BCH Pick of the Week - Frozen Arms by Chris Tenz
In my rusty thoughts I can’t be here
You may expect an album by an artist from Calgary that’s released on an Edinburgh label (Mini50) to have a coldness to it. For the first suggestions of frost to be forming on its edges. I’m not sure if this is a concept album from Chris Tenz but the song titles provide a good indication of the atmosphere of these songs - “First Cold”, “Frozen Homes”, “Cold Sunshine”. Then there’s titles like ”Artificial Lights”, “Coffee Spills” and “Window Lights”..evocative phrases that conjure a certain fragility, a sparsity. Keeping the song titles to two words (track one “Birth” being the only single word title) is a conscious decision by Tenz, I believe, and maybe this is a concept album after all.
In this place there’s lots of nothing to be done
Introspection leads to restlessness. The void staring back at you and all of that. Sitting in a warm house all winter long can lead to cabin fever, no doubt. This album seems to sway between those internal ruminations and observations from a long walk in the cold, still night. Though there’s larger issues shifting beneath the ice.
I’ll pretend that I’ve been well these past seven years
Tenz doesn’t express this only through words though, he creates these contrasting feelings of warm melancholy and biting cold through the blending of gentle finger plucked folk and shimmering soundscapes. At times he adds samples too, as on the broken answering machine monologue on “Forgotten Friends”. In these moments I’m reminded of the great Mark Linkous, in the creak of the piano set against the buzz of an old fridge. And like Linkous, Tenz seems to be a troubled soul, a soul that aches with wonder.
There’s themes and ideas here that remind me of something Jeff Tweedy said of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Soemthing about that album being about the frustration of not being able to communicate, of the struggle to articulate one’s feelings and experiences through the static of a fuzzy consciousness. Or something. Anyway, there’s plenty of static on “Frozen Arms” (two words again, see?)-noise that melts away to reveal shards of pristine ambience. Voices emerge through the fog and clarity comes, then it goes again. When the words do come through it’s apparent that these are lyrics crafted with heart, and often quite wonderful:
So tear those paintings down there’s disconnected ways we really should communicate;
I read so far into your smiles I believe they’re all encrypted plans to capture me
Encryption, disconnection, communication. The warm and the cold. This is what I believe this album is about. Things we all experience. For such a personal album, that’s quite an achievement.
Pick of the Week: Slow Country
Let’s get our cards on the table early - I adore this album. I haven’t thought a whole lot about why, so this will be me thinking out loud while listening to it (my usual caper anyhow). Maybe it’s the near instant familiarity imparted by the Slow Country sound. The opening chords of “Stars That Lead Us” sound at once fresh and similar to many other tunes, many great tunes. That rolling riff and the laconic, aching vocals of Boyd Shropshire create such a lovely sense of prettiness and sadness, an intagible melncholy that’s found in many of my favourite Neil Young songs. This song has been floating around in me all week long and I’m not sick of it at all. The themes here are age old-love and loss, light and darkness, pain and pleasure-but there’s a harsh edge to some of the lyrics that remind me of Jeff Tweedy at his most acerbic (slower songs from “Being There” and “Summer Teeth” being an apparent touchstone)-
If you were counting on me; you’d be wasting all your time
No it ain’t me babe. Vocal duties are shared by both Shropshire (a former member of Kurt Vile’s band who has a great low country voice, reminiscent of Jay Farrar) and Chase King, who has a softer, higher voice used to great effect on the War On Drugs-esque “On and On” and the chilled closer “Moon Won’t Glow”-
I never believed in not giving love; I never believed in not getting high; I never believed in giving me more time
This album is a great display of two musicians striking a fertile creative partnership; that sweet and sour, salt and pepper combination we’ve heard so much about over the ages. This connection can be heard in King and Shropshire’s beautiful harmonising and, on a broader scale, in the terrific balance the album achieves. Man oh man, “Song Was In The Mirror” is a heart wrencher, and oh so gorgeous-
Dancning slow; dakness floats behind you; a little light; seems to glow around you
Shropshire describing a girl dancing in (with?) light in this song is wholly evocative and absorbing; a scene and feeling perfectly portrayed in music. There’s a great weight to these songs, they don’t expand past their own their own horizons. A sure sign of fine craftsmanship. While most of the album has a subtle, crushing sense of sadness, there’s upbeat numbers to counter this. “Land I Love” is a classic country rocker akin to the best of Uncle Tupleo while “Down The Road” is a road trip song of sorts that glows with optimism, but doesn’t totally relinquish the pain…
Don’t know how to tell you this; don’t know the reason why
There’s little lines like this that flourish throughout, something new resonates with each listen. There’s a dark, wondrous depth here. Perhaps the line that hit me hardest on the album though was the refrain of “One of the Few”:
Tragically you might be one of the few…..left out.
But who? Left out of what? All of us I believe, left out of what we think we are deserved. All of us feel like we’re missing out on something. Where’s my payday? Where’s my true love? Where does this rainbow end? It may not be the songs intended meaning but it’s what I heard. These songs don’t just long for love but for meaning, for direction and for purpose. Small songs casting big existential questions - not an easy thing to do. Slow Country make it sound easy.
I’ve used a few comparisons here and I know that’s lazy - that’s because I’m lazy. I was also reminded of early My Morning Jacket on a few numbers and a line can be drawn to Portland’s Richmond Fontaine, and you could probably list a dozen other country rock acts. The thing is, Slow Country-to get all romantic-make you think they’re the only band in the world. I listened with fresh ears and an open heart for what this album is : beautiful country rock and roll that’s rich in beauty, sadness and hope.
My record of the year so far.
Pick of the Week: Summer Flake and Sooners
This is not an essay on Australian music. I’ve considered writing one a few times-maybe I started once actually-but it’s a giant slippery beast to tackle and I, in the end, am fucking lazy. I do make some efforts though. Instead of attempting to articulate the Australian sound and what Australian music is with words (as absurd a pursuit as it sounds), I choose to present my views on Antipodean music by posting the music here and letting you listen. I’ll leave the guns to do the writing. Sometimes I’ll dabble though.
When I talk about defining the sound of a country I don’t mean the most popular music or the most anthemic. It’s not the music that stirs patriotism or evokes the clichéd imagery associated with said land. I think it’s music that captures something intangibly unique about that country-I guess you’d call it character, though that seems inadequate. Simply put, the sound of a country emerges through honest musicians making art with grit and soul. Shiny pop music has it’s place and role but in the end it’s just new flavours of gum. And so it’s emerged that the most potent and representative Australian music is-like our best film, literature and visual art-dark, languid and often not highly digestible. It sticks on the way down. But that’s the stuff that lasts. Not everyone likes our “bleak” music, but it’s our best, our most interesting, and our most representative.
The other aspect that great Australian music incorporates is expansivess. The classic example here is “Wide Open Road” by The Triffiids. I was watching this clip with my housemate a couple of week back and yes, we were quite drunk and yes, it was four in the morning, however we both adamantly agreed that this was The Australian sound, even though it’s a cliche to say so. You just don’t hear this sort of music coming from any other country:
The desolation, the darkness, the shimmering beauty…what’s going on here also struck me in the music of Sooners. “Horses Run Out” is a stunning track. There’s that tense meeting of folk and rock, a roaming quality to the reverberating vocals and guitars that leads..almost to a crashing finale. But not quite. There is cold restraint here, something far more interesting than stadium rock pyrotechnics. It’s a song that builds expectation in the chest and then refuses to release it, to me it’s about being free and so being lost. I could say that about myself and many of my compatriots. From there Sooners unfold another two superb instrumental tracks though this release is best considered as one whole piece. Expansive is certainly the word-this is slowly developing celestial music of transfixing power, like the skies of my home town in the country which I visit barely enough. I really should more often, if only to walk at night while gazing at the Milky Way. It’s not the same in the city.
I mentioned the word languid. I think it’s the best word to describe the music of Summer Flake, the project of the very talented Steph Crase. The charm and lo-fi power of these songs exist in their simplicity-slow burning rock numbers that have that three-pints-in feel to me (a real good feeling). I love that these songs dont really follow convention- opener “Inside Out” could have easily wrapped up at the three minute mark but Crase lets the guitar have a conversation with itself for another minute and a half or so, occasionally jabbing the listener in the ribs for good measure. “The Wedding March (for Jess & Kynan)” is my highlight, a superb five minute+ song that builds to blissful noisy heights. I assume it was written for a freinds nuptials-there’s heart in this music. You can hear it.
There’s an early 90’s New York sound to these songs-an unmistakeable Sonic Youth and early Yo La Tengo influence-and here is another important aspect of the Australian sound, an aspect that translates to our identity. We have none. We are a mishmash, a mosaic, a multiculture pile up. The more we celebrate this the better. I’ll celebrate the heck out of this release from Summer Flake, to me it’s as good as anything I’ve heard this year and, yes, it’s distinctly Australian (hate that phrase but fuck it, it’s true). It’s there in that late afternoon suburban sunroom feel, in it’s innocence fringed with darkness, in the southern bite of those guitars. It has a sunny melancholy that I see and I feel while kicking around this joint and, most importantly, it’s got grit and honesty. I can’t get enough of it.
But this wasn’t going to be an essay right? I’m finished.
BCH Pick of the Week - Gunman & The Holy Ghost
I know it’s cold. Winter comes ever year, you know. Some cope better than others-some get mad, some get s.o s.a.d. I think the real depths are hit by those that want to fight it, that think the atmospheric conditions are somehow unfair. Some seem to take the changing of the seasons personally. I know I talk about the weather a lot (don’t we all?) and I guess that’s because in running a music blog my moods dictate what I feel like listening to and therefore influences the type of stuff I post. There’s no point resisting how the atmospheric conditions make you feel, as R. Buckminster Fuller said “Don’t fight forces, use them”.
So with the onset of the big grey I’ve found myself snuggling up with the usual suspects and a few new acquaintances. Jason Molina is in my ears pretty much year round but come May his music takes on a deeper, somehow even sadder, dimension. A friend recently pointed me back towards the lovely ashen sounds of Michael Gira’s Angels of Light. And of course, ladies and gentlemen…Mr Leonard Cohen. This clearly isn’t a diet to be sustained regularly, but I can assert that it goes well with red wine, midnight drizzle and, yeah, seasonal orientated sadness affective disorder.
When I started listening to Gunman & The Holy Ghost it actually made me laugh. Such misery! This is melancholy with gristle! This album is barefaced in it’s misery-it doesn’t resist it, it uses it. Song titles like “I Don’t Believe In Love Anymore” and “Oh Lord, Let Me Die In Pain” are pretty good indication of what we’re in for here, though there’s great variation on this deliciously dark album. Opener “The Eight To Five Train To Nothing” snared me right in the lip and I was willfully dragged up through that ink black water and onto the good ship Gunman. A relatively upbeat tune, it has some sad, sad lyrics:
"I would want you here but you’re nowhere near so I just keep steaming on; Into the wilderness and unhappiness right back where I came from"
Lines like this are so damn dark, they bring a smile to my face. Like when I’m listening to Molina’s “Let Me Go , Le Me Go, Let Me Go” and it’s so, so fucking despondent that all you can do is smile. Enjoying something cutting to the bone may be seen as sadomasochistic, but that’s ok. Music should provide all manner of sensations.
There’s a great range of styles played with here, mainly in the realm of folk rock. Rollicking country tales of a cowboys solitude (“Outlaw’s Shout”) mid tempo jaunts of misery (“Oh Lord, Let Me Die In Pain”) and yearning R ‘n B tinged folk (“Lonely”). “Like A Soldier…” is the most Cohen-esque number, undoubtedly paying homage to the great poet in sound and lyrics. The military beat used is a stroke of simple genius and lends itself beautifully to the metaphor the song - that love is war. Closer “Dream Of A Highway” opens softly enough and builds superbly, before unfolding into it’s noisy, dramatic conclusion. It’s a song that reaches great heights and, like all good albums do, leaves us hungering for more.
I’ve seen depression and experienced it, I understand the paralysing affects it can have. I don’t think it’s something to be glorified. What I do admire is when an artist makes something out of their sadness. I’m sure it’s therapeutic for them and I wish I had the capacity to do so it but I don’t, so I listen instead and share the pain. Albums like this from Gunman & The Holy Ghost exist to share the dark and the cold with, to be enveloped by. To soundtrack the settling of the fog, to provide a pale sun on the bleakest of days.
Yes, it’s winter again. Go with it.
BCH Pick of the Week - Nude Beach
I don’t want to do you like that but you make it so easy babe
A couple of weeks back I was fortunate enough to catch the great Red Kross (supported by locals faves Iowa). Hoo boy, what a terrific night of music it was. What a band. Four guys hurling themselves into three minute, three chord punky power pop over and over again-it was exhilarating and cathartic and joyous, it was a total thing. And oh man the drummer. Let’s just say I don’t feel so sad about never getting to see Keith Moon now (my previous closest connection to the dude was my dad pointing out the spot on his head where a piece of exploding drum kit struck him at a Sydney show in, like, ‘68). All in my very favourite Melbourne venue, the band room of the Northcote Social Club. But this isn’t another gush about Melbourne. This is about my love affair with rock and roll.
I didn’t start listening to music, on a serious level, or attending gigs until my late teens and early twenties, despite my fathers exemplary music taste and history of injuries inflicted by rock gods. The music bug did certainly bite me though and once I’d escaped the small town I was raised in I was seeing gigs as often as possible, though one band cut through like no other. You Am I were a three piece when I first saw them, and I’m glad I got to see them in those early days. I’d fallen hard for their albums but the live shows were a whole other thing. Soul shaking, bombastic affairs of sweat, booze and big stupid smiles, best described by a phrase I discovered around that time and still often use - “music that makes you want to pour a beer on your head”. Most importantly these shows (I stopped counting after about 42) were great fucking fun and instilled in me a passion for top shelf rock and roll-this was my education on the Stones and The Who and The Replacements and Husker Du and so, so much more. I won’t carp on, we need to talk about another band, so just watch this clip.
I mention all this because in seeing Red Kross and discovering Nude Beach I’ve had my rock and roll embers stoked unlike any time I recall since those hedonistic days of the late 90’s. It ain’t just pure nostalgia, it’s a tangible reaction to music that plugs something into me and flicks the goddamn switch. For all the rock and roll that’s around, much is worthless. Pale and pissweak. Nude Beach aren’t that. Nude Beach are very, very good.
Well the radio’s playing a sad song I don’t wanna hear
We’re away with “Radio” and already I’m in this until the end, already I’m thinking about how to get these cats to Australia. That frenetic riff, those yelping vocals, that visceral beat. Yeah it’s informed by early Boss and Westerberg, sure, but this is classic NYC rock and roll, folks. Let’s leave the influences at the door and enjoy ourselves huh? Importantly Nude Beach are a three piece-there’s a something about a great three piece that makes gives them more urgency, makes their ability to power out such whipsmart rock even more impressive. I mean look at these cats-don’t you wanna be there?
If you’re not in by track two “Walkin’ Down My Street” you’re probably taking life too seriously. You’re probably missing out on a whole heap of fun shit.
I don’t care if you see me cry or bleed, I just need you bayyyy-ah-beee
The lyrics are here are almost exclusively concerned with love and heartbreak, mostly from a charmingly juvenile place. Chuck Betz ( no shit!) has a terrific rock and roll voice, he swings beautifully from considered delivery to roof-down-throwing-firecrackers-at-pedestrians-swilling-Budweiser wailing and his phrasing is spot on.
Coz baby this kind of love could bring me dooooooooooooooown
The album is put together as all great rock and roll records are, pretty much. A few crackers to start off, a mid tempo one or two in the middle before a couple more barn burners. The last two don’t quite follow suit though-usually you’d expect a quiet number or two to close and “Don’t Have to Try” is that R’nB flavoured heart bleeder at track 10 but this album closes with a couple more party starters - “Loser In The Game” is one of the albums standouts and one of it’s most energetic.
And though I wouldn’t lie; you just can’t find the secret places I hide; cos they’re so deep inside my mind
It’s as is if Nude Beach don’t want to fade into the night, they want to own the night. They want to be with you until the horrible, glorious end. It’s rock and roll that exists in a realm few can reach and I think that’s mainly that’s because it’s honest and simple-I think it’s a reflection of these guys lives. I don’t know a thing about them, but I’m utterly convinced by the genuine passion beating in every note of this album. Yes, this sort of rock and roll is indeed rare, music that reminds you of the best times of your life and soundtracks the ones still to come.
BCH Pick of the Week - Sandcastle
The music scene in Melbourne has always been strong but recently it seems great bands have been popping up on every street corner, or at least in the bars that share them. Sandcastle are one of these fresh arrivals and their debut EP is a terrific brace of frenetic post punk songs that display great promise.
“Warriors” grooves along with crunching riffs and a pounding rhythm, eventually breaking down to its bare parts before building back up into a glorious, noisy finale. “Red Lights” paces back and forth amongst squalling guitars and more of that insistent beat, building tension and then releasing it in a wall of cathartic sound.
Closer “Ice Cream Treat” is an eight minute epic that sees Sandcastle rising and falling across jagged terrain, it’s a total blast. It’s tempting to make Television comparisons but Sandcastle have more gristle to them than that, for me this has something of the uncompromising sounds of Wipers. High praise, but deserved. Raw, wicked and very exciting indeed.
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: 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.
Pick Of The Week: Squalls - Howl At The Moon
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.