back in flip-out sunglasses. The set proves to satisfy on a number of levels: there’s subtle complexity to the compositions, but also plenty of roof-raising pulsations to pump your fist to, and Whale delivers some very special dance moves. In its artful croontronica way it reminds me of seeing How To Dress Well, but it’s about six times better. The set ends with an utterly preposterous remix of of Phantom Planet’s “California” – aka the OC theme song – blaring out in all its daft EDM glory through the room while Travis Cook thrusts and boogies to a crowd who have long since resigned themselves to the joyful silliness. We enjoy a final wiggle to the DJ’s selections before swapping the darkness of the club for the darkness of the street; knowing that to have witnessed sets like these on a Sunday night, to have danced and laughed as we have, is surely something of an Easter miracle.

REFLECTIONS ON THE NEW CITY OF PERTH LIBRARY, 573 HAY STREET PERTH

Andrew Ryan

“The Library” has always seemed to me a kind of oasis: wholesome, welcoming, tranquil and – importantly – free, removed from the implicit or explicit commercial agenda that defines so much of the modern landscape. As a kid I’d while away hours in my modest local library brushing up on ghost stories, or loiter at university libraries looking at all the baffling classical and jazz LPs that felt like big alien tablets dropped from the sky. The dorky love affair never really died down: I’ve since worked in libraries, written songs about libraries, articles (besides this one) singing the praises of libraries, paid special visits to libraries overseas and absorbed myself in short stories about libraries in books I’ve borrowed from libraries. A part of me probably likes libraries more than I like books – that intersection of space, peace, collected knowledge and seemingly infinite potential.

Of course, not all libraries are created equal. Some are magical and some are stinkers and seemingly minor things can make a big difference.

I started working for the City of Perth Library back in September. We were upstairs in the 140 William building (itself a really interesting, admirable bit of architecture) and by no means was it a stinker; it was good. Natural light spilled in from floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the train station, the collection was good, we were surrounded by busy streets and coffee and bagels. Tourists and regulars came in and seemed at home. But this housing was temporary and we knew it, so it could never feel entirely like home, not in the sense of the building being synonymous with the institution. As Lisa Scaffidi said recently, “We have always rented spaces and been in a few basements.” We were eager to uproot and settle in the walls that were being built for us and only us, a few short blocks away, on Hay Street.

As of the Tuesday just gone, we’re in. The relocation of a library might not sound like especially riveting news but this is a special building, one I’ve literally been excited about for years. The striking circular structure, designed by Kerry Hill Architects, contains five levels plus a mezzanine auditorium, a terrace looking out onto the streets and the river, a 14-metre green wall and an indoor Weeping Fig tree (“If you have a garden in your library, you have everything you need,” said Cicero.) From the grand ground floor entrance you can climb the stone perimeter stairs to Level 1 (fiction) or Level 2 (non-fiction and the History Centre) and gaze up at Andrew Nicholls’ ceiling art, which reimagines a scene from Shakespeare’s The Tempest by way of Western Australian flora and fauna. The construction itself is characterized by its generous use of WA-granite columns and bluegum timber, laid out in steady rhythmic verticals like the pages of a book. Further up, kids get their own level (which includes the aforementioned tree) and young adults have free rein over the “attic” on level 5, complete with free study rooms and gaming consoles.

If I’m starting to sound like I’m advertising the place, that’s probably because I genuinely like it – the library certainly haven’t asked me to write this and they don’t need me to. What I think is worth considering, however, is the role that a new space like this can play in the Perth city community.

Like I said earlier, it’s a non-commercial space and – more so than in any previous iterations – this new site emphasizes the experiences of simply visiting, stopping and being. While it’s certainly a place to research or be entertained, it could just as well be described as a sort of secular counterpoint to the neighbouring St. George’s Cathedral, both employing beauty and space to engender a sense of stillness and reflection. It would be naïve to suggest that churches and libraries don’t have agendas, but it’s important to note that they’re spaces in which the visitor has agency over their engagement, and can linger as briefly or as long as they please. This is an increasingly rare quality for interior spaces in urban environments, which typically encourage you to keep purchasing if you want to hang around, or attend designated (usually ticketed) events.

Another notable development is the scope for this building to interact with other facets of local culture. Already there’s talk of events taking place on the terrace and in the auditorium. 2016’s Commonwealth Observance will feature the Cathedral Consort singing from the library roof. As has been seen in other cities around the world (and more recently with New Music concerts at the State Library), there’s plenty of potential for this distinctly modern building to shake off any antiquated perceptions of stuffiness and engage with local music, film and other cultural scenes.

My perception from day one of this new space being open is that, despite a widespread myth that physical books and browsing are endangered, people have been hanging out for it. They come in starry-eyed, champing at the bit. They’re enthusiastically churning through books, movies, electronic resources, newspapers, or else just exploring the building. Libraries are special things – when run properly they’re egalitarian, community-oriented havens and soothing temples to knowledge and diversion. An idea like that deserves a good home. With its first civic building commissioned since the Concert Hall in ’73, the City of Perth has certainly provided one.

THE MOLLUSC AND THE ENCYCLOPEDIA - Lyndon Blue and Amber Fresh Wrap 2016 and Toss It Into Your Lap

Andrew Ryan

Amber says I’m an encyclopedia and she’s a mollusc, which is very modest and kind, although at best I think I’m a pamphlet ready to blow away in the breeze – and (more realistically) maybe we’re all molluscs, trying to make the best trail of slime we can. Anyway, it’s nice to be able to look back on the year in music with Amber, who is both a musician and a music writer. With Amber those two things don’t feel like two separate sides of a mirror, but instead are both mixed together (with all sorts of other life endeavours) in the same rock pool, a place called poetry.  

Usually the two of us approach writing-about-music fairly differently, but I think one thing we have in common is a belief that music – the best music - is a singularly meaningful way to connect, a window into souls, food for the imagination and the heart. Speaking broadly, 2015 has been full of awful, trying things – on the global stage and close to home. I feel like music has responded gracefully, with thoughtfulness and energy and ingenuity and compassion. Even when we are reflecting on the rough stuff, music can reveal our best selves. L

in response to :

Amber: When I think about it, it seems like Lyndon has an encylopedic knowledge of music; me, a molluscic knowledge. As in, if you looked at Lyndon with your eyes closed, and got him to think about bands and sounds, you’d see his chest exploding outwards with a thousand pages, some coloured, some drawn, pencil notes, pen notes, a little typed text. If you closed your eyes and did the same thing on me, you’d see me advancing very very slowly along one line, leaving a trail of glistening slime. 

So, anyway, Lyndon Le Bleu and I both make music and write about music. Here’s our combined wrap up of the year. A

Lyndon, who do you feel blossomed outwards music-wise this year?

First up, can I express my appreciation for the word “molluscic,” and your trail of glistening slime. Snails are underrated. Who blossomed outwards? I think a lot of people – 2015 in Perth music (to my mind) was a lot of people trying new things, going hard, being uncynical, and a lot of these people were one the periphery of my awareness but nevertheless hard to miss. I’ve felt privileged to hear the likes of Sam Atkin and Mining Tax and Lana Rothnie come into their own, fusing electronic hooliganism with a profound thoughtfulness and sensitivity. It’s also felt like a big year for garage rock, interesting punk, weird pop: Pool Boy, Helta Skelta, the Kitchen People/Hideous Sun Demon/Regular Boys sorta collective, the new Perth-based version of Rat Columns. Koi Child have, famously, kicked massive goals. Erasers finally released an album and it was a corker. Phil Stroud and Ben Witt’s solo releases – phwoooaarr! Lots of blossoming in good directions, I think 2016 will be a champagne year.  

 
Lyndon, what do you wish was different in Perth music? 

I kind of wish line-ups were less determined by friendship groups, and more varied and outrageous, but I guess things play out how they do for a good reason, that’s how scenes exist. 

Lyndon, if you were standing in a small group of Chilean teenagers at a party, everyone with beers and optimism in their hands, what would you recommend they listen to, from this year, from your city and from far far away? 

I like this question, and I wonder if I will ever stand in a small group of Chilean teenagers. from my city? Maybe Mei Saraswati’s Hyperdiversity, or the Ben Witt record, or… maybe I’d just get overwhelmed as usual and make them a mixtape for later. From far far away? Possibly Holly Herndon’s Platform, ‘coz it’d blow their minds into a million chunks and make their beer taste like starlight. I’d recommend the Tame Impala album, which feels like it’s from both my home town and far far away, but I’m sure they’ve already heard it.

Lyndon, what is your favourite music thing of this year? Show or album or experience? 

This is really tough. So many goodies. Listening to an old guy play jazz standards on a banjo in a bush hut near Launceston, Tasmania. Camp Doogs – the whole thing. Going around Australia with a band called the Burnt Sausages who dress up like a human-sized BBQ party and play BBQ punk. Watching Nick Allbrook play at NPBC with David Wirrapunda. The Outlordz mixtape. But ok, ok lists like this are a copout. I’m gonna say the Mining Tax EP. The only record that made me cry proper tears and dance in one go. There ya go. 

Who are your five favourites for music at the moment and why? 

1. Julia Holter – “Feel You” was my favourite song that came out in 2015

2. Tourist kid. Ooh la la. I should’ve mentioned Rory in my “blossomed” answer. This local upstart can do no wrong

3. The band/Joni Mitchell/Kate Bush on endless rotation… i.e. listening to lots of my dad’s favourite music

4. Lois Olney, I came across her in the documentary “The Coolbaroo Club” and am now obsessed with her voice

5. The Metronomes, they feel like the Australian band I always wanted to exist, and they do!

the ol switcheroo~

Amber, if you could make music with anyone in perth (who you haven’t yet), who would it be – and why?

mei saraswati – we were ‘married’ on new year’s eve last year, but have never made music together. i feel like she’s above me musically (that’s a fact in many ways) but still that would be a dream.

craig mcelhinney and i have talked at times in the past about making songs. could be fun but maybe it’s like realising you’re never ever going to work in a pizza shop or video store (i just realised that a few months ago).

maybe gum. because he’s a pop king. nick wants to do hiphop with me him and stephen bellair (my mc name is mc lavender) but dunno. we’ve played together but not written new music together so maybe either of them actually.

also, you, actually. because you’re special and pure.

i really really miss tho playing with dave egan – one time we just recorded us touching various grasses in the garden at his planet street house. true freedom.

Amber, what’s your favourite perth music to listen to while submerged in water, and your favourite for in the car?

for the car i listen most regularly at the moment to a methyl ethel ep called ‘teeth’ from jake webb, and a mix from nick allbrook with his last solo ep on it. all time favourites though include a selection of cds from emlyn johnson, particularly Armageddon Gomorrah Haemerrhoid. pond, hobo rocket + back catalogue. alex griffin – the album with him in a party hat on the front.

submerged in water i’d take erasers or mei saraswati or benjamin witt as my first thought.

*I’m gonna still your question – “what do you wish was different in perth music?” – cause I think your answer will be more interesting than mine. *

only that no-one would sing with an american accent and that no-one would ever diss another band. the second is ridiculous high schoolery. especially in public. also, i think a few things have changed after a few bands have been successful/semi successful – it would be cool if no-one thought about progressing too much unless they’re specifically making pop music for money, and just let it (the music and any success) happon.

Amber, what show did you see this year that made you laugh the hardest?

i more see visions than laugh… joni and tera playing at a friend’s father’s 60’s surprise viking birthday was one of the most moving musical things i’ve ever seen. also nick allbrook at the astor before unknown mortal orchestra, benjamin witt solo. doctopus’s recent album launch. peter bibby recently at the newport – watching with nick and also a bunch of strangers watch in awe – i love seeing strangers see pete for the first time – and one man who seemed off his nut did the most beautiful mix of drunken stumbling and honest interpretive dance (using that term non-ironically) to pete’s song “rich” which i get flows of spiritual energy through me when i listen to. oh, and for non-perth, no-zu at doogs. joy overflowing joy.

Any clairvoyant predictions for perth music in 2016? what do the tea leaves say?

every tea leaf’s a lucky charm lyndon. i predict half way through the year everyone will join together to change the world, with music as an important side-project/spiritual fuel propelling everyone to create a future with peace, care of the earth and all others.


Amber: hey lyndon ps

two cool things – last night i was eating an oyster out the back of my friend pete’s house and a possum was there with a baby actually clinging to its back (reminded me of a line from one of emlyn’s songs which is something like ‘clings with possum hands to timber tiger man’). 

second thing, i met a new friend in paris – a kindred spirit – who talked lots about wanting to play music but everyone would always say they were too busy washing their hair and that it all gets taken too seriously on the other hand, so i told her, move to perth, everyone will play with you, you’ll be able to play shows, you’ll find a drummer in the click of a hand, and that’s exactly what happened. pretty cool hey. the rumours are tru.

Lyndon: hehehe this is so good!!! jealous of your possum-spotting. one time in melbourne last year I had missed the last tram and was walking home at sunrise, I walked through a park near pete’s house and saw a shape on the trunk of a tree. when I got closer I discovered it was a huge possum – the biggest I had ever seen, like the size of a dog - just clinging to the trunk at about my chest height. we just stared into each others eyes for ages, it didn’t seem to want to run away, but I thought I might be making it anxious so eventually I just kept walking.

that is marvellous about your new paris friend! so theyre in perth now, playing music?? who are they?

we leave you into 2016 with a mystery…

THE 78 PROJECT MOVIE @ RTRFM's "GIMME SOME TRUTH" MUSIC DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL, LUNA OUTDOOR CINEMA, MONDAY DECEMBER 7

Andrew Ryan

I head down Vincent St with the sun setting, into Luna on the corner, and – duly armed with rum and raisin choc-top – head through the café to the outdoor cinema where I settle on an ergonomic beanbag. All this time, in my pocket, is a mobile phone casually equipped with field recording technology that could (if I felt so inclined) capture all the sounds around me.

The ability to record sounds from the world, and to replay them at our leisure, is long since taken for granted come 2015. Portable recording devices are not the bulky and arcane apparatus they once were: they’re intuitive, and ubiquitous. This being the case, you’d think the sense of wonder – the almost magical quality that accompanied the earliest portable recording systems would have worn off, its novelty dissolved and its intrigue superseded. The 78 Project, a one-take direct-to-disc recording road trip now documented as a feature film, offers a compelling challenge to that assumption – as well as exposing the world to a curious and charming succession of intimate, singular performances.

The 78 Project was the brainchild of director/producer Alex Steyermark and writer/producer Lavinia Jones Wright. Inspired by the famed roving music archivist Alan Lomax, and his “quest to capture music where it lived throughout the early 20th century,” Steyermark and Jones Wright resolved to bring a similar process to the current musical landscape. They set out with one microphone, one 1930’s-era “Presto” direct-to-acetate disk recorder, and a pile of blank laquer disks. What happened next constitutes the scenes in The 78 Project Movie. Each performer involved in the project is asked to choose one song and record it in one take in a location of their choosing. So, we find Dawn Landes crooning sweetly amid birdsong-smattered crops; eccentric film composer Jaron Lanier playing two wooden flutes at once in his psychedelic studio; Dylan Leblanc offering a heartfelt Where Did You Sleep Last Night in his loungeroom, and the unforgettable Coati Mundi performing a song with spoons, and voice and dance in his kitchen. We hear tunes delivered in basements, forests, bars and mountainside gardens. Most of these musical vignettes, which err towards blues, gospel, folk and country, are great to listen to. But even those that aren’t quite as pleasing to the ear often offer poignant insights into the lives of music lovers and the spaces they inhabit. In each instance, the performer’s efforts are played right back to them from the 78rpm disc: a crackling, ghostly mirror of the immediate past. Strung together, these scenes form a restless and many-splendoured document of America’s myriad musics and idiosyncratic characters.

I use the term “document,” which feels like a more fitting descriptor than documentary. The latter term suggests some sort of agenda and narrative, no matter how truthful or balanced. The 78 Project Movie, however, offers little in the way of narration, context or commentary. There are interviews and conversation, but they’re not edited together in such a way as to suggest any grand conclusion or statement. In this way, the film feels more like an extended sequence of extremely well-executed home movies, or candid snippets of lives that sit simultaneously inside, outside and alongside the film itself. Perhaps the closest thing to traditional, didactic documentary is the film’s engagement with sound archivists and historians: the likes of Todd Harvey (Alan Lomax Collection Curator, Library of Congress) and Jeff Place (archivist at the Smithsonian Institution). These interactions are less personal, less emotive – but by providing some historical background and insight into the world of music preservation, they offer a fitting counterpoint to the film’s bucolic meanderings.

Would The 78 Project Movie interest non-music lovers, or viewers less than intrigued by old recording processes? It’s hard to say, but I expect perhaps not – the film doesn’t pretend to represent any profound truths that extend wide beyond its subject matter. Amid the sea of hyperbolic documentaries out there, this feels both slightly underwhelming and – moreover – refreshing. Taken as an extended fragment of an ongoing open-ended process, it’s well worth watching. As a portion of the Gimme Some Truth music documentary festival going down currently at Luna via RTRFM, it’s a totally pleasant piece of the puzzle that comprises our deep and diverse relationship to the art of crafting sound.

MAGNOLIA’S LATE NIGHT LIVE: REVELATION FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL, SUNDAY JUNE 5 @ BABUSHKA

Andrew Ryan

Revelation Film Festival has emerged, like the proverbial groundhog from its burrow, to grace us with its presence. Eager not to let the weekend slip by without taking advantage of the fact, I slip over to Leederville and into Luna’s Cinema 1 to catch ‘Last Cab To Darwin’ (you can head over to Clayton’s review this week to read about that film).

Anyways, one of the film’s highlights is the alternately cheeky and confronting portrayal of a young Oodnadatta local named Tilly, and when I leave the cinema and stroll around the corner to Babushka, I’m stoked to see the actor behind Tilly – Mister MARK COLE SMITH – being interviewed by the legendary Magnolia’s trio (Tristan Fidler, Matt “Randal Denton” Aitken and Joe “Jimmy’s Choice” Walsh). Magnolia’s – in case you’re not familiar – is a sort of IRL talk show and features a range of interviews and segments, growing from humble beginnings in a North Perth garage. This chat with MCS is an insightful conversation, in which Cole Smith addresses the challenges and risks of representing another group of Aboriginal people (he himself is from around Broome), not to mention the pitfalls of depicting negative stereotypes surrounding substance abuse and violence while building a lovable character (but the consensus seems to be that he nailed it). It’s also a hilarious interaction. Cole Smith is unwilling to name a Best Film of the Noughties (which is of the big questions of the night) and instead steers the discussion towards Terminator 2; before too long AMBER FRESH invades the stage to the tune of ‘Loving You’ for the ‘Amber’s Love Seat’ segment. But the digression – which typically involves Amber sitting on Tristan’s lap and asking guests romantically-oriented questions – turns into a bout of very convincing slow-dancing and extended eye contact. After several minutes of jokey (?) innuendo Amber finally does proffer one question, about Cole Smith’s grandfather being a pearl diver, which elicits a pretty fascinating story, before their interaction is sadly truncated.

People vote for their favourite film of the noughties by writing titles on a whiteboard while a ping-pong tournament rages on at the back of the room, and Brett Murray spins tunes side of stage. Matt runs us through a useful selection of gestures you can use when talking about films, including “the teeter” (hands rotating either side of face to indicate something-but-not-quite), the “tour de force” and “the masterpiece/love guru.” The Love Guru is being projected on the far wall, by the way, and there is a quiz about the Jason Bourne movies called “I Wasn’t Bourne Yesterday.” Amazing.

Up next is Ali Williams, former manager of much-loved SOR cult video store Jumbo Video. Chats revolve around the slow death of the video rental industry (Netflix, she says, was the straw the broke the camel’s/elephant’s back), the fact that Tristan never went there (boo! jeers the crowd), and Yelp reviews. Williams reminisces slightly unflatteringly about her old customers (“old people…poor people…lonely people”) but ultimately with a fondness and evident love of the medium; it’s a charmingly personal insight into a fading cultural institution. In the absence of usual “Mystery Drinks” figurehead Nick Odell, Aitken hosts the segment, which interestingly is essentially just him pulling a PBR out of his jacket pocket.

Last up are PLATON THEODORUS and TEIK-KIM POK, who discuss their claustrophobic, surrealistic new film ‘Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites.’ We hear about their takes on collaboration vs authoritarian directing, experiences filming in expansive salt lakes near Kalgoorlie, and Amber returns for another round of ‘the love seat.’ She asks Platon and Teik-Kim if either of them are in love; they say they are, which leads Teik-Kim to a protracted tangent about olive oil. When they ask Amber the same question in response, she leans in and whispers an answer as the music fades up… “I think this is what in Shakespeare is called an aside!” pipes up Aitken.

At last, the results are in: the best film of the Noughties is Children of Men. The Magnolia’s boys hand over now to live-in-the-studio trio DOCTOPUS (via an aborted Antiques Roadshow impression by Jimmy’s Choice) and the band appear wearing blindfolds. As you might expect, this impedes their ability to play properly and indeed, to even find the microphone – but tonight they’re called DONNIE DARKTOPUS so it all ties in neatly, and 3 self-sabotaging songs later it’s been a totally entertaining exercise.

It all wraps up, and we trickle out the door, down the stairs into the damp night. Despite years of hearing about the wonders of Magnolia’s late night live second hand, tonight was my first personal experience of the local phenomenon. It’s totally unique, bizarre, joyous and – not least of all – a worthwhile and disarming platform for illuminating discussion. Thanks Magnolia’s; it took me a while, but I’m sure from now on it won’t be so long between drinks.

GHOSTDRUMS, RAT COLUMNS AND GILBERT FAWN @ THE BIRD, FRIDAY JUNE 19

Andrew Ryan

It’s a crispy Friday night and, as the working weeks folds up onto itself like a used serviette, the Bird’s door swings open and invites us into the warmth. Tonight’s lineup consists of sound-wizards who’ve largely been absent from Perth performance in recent times: Gilbert Fawn and Ghostdrums having been in musical semi-hibernation, and Rat Columns interstate or overseas. To be fair we also witness DJ Jimmy’s Choice, who has never left us, and who slings such plump bangers into the pan as Seal’s 1991 hit “Crazy.” Nice!

GILBERT FAWN was playing shows pretty regularly a few years ago, but since then Gilbert (aka Matt Aitken) has opted to focus on his innumerable other brainchildren including the Human Xerox compilations (where everyone covers the same local song), Eggs Press (an irreverent zine and online tv show), Camp Doogs (one-of-a-kind camping festival), Gulls (music duo turned radio reviewers) and Magnolia’s (DIY talk-show/pizza enthusiast comedy trio) to name a few. Evidently he’s a busy man but somewhere in the flurry of activity and imagination, Aitken has found time to revisit and reconfigure the Gilbert Fawn project, infusing its droney bouzouki-folk origins with newfound electronic nous. Tonight, he builds slow, simple chord progressions via Ableton and soaks them with languid feedback resonances. He nudges echoing ¾ beats and ambient harmonic washes into motion, as if gently pushing a boat off the shore and into the current. Occasionally he tickles the bouzouki, with its black floral decals and double-coursed strings, adding that acoustic Mediterranean flavour we know and love. But it’s not the focus, and tonight really seems to be about Gilbert Fawn’s foray into the dizzying world of electronic production. Tactfully, he doesn’t go overboard. These are minimal and restrained compositions, patient in their development, wonderfully offset by eclectic visual projections featuring african masked dance parties, sex museums and abandoned theme parks.

Perth-born, variably Melbourne/San Fran based polymath Dave West gets on the podium next, to roll out songs from his RAT COLUMNS project. He’s got local heroes Louis Hooper (keys), Amber Gempton (bass/vox) and Chris Cobilis (drums) on board. After a few enjoyable but undeniably lo-fi gigs at Bowls clubs and garages recently, it’s exciting to hear them over the Bird’s quality sound system, and in the able hands of top-shelf soundperson Chris Wright. After all – despite West’s long-maintained punk ethos – Rat Columns in its current incarnation is resolutely pop, more discernibly so than scummier sounding projects like Rank/Xerox, Total Control, Pauline Manson and Burning Sensation (Rat Columns is perhaps surpassed in its hook-driven cleanliness only by soft-rock informed collab Lace Curtain). So tonight we get to hear the chiming, tightly-arranged details in all their crisp loveliness. Cobilis’ insistent pulse and Gempton’s nimble thump provide a sturdy lattice on which Hooper grows his drawn-out synth melodies, alongside West’s reserved croon and tintinnabulating guitar. You can easily discern the ghosts of early-80s British charm, from The Smiths and the Cure to Josef K and Orange Juice. But there’s something in the directness, the purity of delivery, that keeps any hint of throwback indulgence at arm’s length. The songs are great, the component parts are interesting, the performance is spirited – meaning Rat Columns compel you in the present tense, never relying on nostalgic signifiers to get you on board.

GHOSTDRUMS is Pete Guazelli (of Fall Electric and Rachel Dease fame) in percussive loop mode. Once again, here’s an amazing local musician who hasn’t reared his sonic head in forever, and what a treat to have him back. With loop-based sets, it’s almost impossible to achieve a parity of volume, fidelity and general quality-of-sound between what’s played first off and what’s repeated via your gadget of choice. Tonight, Guazelli acheives that almost-impossibility and every layer is crystal clear, impeccably rendered and synchronized. But more important than this technical feat is the compositional brilliance – these tunes have the rhythmic intricacy and tautness of Battles, the synth/percussion inventiveness of The Books and melodic emotiveness of Caribou or Seekae. Bloody good, to the point where I’m already craving a repeat viewing. Tonight’s been a masterclass in how music projects can be revived, reimagined or reinvigorated. I eagerly await discovering whatever directions these brains choose to fly in next.

METHYL ETHEL - "OH INHUMAN SPECTACLE" LP

Andrew Ryan

Despite a recent surge in attention, it’s worth nothing that Methyl Ethel has been a pretty exciting phenomenon since its inception. Jake Webb (who cut his teeth in blues-rooted psych/prog trio Sugarpuss) poured plenty of oddball artistry into Methyl’s two early EPs, “Guts” and “Teeth” – records I relished for their lush, ambitious production, their loopy Dionysian songwriting, and their honed palette. Not to mention a certain creepy, resolved sensibility that enveloped it all: this music seemed to exist in its own eerie, gorgeous, self-contained universe. Methyl Ethel’s retained that particular quality, but has since grown from exploratory bedroom passion project to a fleshed-out, tightly orchestrated band featuring Chris Wright and Thom Stewart. They’ve performed shedloads of specky shows around the country and signed to Remote Control records (at various times home to Sigur Ros, St. Vincent, FKA Twigs, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Radiohead and, like, pretty much everyone you’d ever want to share a label with). It’s a well-earned bout of success, and the auspicious signing coincides with the release of ‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle’ – the first long-player to emerge from the project.

he album’s got a gleefully audacious name (reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, Of Montreal and ilk, to my mind) and its tracklist springs into action with a song titled in French to boot: the bubbling ‘Idee Fixe.’ Its a canny, moreish number whose artful textures, evocative lyrics and melancholic chord progression are offset by an undulating funk backbone – one that occasionally ducks the on-beat and introduces snakes-tongue flickering flourishes, not unlike Tame Impala’s recent post-coital burners. “Shadowboxing” ups the lo-fi crunch, and gurgles away under plenty of nice, chimey Mac Demarco-esque lead guitar, but is regrettably unmemorable given its second-slot placement. “Rogues” makes up for that: the pre-album single is a gratifying hunk of smoky, spacious guitar pop with a simmering motown pulse. It also makes charming reference to Western Australian idiosyncrasy (“it’s a forty-three degree day outside”) and extraterrestrial life (“aliens… aliens… I got abducted by the aliens.”)

“To Swim” grants us two minutes and sixty seconds of sound: first, as an abstract swirl of noise and then as an undeniable slab of chugging chillwave-y smoothness. Neither part lasts long enough to feel like a significant statement; both risk sounding like non-committal detours, or like vignettes from a hyperactive musical dream. But if you’re floating in the flow of the album, the track constitutes a totally pleasant pit stop, whetting yr appetite for the more substantial “Twilight Driving.”

The latter is about the best slice of earnest, major-key guitar twang optimism since, I dunno, Real Estate’s Days? Which is a big call but not outrageous, I reckon – “Twilight Driving” is a sideways love song about road trips, avoiding kangaroos, coffee, sleeping in and it’s got a saxophone solo for chrissakes. If its sincere, life-affirming spirit doesn’t rub off on you then there is probably ice-cold coal inside your ribcage where your heart should be.

That said, you might have a particular blood type that errs towards slow-burn, soothing jams with gentle beats, hammock-mellow guitar harmonies and gooey sunrise synths, in which case “Depth Perception” is more probably the track for you. Or maybe you’re like me and you remained stuck on the intoxicated, stomping, cosmopolitan choirboy giddiness of Person Pitch long after it was hip, in which case you’ll enjoy getting wrapped up in the throbbing melodic layers of Unbalancing Act.

“Also Gesellschaft” owes plenty to our city’s stately princes of psych-party renaissance – Pond, obvies – but meanwhile subsumes sombre krautrock moodiness and ’80s pop indulgence in a way that’s starting to feel very particular to Methyl Ethel. There’s “Osbcura,” which sort of feels like a jazz standard performed in disco style, and slowed to 33rpm laced with distortion, and “Artificial Limb” which is also gently jazzy and emphatically fuzzy, but more in a fog-headed Blur or Pulp kind of way. Y’know?

The twelve tracks – which have been surprisingly varied, given their aesthetic continuity – tie up in the form of wistful stargazer “Sweet Waste” and the even-more-hollowed-out, hymnal ambient funk of “Everything Is As It Should Be.”

There are plenty of reference points that Oh Inhuman Spectacle seems to brush over and collect glittery lint from – most evidently the gently weird, “pre-worn hits” aesthetic that has seemed to rhizomatically emerge from (admittedly diverse) musicians like Mac DeMarco, Ariel Pink, Connan Mockasin, Atlas Sound, Tame Impala, Neon Indian etc etc. But to calculate an average of those bands’ sounds is not particularly helpful in imagining the sonic space that Methyl Ethyl currently occupy. It is better understood as the culmination of years spent honing offbeat pop-songwriting, funnelled into a pretty flawless 12-track album, the sort of album that’s crafted with a sculptor’s precision and a bricklayer’s grit. From start to finish, it flows in a logical manner: there aren’t too many kooky surprises, curveballs, or overt attempts at genre-jamming. But that’s no indictment. When your songs and performers are this good, you don’t need tricks up your sleeve.

STATE OF THE ART FESTIVAL @ PERTH CULTURAL CENTRE, SATURDAY MAY 30

Andrew Ryan

Rolling slowly downhill into the city, I find myself surrounded by bright sunbeams, cool air, food trucks, scuttling children with sauntering parents, translucent orange beach balls. This is the bustle swirling in and around the State of The Art festival: a part free-to-the-public, part pay-to-enter congregation of well-regarded acts who hail from Western Australia. Despite the peaceful, breezy flurry of people and colour, there doesn’t seem to be too much going on just yet, so I fetch myself a tasty beverage and by the time I return I encounter DECIBEL’s STUART JAMES playing the “Infinity Machine” on that wooden pontoon in the middle of the Cultural Centre wetlands. What IS the infinity machine, I wonder? Suddenly local music wunderbrain Adam Trainer appears and explains that it’s an innovation of local composer Alan Lamb: a kind of small table which sends continuous electronic currents through stretched wires and uses magnets to extrude sound frequencies. The mild-mannered James sits and patiently draws out these sounds, which ring out like whale song through the amphitheatre, forming a beautiful duet with the trickle of the nearby waterfall.

I keep wandering, catching some of the swaggering swampy bohemia of MOANA, who offsets the Perth psych-rock cliché with substantial incursions into grunge, folk-prog and noise rock; and heart-on-sleeve rap poet MARKSMAN LLOYD in the Theatre Courtyard tent, who summons some endearing audience participation despite the meagre early-afternoon crowd.

On the same stage, LILT sail bravely through an initial squall of technical difficulties to deliver a remarkably intricate, dramatic and deftly delivered set of dark electronic pop. We get freeform cinematic swells, intense leftfield house and post-dubstep beats, lush beds of synth and Louise Penman’s emotive vocals, all amounting to a bloody dynamic ride. It’s sufficiently compelling that I forget to grip my phone, drop it on the bricks and smash its screen. “Phone-screen-smashingly good” – put that on yer bios, mates.

Back out in the sunshiney open, DAVID CRAFT and his new band deliver a fresh set of originals which have partly metamorphosed from their original folky forms into synth-laden art-pop constructions. A pretty faithful cover of Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’ baffles me slightly, but sounds impressive nonetheless, and the rest of the musical outings settle smoothly on the ears, with electronic inclusions sounding like a pretty natural progression rather than a forced contrivance.

The same could be said of KATY STEELE, aka Little Birdy’s former frontperson, who appears over at the Museum stage with a new band comprising just drum kit and synth (and plenty of laptop backing, natch). Given that Little Birdy moved away from their twangy rock and roll pretty quickly and began digesting plenty of other influences, it’s hardly surprising to hear Steele’s voice crooning over hefty beats, subby oscillations and pretty a la mode arrangements in general. Which is not to say Steele’s just trendmongering: her depth of songwriting remains, her performance schtick is audacious and fun, her pipes are as distinctive and self-assured as ever.
The sun is fading and DREAM RIMMY are on the pontoon, chugging out blissful summery space-garage: beautifully crafted songs where everything melds into a sort of sandpapery goo and hurtles through time, anchored by the meditative pedal point of Ali Flintoff and George Foster’s deadpan vocal harmonies.

I catch an earful of BRAD HALL’s cheering earnest country, and ENSEMBLE FORMIDABLE’s elaborate carnival-groove inventions, before pinning myself to a good vantage point back in the State Theatre tent for GARETH LIDDIARD. It’s hard to believe it’s been half a decade since the Drones frontman released his solo record “Strange Tourist,” an album that quickly became one of my favourite Australian releases ever. In the time since, there have been several new Drones albums but no more solo outings and indeed, his set tonight still mainly plumbs that batch of songs (with a Lou Reed cover and a Drones track thrown in for good measure). Liddiard seems a bit more weary playing these tunes than he did the last couple of times he was in town; one wonders if he’s got the itch to expel them and churn out the next cycle. Or maybe I’m just extra-sensitive to his jaded vibes tonight, which would make sense, as he spends plenty of the set half-jokingly lambasting his state of origin, a state that’s being so earnestly celebrated this weekend. At any rate, it seems apt that Liddiard with be the thorn in the festival’s self-congratulatory side – he’s never been one for niceties.

Back over near PICA, on the other side of the coin, are the ebullient confetti-core stalwarts BOYS BOYS BOYS! sounding punchier than ever with souped-up synth bass and a vigorous new guitarist (new, at least, since I last saw them – ages ago). I catch the end of BEN WITT’s alleyway set, a brain-bending cacophony of dark bluesy vocals, harmonica and warped looping guitar that churns in every direction, including backwards and at half-speed. I see a bit of YOU AM I, not enough to comment meaningfully, but enough to enjoy their tight-as-nails riffery, their never-ending swagger, and Tim Rogers’ tight blouse/ridiculously oversized scarf.

KOI CHILD are doing aural burnouts in the Tent: impossibly slick live jazz-hop explorations which turn out to be carefully composed backdrops for some world-class emcee work. Why in D’Angelo’s name aren’t these guys being frothed upon in international press and getting signed to trendy labels? Wait – they are! Which is just as it should be.

THE WEAPON IS SOUND are massaging the air with minimal, synth-squiggly dub pulsations over in the pond, while the leather-clad girls of LEGS ELECTRIC are firing up their ridiculously textbook (but totally entertaining and over-the-top and great) capital-R Rock music. The reformed 1978 lineup of THE SCIENTISTS play no-nonsense rock music, too, but represent a diametrically opposed cultural position: they’re enshrined in history (“pioneering punk,” and “inspiring grunge” etc), their performance is proudly sloppy rather than razor-sharp, and to this day they wear a staunch demeanour of subversion/alternativity (while Legs Electric boast that “you might have heard this next song on 96 fm.”) Not to mention the relationship between gender and reception: Legs Electric will never be taken seriously by the alternative music scene (I promise), while the Scientists are subcultural demigods, and I can’t help but suspect that part of that comes down to the structural sexism that’s ingrained in the archetype of a “credible” rock band. And look, I get it: The Scientists were important, they were a revelation, they’ve never sold out, their music has meant a lot to a lot of people. Legs Electric, for all their talent, are piggybacking on the widespread appeal of a cookie-cutter aesthetic. All I mean to say is that, when you peel away the bullshit, The Scientists were no more entertaining than Legs Electric tonight – if anything, the former’s songs sounded a little like they’d rather be left stewing in the haze of the late ’70s. Sorry, I was excited, I tried hard to love it, I did.

ODETTE MERCY and her SOUL ATOMICS perk me up a little on the PICA stage with their impeccable horn-laden funk smoothness, and SABLE induces some grins in the lightly-populated tent, with a chameleon set spanning alien electronica, trap and oddball club thump. At last it’s time to roll back up the slope and crash. It was an undeniably beautiful day, full of utterly disparate music, amounting to a truly bizarre and dizzying collage of ideas and worldviews all within a few hundred square metres. Is WA uniquely great at making music? Nah. Is there “something in the water?” Nope – except fluoride, which helps fight tooth decay (they don’t get fluoride water in Finland, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, or Japan, so we’ve got one up on those guys). But given that our entire state’s population is exceeded by that of Minneapolis, I’d say we’re punching above our weight, and at any rate we have more great music to celebrate than we could possibly hope to cram into one day. SOTA 2015 was a valiant attempt though. Western Australia. Great teeth. Great tunes.

TURA PRESENTS ‘TIME ALONE’ @ CALLOWAY AUDITORIUM, SUNDAY MAY 24

Andrew Ryan

Tura New Music is a Perth arts presence that, hopefully, needs no introduction these days. Ascendant since 1987, the organization is near-synonymous with boundary-shoving, conceptually-driven sound as it exists in Western Australia. And if its year-round calendar of programming is a perpetual experimental prom, then the Totally Huge New Music Festival is surely both belle and beau of the ball, spanning ten days and nights and engaging all forms of media. We’re rolling up tonight, by UWA’s tennis courts and gymnasium, to enter the Calloway Auditorium, for the finale of this year’s Totally Huge stretch.

We find positions in the almost-chockfull grandstand seating. Seemingly at the helm of proceedings is Sydney-based percussion hero CLAIRE EDWARDES, who fields between-piece-spiel duties and kick-starts the concert in solo mode.

She’s playing a piece called “In,” composed by UWA stalwart CHRISTOPHER TONKIN back in in 2005 while he was studying at Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris. Comprising bass drum, electronics, and some fascinating percussive interventions (like thumbing a coarsely-bristled brush under a highly sensitive microphone), it’s both minimal and expansive. Mallets rub against wooden drum rims, and the slight textural scratch is blown up in proportion, warped through filters and announced through hefty speakers. The drum skin itself, when struck, has its more subtle harmonic resonances captured by the electronics which Tonkin himself is controlling, stage left: these swell and linger, becoming dark, symphonic beds of frequency.

MAGNUS LINDBERG’s “Ablauf” (for clarinet and two bass drums) is described by Edwardes as being “at the extreme ends of the decibel spectrum.” Presumably this isn’t quite the case scientifically, but it’s certainly true in a colloquial sense, with ASHLEY SMITH’s clarinet blaring its first notes in fortissimo squawks that reveal the tone’s spectral components through sheer intensity, later dipping into near-inaudible flutters. Flanking him are Edwardes and LOUISE DEVENISH, each on a bass drum, booming periodically, either in synch or in subtle phase. The piece detours into hysterical woodwind intensity and, eventually, bizarre paroxysmal vocalisations, the latter verging on accidental parody of experimental music – I mean, it’s intense and strange in a way that’s either scary, or funny, or both. If it’s funny, that’s no indictment: subverting norms, introducing incongruities, these things belong to the realms of both comedy and creative radicalism.

DAMIEN RICKETSON’s ‘Time Alone,’ is delivered by Edwardes solo again, though it was originally written for a larger work called The Secret Noise and featured live dance plus an immersive darkness-and-pillows environment. Still, it hardly feels lacking: indeed it’s an apt opportunity for the sound element to be considered in and of itself. Minimalistic vibraphone phrases are the name of the game: notes leap slowly from the void and resonate brightly in the room. There a sense that maybe these “melodies” – which are removed from the conventional logic of melody, albeit sometimes implying a tonal centre – may have aleatoric origins. There’s no obvious trajectory, no clear shape, but eventually more elements do fade in: allusions to morse code, and an abstract ambience that contextualizes the floating pitch/timbre meditations we’ve heard thus far.

Ashley Smith returns to deliver NICO MUHLY’s “It Goes Without Saying.” Here, we get clarinet motifs bouncing around like corn kernels popping in a frying pan – meanwhile, a burgeoning backdrop of mallet percussion, tape noise, further clarinet (forming harmonies and drones), rattling bells what sounds like handclaps.

MICHAEL SMETANIN’s ‘Finger Funk’ is a duo on one marimba, performed by Edwardes and Devenish. Doing away with mallets, the the piece calls for a blister-inducing, scarcely believable, nimble pattering of fingers on hard wood. Their one concession is an eraser bound to each thumb (apparently bruising became a genuine concern). Given the unconventions constraints, the result is still remarkably nuanced and quote-unquote “musical,” with deft dynamic arcs and flawless modulations across chords and scalic runs. The main outcome of the fingers-only rule is an overall dramatic drop in volume, which makes for a beautifully delicate, ear-craning experience; the side-effect of two performers sharing a marimba is that it becomes a sort of strange dance, occasioned by logistics, but ultimately serving expression: hands weave and overlap on the keys, forming a decidedly unique spectacle.

The concert wraps up with GYORGY LYGETY’s ‘Continuum’ from 1968 – originally written for harpsichord, and adapted by Edwardes and Devenish for marimba and vibraphone (each takes a “hand” from the original score.” It’s an onslaught for the listening faculties: rapid clusters of notes, buzzing wildly like a dense cloud of bees, occasionally diffusing into looser formations, before gathering together again. If you think that sounds a bit purple, rest assured that Lygeti’s own metaphor for the piece was arguably even stranger: “I thought to myself, what about composing a piece that would be a paradoxically continuous sound […] but that would have to consist of innumerable thin slices of salami?” I didn’t hear salami, but I heard a remarkably singular composition, reimagined and expertly delivered by two masters of the percussive craft.

Before ‘Continuum,’ Edwardes (as mouthpiece of the concert) took the opportunity to encourage everybody in attendance to educate themselves about the Brandis Office’s recent reappraisal of arts funding, the sanctioning of ‘elite’ arts, and the potentially devastating consequences for small organizations and innovative individual practitioners. I’ve heard people – indeed, people who claim to support the arts – take a populist view to the arts funding debate, claiming that projects with broad public appeal should indeed reap the entirety of taxpayer support, while niche outings should be expected to keep themselves afloat. This is a big conversation, a conversation beyond the scope of this review. But if there’s one thing that tonight affirms, it’s the (frankly obvious) fact that the most compelling and engaging work is not always that which reaches the most ears. Tura may be well-established in the arts community, but it’s not within the purview of the average radio listener. New sounds, new forms, new artistic risks construct new potential realities, and expand our imaginations. Such ventures are not always comfortable or instantly digestible, but they are crucial. And they’re ideas that need more proliferation, not more marginalization; more support, not less; and more celebration, because the fringe experiments of now are significant in themselves – before we even consider that they invent the thrilling possibilities of the future.

STATUS FACTORY RECOMMENDS – 002 w/ ASSAD, RACHEL DEASE, ALZABO & MORE @ MOJOS, SUNDAY MAY 17

Andrew Ryan

Near the Swan River I climb onto a bus, and ride it through the drizzle and the afternoon light to North Fremantle, to an old haunt I haven’t visited in a while. Over the road there’s a new cafe made of shipping containers and glass which I’ve never seen , so I pay it a visit before being slurped back into the toasty confines of Mojo’s Bar.

Indeed, I make a beeline for the fireplace, a warm crackling recess crowned by bric-a-brac on the wooden mantelpiece. And as I sit and tingle in the as-yet lightly populated room, LAUREL FIXATION begins to play.

The singer-songwriter, whose ‘Small Discomforts’ EP I reviewed back in February, has one of the best voices and guitar sounds going around. This is important, since the whole set is constructed with these two materials, but beyond the satisfying mellifluence of the tone there’s the content: deceptively simple chord progressions and picking patterns, all expertly crafted with the utmost care; witty, candid, melancholic lyrics delivered with a hushed resonance and scrupulous phrasing. It’s a slow-paced, smouldering set which mirrors the fire beside me, and befits the grey wet on the other side of the windows. She delivers a great song I hadn’t heard (about the double entendre of being a “dirty girl”) and a Kill Devil Hills cover – reworking the cherished “Drinking Too Much” into “Smoking Too Much” and sneaking in smooth, deadpan allusions to bongs; it’s at least as affecting as it is amusing.

SAM ATKIN follows, the gentle-seeming bloke with the beard-beyond-his-years perched behind a makeshift table of midi controllers, synthesizers, samplers et al. We enter a phasing, unpredictable world of rainforest ambience, abstract beat-sample collages and vocoder-pop sketches. Around the corner is a deep “trappy” groove layered with digital marimba arpeggios and warbling space organ; the mood is fugitive, a protean aesthetic dodging the glow of your eagerly bobbing headlamp. You get a whiff of OPN, James Ferraro and Macintosh Plus: perhaps not in Atkin’s overall sound, but at least in his set tonight – in other words, I’m reminded of the exponents of “vaporwave” who have managed to transcend the genre’s descent into self-caricature – but there’s plenty of other reference points you could just as well call upon. Ultimately, he makes beautiful electronic music with fascinating conceptual implications and, by the time he fades into utopian piano noodles mixed with cascading insect chatter and finally a great Rabbit Island cover (of much-loved tune ‘My Own Private’), I’m already looking forward to his next performance.

ATRIPAT, whose name I’ve heard whispered in impressed tones lately, appears next. The austerely-garbed local purveys dark, textured, stuttering beats; thick woody bass and crackly, cinematic midrange sound interventions. Synth-voice stabs and dense sweaty percussion round out the compelling picture, as the smoke machine starts oozing pink and yellow mist and the set enters its dénouement of warped, eddying vocal samples.

CHRIS COBILIS and YENTING HSU’s set feels like a mobile; an undulating mobile of granulated noise, seashore hiss, birdsong and distant metallic resonances. There are jabs of deconstructed, resampled rock band and close-up contact mic rustling. All this might sound like a pretty archetypal contemporary-laptop-noise set, and I confess that my words are unlikely to do it justice: it’s thoroughly experiential, tricky to approximate with language. Suffice it to say that the contours of sound are laid out with such attention and intuitive artistry that we receive a truly special, beautiful musical performance. Sometimes laptop sets feel lacking in their absence of live instrumental / physically-driven elements, but this feels all the more magical for its object/sound disconnect. In clickbait terms, This Set Could Change The Way You Think About Noise. It’s sad that we won’t get an encore – Hsu is returning to Taiwan having completed her sound art residency at Fremantle Arts Centre. But I feel immensely lucky to have caught this set while she was here.

Now here are two men who seemed to have been destined to form a band together since day one. Steve Summerlin (Mink Mussel Creek, Felicity Groom band) and Nick Odell (CEASE, sometimes POND) are (publicly or otherwise) two of the fiercest connoisseurs of heaviness in Perth and it seems inevitable that their overlapping passions would propel them towards forming a band like Alzabo. Here, in duo formation, they deliver an instrumental set rich with gut-shuddering low-end sludge and roof-rattling string and cymbal crunch. What’s most impressive is not that they’re loud, or even that they’re so avidly and tenaciously loud: plenty of boring bands fit that description. Alzabo manage to proffer a smorgasbord of different kinds of loudness and heaviness, from thin and thrashy assault to deep and thunderous boom – thus allowing for a rollercoaster of dynamics and natural-seeming stylistic shifts, without ever deviating from the fundamental agenda of in-yer-face double-pronged blitz.

RACHAEL DEASE is a local legend who I haven’t seen perform in a songwriter capacity for ages. At the risk of seeming hyperbolic, I wanna say that Dease’s set tonight not only reminds me why she’s such highly esteemed – it reminds me of a number of the reasons I love music. From the thick, yawning textures of the omnichord to Dease’s treacle-noir vocal incantations and the bedroomy chug of the drum machine, everything melds into a dreamlike whole, while letting details shine through; Tristan Parr’s ingenious, often unpredictable cello layerings seal the deal. But it’s not just that the ingredients are all great quality: fundamentally, these are just really amazing songs, which simmer and grow and billow and shrink, lurking in dirgey corners or lighting up into sudden, unexpected harmonic modulations. Commentators, from my experience, are quick to wax on about Dease’s excellent voice and beguiling aesthetic. But the minutiae of the musical ideas, too numerous and intricate to list, are best apprehended in the listening, and they elevate these songs to a plane of brilliance.

Finally it’s over to ASSAD, aka Ben Andrews from the fantastic My Disco, in his solo laptop iteration. The set is (literally) shrouded in darkness, and channels the same penchant for minimalism that his band always has, but into a decidedly different outcome. Starting with a few processed vocal samples, we find ourselves in a stark world of low-pitch frequency beatings that form something equivalent to an otherworldly house or techno pulsation; in another band of frequencies, abstract inharmonic noises shuffle, and a high-pitched, not-quite piercing sound (like a pin dropping in a cave) echoes rhythmically. There are discernable patters to the bursts of sound, though they don’t always synchronize – so the set moves imperceptibly from what you might call “abstract” soundscapes to alignments that feel more like formalized compositions or rhythmic arrangments. How much of this is planned? How much is pre-formed? How much is improvised? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure if it matters, but nevertheless these questions arise, adding further mystery to an already enigmatic mood. It’s a strange set, a haunting and subtly cathartic thing that gets at you from the inside out. And it’s a suitably unorthodox and memorable end to a night of distinctive, wildly varied, and deeply free-spirited music.

“THE FINAL CURTAIN” CLOSING PARTY @ THE BAKERY, SATURDAY MAY 9

Andrew Ryan

It’s a perfect day as I arrive in Northbridge: Perth’s patented blue mega-­‐dome, warm white-­‐gold sun, a gentle autumn nip tickling your more exposed body parts. And as we weave around corners and along Lake Street we lap up the scenes and the gentle hum, arriving soon in that storied carpark fringed by a great steel slater to one side (Metro City) and crusty red shipping containers to the other. This is, of course, The Bakery and although it’s not yet past noon, a queue has already grown outside the ticket booth. We are here for the actual and unequivocal Last Hurrah, the Encore without Encore, the Big Bow, and the popular majestic finality of it all is what finds us in an orderly line rather than rocking up whenever, at our leisure. And yet still, if I’m honest, the reality of that finality still hasn’t seeped through the superficial layers of my brain and into my settled understandings. My subconscious, I think, still suspects the Bakery will linger forever, just as a child lays out milk and cookies in vain denial of Santa’s increasingly evident fallaciousness.

Santa notwithstanding, I soon get the chance to bask in the ever-­‐surprising wonder of RABBIT ISLAND, that snow globe of all-­‐natural magic helmed by local exemplary human Amber Fresh. The set consists of only a handful of songs – four or five at most – but it breathes and expands and glimmers with the panoramic scope of a planetarium, filling up your pores with the hushed resonance of Fresh’s voice and the artisan details of accomplices Ben Witt and Sam Maher. I sip a cheap Tecate beer can housed in a souvenir Bakery stubbie-­‐holder that promises to allow me cheap beers for the brief remainder of the Bakery’s life, which is nice.

Today is a day that myself and R had agreed upon to practice our own music, so we now depart the cherished venue and leave the following pages intentionally blank, and as such you will have to ask someone else if you want an account of the afternoon’s general proceedings. As for us, we return at the rough blonde tail-­‐end of the SABRETOOTH TIGERS’ set, and settle in for the ensuing evening’s diversions.

Thus arrives FELICITY GROOM, whom I wrote about only last week regarding her appearance at The Bird, but tonight is full-­‐band mode again and as such quite a different experience. I want to say, honestly, that I rather feel that Groom’s last LP ‘Hungry Sky’ remains underrated and that I’d yet to witness a crowd respond to its material with the visceral exuberance it deserves: in this way tonight is a charm and a relief, as hoards gather around the fabled stage and sway and sing and clap and whirl with all the unassuming gusto of a village tavern hearing its most beloved regional folk anthem. Felicity Groom is one of our town’s most enduring talents, having now spanned the spectrum from acoustic minutiae to galactic euphoria-­‐pop and back again in time for lunch, and as she sagaciously suggests, “Bakery vibes will live on,” not least because acts such as hers will sustain them. The backdrop of Steven Summerlin on bass and auxiliary synth, Andrew Ryan on guitar and drums, and Mike Jelinek on drums and guitar, is robust and compelling, if occasionally a notch too “clever” for its own good. Indeed, the most streamlined arrangements seem to fly most majestically – a real-­‐time exemplar of the power of simplicity – which is not to say that the more ornate, adventurous and diversified orchestrations don’t have their own intriguing and remarkable appeal.

FAIT emerge like indie-­‐rock turtles from the vast cosmic ocean, and proceed to shoot their crystalline guitar-­‐based compositions into the healthy pocket of air above the vibrating crowd. Frankly, to this writer’s ears, the tunes are only inoffensive insofar as they are forgettable, and only as palatable as they are uninspired. At this point –speaking as a newcomer to the band – I can’t see any reason to listen to Fait as opposed to the myriad of pan-­‐rock indie guitar bands long since laid to waste in the bowels of my iTunes, but I do meanwhile have some faith in the intentions and visions of the members of this band with pedigrees I trust, and perhaps I’m missing something in this cursory listen. All I’m saying is that I’m still in the “to-­‐be-­‐convinced” pile of casual spectators and, under the circumstances, I gravitate towards the smoky throb of the dancefloor down the crimson velveteen aisle, wherein CRAIG HOLLYWOOD is set upon massaging our collective skin with potent disco-­‐funk therapy.

Now back in the big room SEX PANTHER are readying their high-­‐octane rockmusik, and wow what a wild moment this is. Not only have the much-­‐loved Sex Panther been out of action for a number of years, they were also the first band I ever saw perform at the Bakery (ok, the first band I actually saw perform at the Bakery was “The Maccaburettors” but I only saw a couple of their songs and Sex Panther swiftly followed with an immensely more memorable show). In other words, it’s a wonderful and poetic and characteristically carefree/raucous bookend to my Bakery experience, one that’s spanned nine or ten years. Whatever spun the Sex Panther clan into hibernation/disbandment has not hindered the thrill of their return: they sound as propulsive and raw and yet deftly nuanced as ever, with Storm’s vocals warbling superbly overhead. Truly a classic, invigorating band. I see my Perth compatriots boogieing and, just as we have all together but separately ridden the troughs and peaks of the intervening years, so too do we altogether rejoice in those nostalgic yet immediate chords that zap their way through “Cuntstruck” and the ilk.

Now, back when the melodic yet no-­‐nonsense joy-­‐punk of Sex Panther was piquing the interest of the MySpace generation, so too was a sort of brash and complex post-­‐punk reinvention bracing the town, and perhaps no-­‐one from that whirlpool of creativity has stood the test of time so well as THE WEDNESDAY SOCIETY. The band makes a rare appearance tonight, and their erratic, neurotic freak jams are still as bracing as ever: perhaps even more so given the sound’s since-­‐dwindled commonality. Employing barked political diatribes, jousting guitar lines (a la a souped-­‐up Television/Gang of Four), intricate and volatile yet grooving drums parts and uncanny electronic ejaculations, their impact remains intense, their aesthetic singular and compelling. While bands typically disappear for personal reasons – be they creative or social – there is often assumed a sense in which the act has exhausted its potential. Not so, I feel, with the Wednesday Society who are still utterly thrilling to witness, who glow with a vigour and imagination that seems to belong more to the future than the past.

FRENCH ROCKETS eventually grind into gear, and provide a surprise: I’m used to their sets consisting of essentially a single motorik jam or a few basic grooves over which a psychedelic wall of sound is produced, but tonight there is something more structured and considered and diverse about their approach – which is not to say it’s intrinsically better, but it’s nice to be kept guessing from one show to the next. Here we encounter varied arrangements of heavy and sparse riffs, Spacemen 3-­‐ish swirling strum storms and lilting proto-­‐psych meditations. It’s a sweet, hallucinatory kind of send-­‐off.

And the night rolls on into THE WEAPON IS SOUND with their dub attack and THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH drumming extravaganza presented by Injured Ninja, and Steve Hughes swings off the rafters as the proverbial curtain comes down at last, though I must admit that by then I’ve vanished into the night, swept away by the descending curtains of my own eyelids. Back out in the carpark I feel a pang of sadness as I make that journey away from the shipping container kingdom one last time; no more will my eyes slide over its motley walls, its dream-­‐like mash of disco balls, astro-­‐turf, driftwood and concrete and black interior, the buzzing congregations of smokers and socialites down past the steps, the endlessly reconfiguring crowd before the stage, the excellent, pony-­‐tailed Luke behind the sound desk and the familiar smiling faces behind the bar. It wasn’t until Sex Panther played, and the strange symmetry of my years coming here was manifested, that I began to really feel the impending end of the Bakery, and I probably won’t really appreciate its absence until a few weekends of wondering what’s happening, and not having this faithful staple to glide into. But the time is for fond remembrance, not despair, and as Felicity Groom said tonight, the spirit of the place will live on once the walls have fallen. So I raise a glass to the cavernous, humble, strange and bountiful Bakery, and like a Swedish pop star I thank you for the music. Until we meet again, by some other name, in some other shape, on some other block, to foster the magic of some future haunt -­‐ with a fresh reel of memories to be wrought.

Photos by Daniel Grant

FELICITY GROOM, DAVID CRAFT & GOLDEN STRING @ THE BIRD, SATURDAY MAY 2

Andrew Ryan

Drifting into an open-ended evening in Northbridge: it’s been a while, and it’s a happy prospect. For a while I just walk, breathing in the dusk; I descend into Joe’s Juice Joint and spend ages eating the free peanuts, sipping rum and playing the Metallica and Elvis pinball; I skip over to Beaufort Street and try the Perth Draught on tap; I do a lap of Chinatown. Soon I’m at The Bird, old faithful, where although the advertised headliner has sadly had to withdraw from the night’s proceedings, an auspicious local lineup lies in wait.

The waxing moon ushers in GOLDEN STRING, an act that seems to be perennially just right and yet – paradoxically – ever-improving. This is the first time I’ve witnessed the project in its latest incarnation, a duo mode featuring mastermind Mai Barnes alongside local violin veteran Hayley Jane-Ayres, and while every Golden String set I’ve caught has been great, there’s something uniquely special at work here: a certain creative chemistry between the two performers that’s palpable. It’s thrillingly evident in the dynamic shifts and harmonic wanderings, the kinds of deft particularities that characterize Barnes’ songs. Each musician loops their respective instruments, building up parallel coils of warm resonance and euphony; and be it via technical nous or immaculate co-ordination, their loops play out perfectly in tandem. Barnes enacts an impressive choreography (as in, excellent marionette-like dance moves) while unfurling a set that, interestingly, seems more atmospheric than it is song-driven in the traditional sense. Whatever these observances mean for Golden String in the long term, they make for a spellbinding set here and now.

DAVID CRAFT now has the taxing task of not only following GOLDEN STRING but also effectively replacing Mary Ocher, the would-be headliner for tonight, who’d come all the way from Russia (via her haunt in Berlin) only to have her tour compromised by the immigration department. That’s a darn shame and a daunting void to fill, but Craft is the kind of performer who seems invariably unfazed and ready to play at a moment’s notice. That nonchalant dedication is evident in his songs which – from opener ‘Human Stain’ to the pensive, swelling ‘David’s Dead’ – are intricately constructed but tend to smirk or ache or sigh only in the most offhand, shrugging sorts of ways. In some artists it might seem like a foil, a means of hedging one’s bets and tempering raw emotions. With Craft it seems like just another facet of honesty – yes, he has lots of Feelings; no, he doesn’t owe us songs that lay those Feelings out in an unmediated, personality-eschewing way. New jangler ‘Melting Into You’ sits alongside a beaut Simon & Garfunkel cover and a version of ‘Boys of Summer,’ (a strange choice in the mind of this reviewer, who was hitherto unacquainted with the song beyond Brian Adam’s version, having picked up the latter on cassette for free on someone’s lawn many years prior…anyway, David’s version sounds ace).

FELICITY GROOM emerges with longtime collaborator ANDREW RYAN in tow and the pair launch into a spirited performance that’s surprisingly eclectic in its sonic palette, given the minimal setup. Groom minus ‘rock band’ backing has always been a distinctly different proposition, though once upon a time you could be right to expect a pared-back acoustic experience. More recently – and in particular since the release of her last longplayer ‘Hungry Sky’ – the variations are less predictable, and tonight the mood seems to be simultaneously erring towards both intimate keyboard-based songwriter territory and live beatcraft performance. In keeping with her trajectory it’s psychey-lush, sprawling in its vision but restrained in the delivery – it culminates in the Broadcast-esque, jubilantly driving ‘Higher, Higher, Taller, Taller,’ with Groom’s triumphant voice tracing the melody’s idiosyncratic contours and Ryan’s tastefully processed bass guitar zigzagging artfully below. One look at the crowd’s faces tells you how deeply appreciated these tunes are, and the set finishes with a sense of gratitude hanging in the room. I finish my last beer and carry on, filled up with all the right things.

GONG WITH THE WIND b/w METHODS OF MOVEMENT @ THE BAKERY

Andrew Ryan

As I roll along a shadowy Roe Street and pull into that driveway next to Metro City for the first time in a year or so, I realize It hasn’t really sunk in yet that The Bakery is closing. The Northbridge venue, which I’ve been visiting since I was in high school, has played host to so many intense, joyful, weird and charming nights: among the disco balls and shipping containers I’ve been held in the thrall of countless music whizzes, from Marnie Stern to Madlib, Boris to Badbadnotgood, HEALTH to Healing Crystal Meth. There have been nights of peaceful introspection in the curiously cavernous space – like when Grouper played, or during intimate Club Zho performances – and utterly debaucherous bacchanals, like when an ascendant Pond drummed the crowd into a ferocious whirlpool of sweat one memorable summer’s night, or when Wavves occasioned a full-blown, destructive, hedonistic stage-invasion. There are no venues forthcoming to take The Bakery’s place, so while great shows will continue to occur, nights with the Bakery’s particular flavour may soon be a memory in Perth. This starts to hit me as I carry in my equipment, say hi to Luke behind the sound desk, and greet Sam who’s setting the mood behind the decks.

That’s SAM KUZICH, by the way – who can be seen fielding nimble drum duties whenever wild future-jazz combo Cosmo Gets come out to play. They were set to appear tonight, but due to injury, no such luck: luckily Sam furnishes us with an ample supply of mellow, deep and freaky cuts, mostly falling within the spaced-out jazz fusion sphere or else in the sticky pits of deep, organic funkiness. I set down my instruments; this is my first show back in Perth after a year or so away and I’m pretty nervous about it, so I start sipping on the Asahi beers on hand, and Kuzich’s grooves help ease my mood.

And if you ever needed music to soothe you, you couldn’t ask for much more than LEAVING, aka Rupert Thomas, who soon appears set up on the floor in front of the stage. The literally down-to-earth, floating set of synthesizer meditations and gently echoing drum-pattern patter soaks into your skin, imbuing yr mind and body with unpretentious, pure and simple musicality: Leaving’s music is minimal in its construction but crafted with utmost care, making for a deeply satisfying listening experience.

I’m given the undesirable task of following Leaving, but I have a real fun time anyway, and after me come the stellar MUDLARK. These two gentlemen crashed on my sharehouse’s couch last time I saw them, when they came over to Melbourne for a handful of very well-received shows. But I’ve not copped an earful since then, and they’ve clearly been workshopping their sound. Warsame’s drumming, as intricate, taut and curiously sprawling as it’s been, sounds somehow more dynamic, resonant and clear than ever. Steven’s guitar, meanwhile, has taken on a new fluidity and seems to be running through a bunch more effects, so that the result is even more abstracted from traditional guitar sounds: more of a seething liquid energy than the percussive sound of steel strings.

LOWER SPECTRUM provides an intricate, chameleonic set of hi-res beatcraft, rhythmic noise lacework and glimmering synth melodics. It’s less ambient than I’d expected, and less traditionally “dark” – though there’s still a gentle sinister edge to much of what the producer/composer (elsewhere known as Ned Beckley) spins out. Performatively, he’s animated and involved, an enthusiasm that translates to the discernably bouncing group of listeners in front of the stage.

MEI SARASWATI, is a late but undeniably great addition to the lineup, bringing her finely wrought post-pop, neo-wetlandia concrète-RnB to the now-bustling boulangerie. No-one in Perth, or anywhere as far as I know, pairs such meticulous, masterful production and vocals with such a casual onstage presence – and the result is a now-familiar alchemy, where you can bathe in a kind of heavy brilliance while “letting it all hang out.” It’s addictive, and when Mei wraps up with the throbbing ‘Tek Life’ the crowd demands another tune – so, despite the insistence that she’s fresh out of “bangers,” she delivers the excellent and flamenco-tinged “He Knows,” and the boogie is in full force. And speaking of boogie, the hefty brainpower of Tim Loughman’s BASIC MIND soon comes to deliver the most rhythmic set yet in the “gong room” – his analogue house adventues, propelled by the steamy animism of acidy bass syncopation and synthetic percussion cooked to perfection – is totally undeniable.

Meanwhile over in the ‘Methods Room’ we have the relocated Methods of Movement party, set to take place at Gilkison’s but subsumed into the big bakery party on account of Anzac Day liquor laws yonder. Some serious talent behind A gentleman named HENRY MAXWELL gets the airwaves sizzing; local hero Jo Lettenmaier aka TONI YOTZI fills an hour or so with her ever-tasteful, compelling crate-gold and funky maverick EDD FISHER (who span up a storm recently at Sugar Mountain) guides us into a hefty set of groove-waves that we surf into shore, when the lights finally come on and security start shepherding us out. But even then, a few encore anthems zip through the air to get the kneecaps popping again. The room is a swirl of grins and limbs. What a time.

When a gong is sounded, is resounds through time and space, its vibrations travel beyond our ears – who knows how far? The bigger and louder the gong, the further the ripples through the fabric of the universe. The Bakery may be in the throes of its final gong clangs, but vibrations like these will be felt deep into the future, over at Mercury and Mars, and in the dusty corners of our spiral arm. The ripples carry our taxi along the illuminated streets, to our homes, where we collapse in a happy stupor: pulsing, electric dreams spinning like disco balls in our skulls.

THE GOON SAX & McKISKO @ QUEENSLAND, APRIL 10-11

Andrew Ryan

I wake up in Brisbane with a cat meowing in my ear and purring on my chest; I remember it’s my birthday. I go record shopping in West End, and meet a practicing witch selling wands around the corner. When the day gets older we go to The Zoo, which turns out to be a concert hall or maybe you’d call it a bar, in any case not an actual zoo, but it’s still an auspicious-feeling place. There’s dumplings and Gladiators pinball down the road and when we return there’s THE GOON SAX.

The Goon Sax are a trio, all bright-eyed and a little gawky yet ineffably cool. As they fire up their drifting 4/4 rhythms, melodic bass lines and lax first-posititon guitar chords, the brain (or my brain, anyway) is quick to index them among a recent squall of bands who revel in such musical tropes, as well as frank lyrics delivered in Australian accents; the kinds of bands you tend to find on Chapter Music or Bedroom Suck. They’re also distinctly reminiscent of The Go-Betweens, which should come as no surprise since band member Louis’ father is, in fact, Robert Forster of the aforementioned. They’re going to cop all of these comparisons for a while yet, and on the one hand they’re fair enough. But as Louis furrows one eyebrow and intones coy Edwyn Collins-esque couplets, and James Harrison sighs endearingly clunky confessions, and Riley Jones choofs away neatly and nonchalantly on the kit, it feels like there’s something singular and memorable about them, too. The double entrendre of their name is a red herring: their music neither evokes the tasteless youthful abandon of suckling on a goon sack, nor does it imply the life-affirming howl of a saxophone. Instead, their knack is for articulating socially awkward situations and bits of the self that you’d rather not confront: “I want people to like me / I want people to think about me” declares Forster in one tune. “I’m so sorry that I’m no good at talking / let’s be quiet and focus on walking” drone the boys in unison in another. Sometimes the self-loathing and indifference can feel a little tired or tiresome, but usually the delivery gets it over the line on the few occasions that the writing misses the mark. They’re only going to get better, and already they’re tight (but not too tight), with great songs, a charming palette and a vastly enjoyable presence.

The next day we take the van up to Pomona, rolling in through the sun showers and over misty green mountains, until we pull in next to the Majestic Theatre. Here, I watch the gardener tend to the lawn as a rainbow spreads across the marbled grey sky. I drink tea and admire the silent-movie organs that flank the stage. After an uncertain duration of milling about, the theatre floods with people, the lights dim, and a woman named Helen (who here goes by McKISKO) takes to the stage.

McKisko is evidently not concerned about making an audacious first impression. There is no grand entrance or brash statement to announce her preoccupations. From the outset, her tunes are slow-creeping sketches of sound, faintly traced melodies and minimalistic guitar phrases that glow, flicker and sustain themselves, like a candle at the far end of the room. And, like focusing on a candle, the experience of watching a McKisko set is both a little unusual and thoroughly calming; somehow even numinous and transformative, in a way you can’t readily grasp. I can more easily compare McKisko’s sound and approach to local Perth artists – the likes of Golden String, Rabbit Island and Jane Harris – than I can to international peers. Why? Beyond the hushed-folk-meets-experimentalism thrust, perhaps it’s Australian accent, which here is plenty gentle, but nevertheless often suppressed in the world of hushed indie-folk-art-pop-whatever. In any case, her singing voice oscillates easily between crystalline trilling and conversational half-singing, which renders would-be bombastic lines like “we can be part of the glorious chaos that litters out path” altogether homely, friendly, unpretentious. None of this is to suggest that McKisko’s sound lacks artfulness or ambition. Certain tracks truly push the envelope with their sparseness; others press startlingly abstract or uncanny lyrics right up to your eardrums. Others throw conventional structure out the window, while still others grow into lush loop-pedal collages, with droning electric organ, oblique percussion sounds and processed melodic interjections swirling through the grand old room.

When the set wraps up, I scarcely know how to re-enter the real world. I’m not ready, frankly. Don’t miss seeing McKisko, if you get the chance; in the meantime, her albums are on Bandcamp, and they’re beautifully recorded. FFO Juana Molina, Sufjan Stevens, new-school Vashti Bunyan; and anything that fuses attention to detail with quiet, understated beauty, really.

Yackandandah Folk Festival 2015 @ Yackandandah, Victoria, 20-22 March

Andrew Ryan

I came in on the midday train, three-and-a half hours in a sunny carriage from Southern Cross station to Wodonga. I inspected some scale models of old train carriages at the station, and bought some Lions Club fizzers and musk pastilles, 50c a pack – before Darren rolled up in a big white van, and I jumped in. We trundled over undulating bitumen for about a half an hour, passing paddocks and valleys and stores and trees and sheds, before setting the robust vehicle down just outside the town centre of Yackandandah.

Yack is cosy and – mostly – a time capsule, with the various antique stores housed in buildings as distinctively dated as the furniture, trinkets, tin signs and musty books they contain. A small busker-child screeches on a stunted violin. A white-haired man dressed as Elvis in a catsuit croons by the museum.

DAVID FRANCEY appears in the marquee, the Scottish-born, Canada-based construction-worker-turned-folk-favourite convincingly captivating the seated crowd with his stories painted over stripped-back guitar canvases. Francey seems like a good sort, and apparently his musical guilty pleasure is Avril Lavigne, who is one of mine too, so there’s an instant affinity there. Good on you David.

Night falls and we catch bite-sized portions of acts, mostly more raucous than those during the day: blues-infused excursions like THE HUMPHREYS and GEOFF ACHISON & THE SOULDIGGERS. We catch some of THE JESSICA STUART FEW, who match electric guitar, double bass and drums with live koto, to create a strange but compelling mix of pop, jazz, prog and global folk which sometimes hits, sometimes misses.

Before it gets too late, we head back to the house we’re staying at and watch the first episode of Sex and The City. Total time-warp.

Sunday dawns, and after a hearty sleep-in we roll back into town and settle in the marquee. I last saw STRAY HENS in pared-back trio mode at Nannup festival; Yack sees them flesh it out with a rhythm section, and the full vision begins to become clear. These are hearty pop-folk janusisms, steeped in anglo-celtic tradition but decidedly forward-focused. Both sprawling and intimate, these tunes could sit happily on primetime radio but never compromise a rich intricacy, with flurrying fiddle and thrumming guitar knitting together over dense bubbling drums and bass.

NIGEL WEARNE delivers a consistently mellow and unwavering trail of unhurried fingerstyle inventions, with a lowish and reassuring voice leading you through the bracken. It’s soothing folk in the Jansch-era bedroom tradition, somehow never deviating from its mood or sound without sounding repetitive or undynamic.

FANNY LUMSDEN and the THRILLSEEKERS, meanwhile, bring the full country flavour: from hair to boots, it’s the real deal, and though the configuration is a duo they pack a punch. Unflustered by the fickle winds of fashion, Fanny works in a distinctive tradition and works the country dance hall circuit for real, burrowing into the bullseye of her chosen sound.

JESSE MILNES & EMILY MILLER prove to be a real treat – old-time, dust-flecked country and neat harmonies against simple chords, delicate picking and rustic fiddle. Soon, SUADE effortlessly impress with the a cappella feats fusing harmony and inventive beatboxing. As the day gets old, I find myself wandering the dwindling market stalls, collecting an armful of books in the antiques shop, sampling a delicious local pie.

The festival trails off, rather than going out with a bang: but it’s charming and apt. Yack hasn’t been so much a party as a warm pool of sound and lyricism to bathe in for the best part of a weekend. Having submerged myself, I feel cleansed from the inside out.

TAYLOR McFERRIN @ THE BIRD, SUNDAY MARCH 15

Andrew Ryan

For a drizzle-scattered weekend that I expected to be subdued, there’s been a fair slather of fun and noise. Friday night we rocked up in a carpark behind Ezra Pound and found it reconfigured into a steamy, bustling dream world – like a Bangkok alleyway filled with beer and throbbing beats, or a generously-sized pontoon upon which a vivacious, stranded cargo cult had ended up worshipping massive speaker stacks and ceremoniously pumped them full of 4/4 extravagance. This was a thing called FREEDOM TIME #1, brought to you & us by the lovely people at {move}, barpop, ezra pound and the INVISIBLE CITY DJs (Toronto) and TAKO (Amsterdam) – to name but a few. Saturday came round and the cyclone up north was coming down, and so was the rain, so a special little thing called YARDSTOCK was postponed, but we managed to catch METHYL ETHEL, USURPER OF MODERN MEDICINE, and SUGAR ARMY at The Bird; all great, intense innovators of the rockmusic tradition in entirely different ways. And tonight we’re back at that avian institution, wandering into a gathering organized by a popular energy drink that gives you wings, and feeling suitably prepped for flight.

As the happy faces floated gradually in, ANDREW SINCLAR and BEN TAAFFE rubbed us up and down with warm, tingly tunestuff. I don’t remember exactly what they played – except for ‘River People’ by Weather Report – but I recall its flow, from downtempo and soothing to more accelerated and daring, always jumping audaciously between genres, palettes and moods, but never fighting against the relaxed and conversational mood of the hour.

A ‘Georgie’s Rum Time’ later MEI SARASWATI could be seen, ever-so-casually setting up her laptop and APC, before sliding into her set of mesmeric patchwork groove as if sinking into a jacuzzi. There are basically two kinds of people – people who love seeing Mei Saraswati perform, and people who’ve never seen her perform. No-one gets out of this unenchanted. There are classics, the sort you’ll find on the ‘Hypermeditations’ collection and a few newer outings like the bouncing ‘Tek Life’ from ‘Small Tunas of The Coastal Plain.’ Mei’s voice ducks, arcs, cascades down terraced scales and hums with rich sincerity. As always, fantastic – and a fitting support to what’s just about to come.

And that’s TAYLOR McFERRIN, who – by way of a pop-cultural introduction – is the son of vocal-chameleon hero Bobby McFerrin (of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” fame). But what’s more remarkable than Taylor’s genealogy is his immense, precocious talent: he’s a modest-seeming polymath who’s positioned himself behind a rhodes, a synth, a microphone and a laptop stuffed with beats and compositions of his own devising. He lets it all flow, slowly but confidently: starting with some crisp, jazzy, leftfield instrumental hip-hop typical of the Brainfeeder label (which he’s signed to) to get us properly supple. This includes the floaty, rich ‘Postpartum’ which recalls equal parts labelmates Flying Lotus and Thundercat. To peddle this admixture would be achievement enough for most, and it would’ve happily sustained a whole set. But there are too evidently too many strings to McFerrin’s bow for him to stay in one place for long. He dives into an incredible beatboxing-meets-singing (meets-live-vocal-remixing) jam, which I’m guessing is called ‘I was on my way to meet you’ (the chief refrain). It’s stunning to hear someone not only reproduce drums, bass and vocals live with one mouth, but to deliver effects that are reminiscent of even the most adventurous electronic production in the same way. He soon adds some live synth too, as if we weren’t impressed enough.

There are a number of his more noted recordings rendered live soon: including ‘Already There’ (the recording of which features jazz-hop behemoths Robert Glasper and Thundercat) and ‘Georgia.’ But he’s not content to simply deliver them: he remixes them live, and soon expands the set into full improv terrain, etching out an incredible house groove patiently until it tranforms into a full blown dance-funk explosion. He improvises a hip hop beat and requests that a Perth MC in the audience jump up and spit over the top; a charming nod to local talent. He gets into even more dense freak-hop territory before hitting a wild home run with a sort of free-jazz, experimental electronica cum house version of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place.” This set has everything you could possibly want, an impossibly innovative and nourishing melange at a free gig showcasing a wunderkind whose music I’d (embarrassingly) never heard before, but will now follow with a hawk’s eye. Not bad for a drizzle-scattered weekend that I expected to be subdued.

A FESTIVAL CALLED PANAMA @ GOLCONDA, TASMANIA

Andrew Ryan

At about Nine O’Clock on Friday morning I wake up in a warm caravan. It’s a beautiful model, a little 1960s thing with a big coloured band around the outside and wood laminate all over the inside and two comfortable beds for Shannon and I and a heater that had, thankfully, kept out the Vandemonian chill. Outside, a friendly dog nuzzles us through the fence, next to the cob house (it’s made of straw and mud). We wander over the grass, past the veggie patch, over the creek and down to the wooden hut where Darren and Gary were still snoozing. We wake them, and backtrack to Hobart and pick up Steph, but soon enough we’re driving north, hurtling towards Golconda.

We stop in a town called ‘Perth.’ Perth has about seven buildings. I walk into one of them and buy a jar of vegemite and a loaf of bread and a few bananas. We continue. A stopover in Launceston, coffee, the consensus is not to visit the monkeys at the park (I’m outvoted). Some more driving.

Along the narrow grey strip, with undulating forests and bulging mountains floating past the windows. And suddenly, signs: ENTRY… NO WASTE SITE… and now – PANAMA. The landscape dips into lakes and lilypads, sprawls over paddocks and cricket grounds and swells into hills lush with rainforest and dewy scrub. Among it all – potoroos scuttling at dusk, tents, food vans, stages, black cockatoos, a platypus (the latter is a alleged by a hand-painted sign, though never seen). I eat a delicious taco and bask in splendour of the fresh peaty ambience.

As I do, VIOLET SWELLS begin to play. I don’t know who they are at the time, but I like them. They have an unassuming presence and a great knack for melody and groove, wrapped up in a loose throwback garage/surf aesthetic that’s sufficiently reimagined to not feel pastiche-y. They’re distinctly Australian in sound and, thick with farfisa and synth, nicely textural as well as nonchalantly jiving.

MOSES GUN COLLECTIVE take the reins as the sun vanishes, delivering warped retro psych-pop channeling the likes of T-Rex, CCR, Bowie and assorted other golden-age rock’n’rollers in a heady oddball melange that recalls in equal parts Deerhunter and Ariel Pink. It’s literally “retro” but worlds apart from dull revival rock, insteading indulging in a surreal simulacra, whereas Violet Swells had opted for subtlety of influence to clear the hurdle of derivativeness. MGC’s set bops and thrashes and jerks funkily and the tent at the “Bedouin stage” is surging with auspicious energy. SKOTDRAKULA follow, completing a trifekta of pinky ebullient garage fun, before DJs muscle in.

We walk to the pub – in fact a candlelit cricket pavilion – where a man is crooning golden oldies in the corner with a banjo. Outside, the moon is brighter than any moon I’ve ever seen: it’s surrounded by a crisp white ring and it lights up each individual leaf on the trees, each blade of grass. It’s an eerie and beautiful scene, and a few whiskeys and mulled wines later, we are filling the space with silly singsongs, sloppily rendered standards of the folk and pop/rock canon. Finally we retire, stumbling into dark tents and extinguishing our thoughts for the next few hours.

The next morning as I line up for crucial coffee I’m eased into the day by mellifluous trio THE MELOTONINS, who perform humour-flecked a cappella harmony arrangements, often aided by jazz guitar. The mood is mellow and jazzy, classic tunes and originals in the same vein, though keys and drums and ukelele bass are eventually added giving the whole things a contemporary refurbishment that recalls the likes of Chet Faker and The Basics.

OSCAR LUSH is up, sporting bluesy, dramatic, folk-cum-rock songs and a low resonant baritone that’s in no way implied by his tall, slender frame or boyish sneakers. We receive songs about 1930s explorers lost in the wild, and the shooting of Michael Brown and the plight of indigenous Australia, among the more usual sentiments of love and loss. It’s a set that feels self-serious, but also justified in its seriousness – these are rich, considered songs delivered with aplomb.