Pick of the Week: Bulls
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
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: 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.