Katie Scott has an old soul; and every song from Howl At The Moon’s sophomore release Squalls carries that lovely weariness to it. Squalls was composed over many years, beginning in Scott’s hometown. Maori culture and all its spectres played a big role in her formative songwriting years. Track one ‘Caught By The Sun’; a moody, sexy tumble into Scott’s wonderful vocal work and the excellent gritty guitar of Matthew Storey, tells the legend of Mauao. A nameless hill fell in love with another. Her heart already belonged to a mountain. The nameless one, behest with sorrow, had his bulk thrown into the ocean where it gouged out the walls of a valley. And so Scott’s hometown was born, from the rubble of preternatural heartbreak.
PJ Harvey comparisons are bound to be rife here in lieu of the similarly wrought and wonderful vocal talent of Scott, but there are echoes of stronger influences throughout Squalls. Track three ‘The Hostage’ has a doo-wop feel carried in spangly guitars that gives way to a glorious crescendo of a chorus- sixties pop cavorting with late nineties, Radiohead-esque indie rock. ‘Black coffee’ is exactly what the day after the night before feels like: the sheets of someone else’s bed, the throb of a heavy head, and the animal that overcomes you when you’re the near the limbs of someone you’re besotted with. This song reminds of Cat Power’s unkempt sexiness circa Moon Pix. Blackhearted Charlie is could almost be a Grinderman song; it revels in the narrative and showcases Mark Renall’s bass talents- his riffs drive the guts of many songs here.
The crescendo of Squalls is the wonderful ‘Let The Mainsheets Down My Love’, where all HATM’s members create a cacaphonic, tempo-shifting anthem, giving way to the whole band proclaiming in sync- ‘We are done with it’. It’s row your boat into a dark ocean alone kind of stuff. My very favourite track, one that I’ve played on repeat, drenching myself in its beauty, is the closer ‘I Just Want To Hold Your Hand’. The melody of this track is just wonderful- it’s Yorke-ishly captivating and has all the gut-wrenching drive of the late great Elliot Smith. This song slays me- it is what lonely nights wanting after someone feels like.
Behind the music and with every measured drum beat there’s a twinge threatening to spill through; a latent pain haunting the background. There’s wonderful build and space to this album without taking from the excellent grit of Howl at the Moon- producer and engineer Myles Mumford has done an excellent job of creating balance and exposing the intricacies of Squalls.
Howl At The Moon are one of the most determined and talented bands around; and I hope Squalls throws them into the spotlight they deserve. Squalls will stay with you- it is a compelling, honest and often crushing compendium of Scott’s experiences- every wrought and lovely moment. We’ve been real lucky in Melbourne of late- strong, talented women are making rad music and carrying bands as well as the men are. Climb into the boat HATM have built for you and let this wind take you to a dark place, where lovelorn hills sacrifice themselves to the ocean to the wash of mesmeric, haunting melodies.
Pick of the Week: I've got a friend called Emily Ferris - Courtney Barnett
Songs have been a mode of tale-telling since we were nomadic in sub-saharan Africa and battering mammoths to extinction with clubs. Nowadays the radio is thick with repetitive lyrics bent on sex and void of introspection. While there are notable exceptions (think Will Sheff and Gareth Liddiard), alternative music (for want of a better description) is plagued with ambiguous phrases and tired metaphors, clumsy rhyming disguising a lack of lyrical substance. Ladies seem to be as guilty of this faux-poetry as their male counterparts, which is a shame when what’s really lacking is decent social commentary in the form of music from the perspective of women. Particularly when so much popular music is wailed words about wanting the man/the process attracting the sexual attention of a man/having sex with said man/having heart broken by said man.
Courtney Barnett is a glorious exception to the dreary trend. She tells stories; frank, funny and often heart-rendering insights into life as a twenty-something still working out what to do with her life. As a lady of the same age, I relate to everything she sings about- familial expectations and subsequent disappointment, lonely late night under sheet-fumbles, share-house living, and the beauties and drudgeries of everyday life on a minimum wage.
Barnett’s is accompanied by a trove of exceptional musicians. Brent DeBoer of the Dandy Warhols and Immigrant Union lends his drumming prowess, and Pete Convery and Alex Hamilton of the wonderful Merri Creek Pickers lend their bass and guitar skills respectively. ‘I’ve got a friend called Emily Ferris’ was recorded in a lounge room in a single day, and there’s a sweet energy to all of the tracks: somehow you can tell the musicians like one another.
There’s a great width of influence here, buzzy grunge guitar and bluesy hooks with country style melodies and sweet pop harmonies. The harmonies are a joy to behold; Barnett sometimes layering with herself, sometimes with a dusky male voice just in the background. Barnett sings with such ease, she has a wonderful tone in her voice that’s reminiscent of early Chan Marshall. And the girl can write a melody: these songs are catchy as herpes. If herpes were sparkly, tasted like cider and had you singing along.
'I've got a friend called Emily Ferris' (and yes, Emily is real and she's pretty rad) is a woozy, lovely swagger into the heart of a lady who's been kind enough to lay it all out for us, sweet and raw inside a gorgeous swig of garage pop. It launches Thursday April 19th at the Tote, featuring Barnett's all-star ensemble. A final tout to the lyricism for what is my favourite album openers in recent history from Lance Jr:
‘I masturbated to the songs you wrote, Resuscitated all of my hopes. It felt wrong but it didn’t take too long. Much appreciated all your songs. Doesn’t mean I like you man It just helps me get to sleep. And it’s cheaper than Temazepam’
We’ve all been there. Courtney’s made that a beautiful thing.