Today at BCH we’re reverting to a solo operation, with Damien (BCH3P0) and Claire (Huntress) no longer contributing. I’d like to say a massive thanks to them both for all their great picks, writing and help over the last six months or so. It’s been grand. The good ship BCH will power on, with just the one drunken sailor manning the big wheel.
Someone recently got in touch with me and asked, in a totally nice way, what’s up with the bias towards Melbourne music on BCH? Is it because Melbourne is the centre of the musical universe? I answered that we’ve always unashamedly promoted Australian music, that this is one of BCH’s main functions, and while Melbourne is not the centre of the musical universe, it certainly is the centre of this country’s. And of my own.
I moved down here about five years ago. Beforehand I guess I had a pretty strong interest in music and I knew Melbourne had a strong scene. I didn’t realise how strong. From the get go I was seeing bands on Sydney Road and Collingwood and Fitzroy pretty much seven nights a week, and I was astounded by the diversity and brilliance of the acts I was seeing. Why the fuck wasn’t this on the radio back home? I can’t recall when I first saw Bulls perform but I think it might have been supporting the great Silver City Highway at Old Bar. As a matter of fact..here’s a post from my old Melbourne blog about seeing them (and a very wordy Wilco review!). Ha. Wow. Halcyon days. So yeah I saw Bulls (no “The” in their name) and I remember it being a beautiful experience. Linda and her brother Bean on that little Fitzroy stage, him strumming away and her unleashing that voice. What an instrument. It’s lust and heartbreak, catharsis and tenderness, misery and ecstasy. It’s cigarettes and alcohol. In my opinion, she’s Australia’s best vocalist. I remember a song that mentioned Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder, I remember a song about a monster, I remember thinking this is real music.
After that I didn’t see them play very often. I saw their name around town but more often I caught Linda playing with the excellent Dacios and once I was even fortunate enough to see her play a reunion gig with Little Ugly Girls at the Tote. So I was thrilled to see this album appear on Bandcamp last week. The extra instrumentation on the songs adds more fuel to their potent power-glorious folk songs, cast in the pain and pleasure. There’s no sign of the monster song here but we do have “Rolling Thunder”, and its superb lyrics. To wit: Here’s to the well trodden path; Oh and here’s to smoking in the bath; Oh and drinking all night in bars; Knowing that we are just burning stars And then- Here’s to playing not cheating; Here’s to crying not weeping..
I mean...I’m about to go drink the entire cask of cheap red that sits in my kitchen. Listen to “Dance”. It’s the centrepiece of this album and has this slow burn power to it, simmering and soaring as Linda implores Tell me why people dance. The touches of harmonica and strings are simply sublime, and the climatic ending is exhilarating, as all good climaxes should be. What a heavy weight tune.
Besides capturing the hedonistic edge to this town it also captures something of the feeling of the city..it’s hard to quantify but I feel as if many of the brilliant dark country/folk/rock acts kicking around somehow articulate the mood of Melbourne, particularly in the northern suburbs. It’s there in the melancholy, in reflecting the prettiness that lends itself to our leafy streets and roads criss crossed in tramlines, and, yes, there in the excess.
Earlier today, a perfect autumns day, I decided to make this album Pick of The Week and then wondered off to Thornbury Records for Record Store Day. As soon as I walked in I saw the Bulls album on vinyl. Then I saw the guys from Iowa spinning records and went over and said g’day. It’s funny how things work out. Then I went to the markets and they were playing Dragon on the PA. It was a good day. I love this town.
Pick of the Week: LOVE CONSEQUENCES AND SERENITY - Mikah Sykes
Freak folk, avant folk, acid folk, ambient folk, four times around is enough.
Imagine the world we would live in if Alan Lomax had not gone out hunting and gathering the sounds of the people; the music emitted by slaves in a jail with only hoes and voices for instruments, the calypso brewed in the warm currents of the Caribbean, the never ending folk songs produced in bar rooms and lounge rooms and by broken men on the side of the road and by the women hollering from balconies in New Orleans. For all he captured, imagine all that escaped - dancing like so many sparks up and into those sparkling lights, like heaven on a Saturday night. It’s not a sad thing, it’s wonderful. The music he did capture fell into the right hands and met the right ears, for these recordings informed the folk movement of the 60’s and hence rock and roll and hence punk and hence witch house. It’s a straight line, see?
Folk music will always be with us. Mathematical music, as Zimmy called it. My father, an accomplished musician, mused once that he’s astounded so much music is continued to be produced by the same combination of chords. It’s all one song, someone else said (and hence in mentioning Neil Young and Bob Dylan and my dad I have covered the cast that feature in 95% of my musical conversations). But isn’t it grand, dad, that so there is so much invention within the primary colours of three chords? Confinements are only what you make it. When you find yourself in a hole, decorate the fucker (another musical hero reference box ticked).
Mika Sykes is clearly something of a musical spring. Sounds bubble from him, creating songs that are just as pretty as the pristine water gurgling from a grassy hole on the side of a sun drenched hill. Like that spring, there’s wonder and complexity and a lot more happening in these tunes than meets the under equipped eye (or ear). In these thirty six songs(!) there is experimentation and strangeness but mainly there is a perfect grasp of the folk medium, endearing songwriting set to pretty little tunes that stroke at something deep in us-is it purely aesthetic? Hitting something pleasurable? Or is it a response to folk music, an intangible thing that has become finely ingrained in us over the past century? I’d suggest both, that each are one and the same.
Do you want to be this ocean? Do you want to be this road? Do you want to be this river? Do you want to be alone?
On some of these songs Mika seems to be speaking to the birds. Creatures call back and an ambient haze drifts through the sublime guitar playing (some of the finest and most inventive playing I’ve heard in a long, long time). In other places he goes all Age of Adz on our asses, Karma Free is a glorious little electronic detour (though it still manages to include rooster crows). Elsewhere we are treated to plaintive folk songs, stark in their minimalism and moving in their melancholy. But at their heart these are folk songs, and the heart is strong. From the brief exposure I’ve had to this album it has drawn itself close to me, and I know that this is because it is honest folk music. And that will always be a friend of mine.