No Sister – The Second Floor

[Self released; 2017]

With the Second Floor, NS continue to hone their MO while forking out into some new territory.

 

Despite a minor lineup change, No Sister seem as in sync as ever, advancing the same ultra-tense motorik that makes their live act so electric – waxing in banshee howls of droning dissonance and waning to the staccato of razor wire harmonics and any other ungodly sounds they can hammer out from beyond the fretboard.

 

Yet within this vocabulary the band have broadened their ambit.  ‘Vow of Chastity’ offers fresh pasture in terms of narrative, dropping into a low-slung groove when your intuition is reaching for a clamorous climax.   The muscle rock chug of ‘You Know the Feeling’, meanwhile, could pass for a Killing Joke tune without skipping a beat in the album’s intensity and ‘Satellite Power’ features some of the band’s most abstract  fretwork to date (they sure know how to make a guitar sound nothing like a guitar).

 

For a band where dynamics are critical, the newfound restraint hollows out greater scope for the upswing.  Cuts of more marketable length – “Eulogy for the Eucalypt”, “Romantic Notion” – break up the album with more linear bursts of energy, but its clear the band’s greatest strength still rests in the monolithic prog-punk epics.  On “Always Already”, “Vow of Chastity” and closer “Just Another (Turning Point)” dual guitarists Peric and Miekus eke their acerbic tones over extended grooves, allowing you to absorb the hypnotic power of the band in it’s full glory.

 

But the biggest anomaly has to be the conspicuously downtempo ‘Non-contest’, with its haunted house Slint guitar plucks and a breakbeat that bears more than a passing resemblance to that song playing when Neo first walks down the streets of a futuristic dystopia (Sydney).  In other words, an album highlight.  The tune displays a more melodic side to the band as well, with a genuinely lovely vintage 4AD guitar outro to lull us all into a false sense of security before the album’s high octane denouement.

 

While the earlier jams hinge on a familiar krautrock axis, No Sister have become more adventurous with the rhythmic canvasses.  Running the gambit between groove metal and trip hop, the band continue to update their tool belt at a ravenous pace.  They have gone from being one of the more prolific acts on the scene, both live and recorded, to a fixture – with little indication of slowing down.

 

Moe Chee – Be it Hot, Humid or Ghostly Cold

 

[Shame File Music; 2018]

The ever-prolific Clinton Green and Chun-liang Liu return to their collaboration Moe Chee to further their unique brand of aural storytelling on Be it Hot, Humid or Ghostly Cold. 

Where the project last staked out the high density chatter of the State Library with Testament of the Trinity, Ghostly Cold relocates to Taipei (with the distinctly busier live audience sampler Friction Cassette as the only exception).   The change in scenery lends a comparatively serene ambience to these vignettes, with the clutter of metropolitan life reduced to the faint quotidian of life in the sub-tropics. 

Clearly the pair have managed to find some sanctuary from the heave of the bustling economy as each recording seems to have been situated in either a place or time of relative calm.  One where the senses are piqued by the the plump, humid air; a weight that can be felt in the lazy dial of sprinklers and the slap of thonged feat on wet stone.  The tactility of these native objects is highlighted in the ASMR excursions of ‘Courtyard’ and ‘Beer Can Performance’.  Meanwhile, the only allusion to the din of post-industrial clustering can be heard on”The Theatre of the Oppressed”, with agitated voices thronging over a rising choral crescendo.  

The languor is pervasive amongst the conversation as well, with topics ranging from  from distinctly ocker boasts of being able to pick accents from a mile away to tall tales of outback terror, to impromptu renditions of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.  Like the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman, the candour of Moe Chee’s subjects is unmolested by the invisible scrutiny of the recorder and any need to project a ‘TV-worthy’ narrative.  

Without paying too much lip service to my Communications minor, the medium is very much the message here.  In their omnipresent capacity, Moe Chee present these vignettes as snapshots of a broader exploration of the musicality inherent in everyday life, and how incidental, living sound is inextricably linked with composition.

By intermingling a vibrant earthly soundscape with the ancient art of storytelling, Moe Chee document the ever-evolving features of human/natural communication while underscoring its permanence as a natural phenomenon.  Always different, always the same. 

Daily Dart Albums of the Year 2017

“Darts, darts, darts”

And so we bid farewell to a widely accepted shitty year in geopolitical intrigue, a potentially hopeful year for a cultural shift in the film/music/any industry, and another excellent year in Australian music. 

What I was most excited to see were the galvanised efforts to craft greater continuity and communities from the musical diaspora.  A sense of strength in numbers prevailed amongst the all-female, LGBTI corners of Melbourne’s punk circuit, with gigs increasingly premised upon identity and shared sociopolitical outlooks. By extension, these gigs were purposeful in their ethos; inclusionary, forceful and particularly pertinent in light of the #MeNoMore campaign. 

New banners formed under the new label Hysterical Records from the Wet Lips/Cable Ties constellation, while people quickly rallied around relative newcomers to the scene Hex Debt, LAZERTITS, Crop Top and Parsnip.   Fittingly, the year ended with a Meredith book-ended by star turns from Amyl and the Sniffers and Suss Cunts.  

But the solidarity wasn’t just limited to the punk landscape, and frequently nights offered curious couplings across the rock/electronic continuum.  A spirit of festive solidarity drove the punk/techno/bangers of Wetfest and the new cross-doctrinal mini-festival Republic, which pushed out three winning instalments in the space of a year across a number of venues.  

New banners formed in the erstwhile fragmented electronic space too, as weekend festival Obsidian housed the various pockets of Melbourne synth acts under one roof.  While I’m all for circuit benders breaking up a punk gig, it’s rare to find a dedicated symposium outside the humble label showcase.  Hopefully the collegial atmosphere blossoms into some more permanent institutions next year.   

Finally, while we bid the Mercat a sad goodbye, and no one venue has convincingly assumed the throne, promoters grew more adventurous in its absence.  From underpasses to churches to reservoirs, it was the year of fugitive assemblies that marked a departure from more common expressions of DIY, championed by city-backed heavy hitters Liquid Architecture and the creatively under-resourced alike.  With so many intriguing spaces at our fingertips, it’s great to see promoters beginning to meet the potential.  

So without further ado, here’s my definitive, unassailable list of my favourite records of the year.  It’s not listed in any particular order, other than being vaguely top-heavy in the word count.  Whether having more to say on a record is a more reliable indicator of quality is anyone’s guess, but I will say there are a few records at the end there – honourable mentions we will say – that don’t need to be paid, in my view, any further lip service.  In the interests of promoting under-appreciated acts from all over the world, this list favours the sleeper hits – Bandcamp releases, cassettes, bands with less Facebook likes than your local laundromat and so on.  Please enjoy, and log a purchase if you like the sell.

Myra Davis/Beate Bartel/Gudrun Gut – Sirens 

[Moabit Music]

 

Carrying on from the trio’s previous collaboration of spoken word ‘tronica Cities and Girls, Sirens makes further inroads into the struggle for female self-actualisation in the face of cultural hegemony controlled by unimpeachable iconoclasts and their pupildom.  Davies’ poetry still abounds in ghosts, from her past and the collective past – Ophelia, Blanche DuBois, John Cage – as history weighs insidiously on the present.  For the female characters the ghosts are cages, quick parcelled reference points that invariably render their existence collateral to the canon of dynamic male protagonist – sirens, mermaids, damsels, the medusa, the madonna.  

While Davies does speak conversationally and with frank wit, even the more whimsical pieces have moments of torrid bleakness.  ‘Inshallah’ springs to mind; a chance encounter between a “global, hip and handsome” Turk and a “lovely Arab” at Tegel airport, who after her flight is delayed agonises over whether to follow the handsome stranger to his native Istanbul for one night.  Silently urging the girl to indulge the flight of fancy, she rationalises ”a girls more likely to be molested by a relative, tutor, boy next door, dirty old stable hand” anyways.  Meanwhile, the consistently excellent Gut and Bartel lend a diverse suite of sinister yet bouncy grooves to the proceedings.  Heavy stuff, uniquely realised. 

X-Pop – Alphabet Cereal

[Chemical Imbalance]

 

It’s rare to find such pop immediacy with such a rarefied air; rarer still to find one that quickly detours into dank trip territory.  On ‘Dear Sally’ Eden’s articulate melodies traverse a gossamer of organ and plucky percussion only to land in the oil slick drone of ‘Temporary’, the stammering atonal guitar sounding like a clump of insects freshly deposited in an oil slick.  Mel Eden’s vocals similarly curdle under blustery feedback delay, crescendo-ing into a tense howl as the tune begins to collapse under the weight of itself. 

‘Sticky Patch’ offers further surprises: an abrupt cabaret number that, although it won’t necessarily be your favourite of the lot, keeps the sense of manic unease alive and well by taking a left turn rather than just turning up the heat. 

Finally, ‘Julie Joy’ rounds it off with a suitably serene finale; the Vangelis synth-phonics bold and articulate, something not so shy of Laurel Halo’s kaleidoscopic QuarantineGeena Cheung’s plays the synth like she’s scoring film (before we started punctuating every scene with stomach-churning subs), with sudden plunges into dissonance marking dramatic shifts in mood. 

Like Sky Needle, X-Pop have developed their own vocabulary for pop music, yet the noisier moments indicate where their hearts lie.  I suppose it has been a bit of a theme for me this year (I promise there’ll be a few more strings to the 2018 bow) but in an age of enigmatic shoegazing and ethereal cooing, it’s refreshing to hear the performative zeal of bands like this hit the experimental landscape.  

Ewa Jutska – Acid Smut

[Fractal Meat Cuts]

 

Like other producers uncoupling rhythmic synthesis from dance music in recent years (Lorenzo Senni, EVOL), Jutska is keenly attuned to the infinite possibilities of her instrument – in this instance the 303.  On the plumbly titled Acid Smut, the Polish-born Londoner really makes that baby sing: converting the world’s funnest synthesiser into dizzying long-form excursions.  And like Senni, it still manages to get you moving without a kick drum to give the marching orders.

Various artists – MECHA01

[TRRUENO]

 

Don’t let the cover art fool you… wait no let the cover art fool you.  This is some utterly ballistic arrhythmia from young Argentinian collective T R R U E N O (as if the indiscriminate caps didn’t tip you off).  For a compilation, MECHA01 is remarkably consistent – both in terms of content and quality – and one of the finest opening statements a label could stake themselves on.  Sitting at the intersection of the PAN-coveted hyper-definition production and rolling Principe rhythms, here are 12 new artists who reward dance floor rotation and close listening in equal measure. 

Total Leatherette – For the Love of the Night

[Milk Records]

 

Speaking of cover art.  In the spirit (and welcome return) of some of early industrial’s bleakly unsexy appendage art, TL’s dank beat at once evokes the abandoned plant dripping with condensation and the club at full heave wiping precipitated sweat from your elbow.  While they rarely get into a groove that could have any place at a rave, make no mistake, these slow-burning pulses are still in attendance, burning at the back of your mind with every glug of jungle juice.

Generally, I’d like to say I want the music to speak for itself.  But this is such a neatly packaged constellation of sound, imagery and vibe you’d happily ink it on your bicep. 

A Middle Sex – Soul Sways West

[The Audacious Art Experiment]

 

Originally released in 2015 as a measly run of 30 cassettes, Public House Recordings thankfully gave this record a second wind this year.  All I can say is, what a fucking journey.  As the eddies of vocal feedback land on the Shit & Shine psycho-boogie epic title track the band become less predictable with each crooked turn.  In a time where psychedelic rock fails to really hit that third eye, it’s great to hear A Middle Sex marry the tradition with modern electronics and conceive something that feels wholly other from either.  A psych record like no other this year. 

Normil Hawaiians – More Wealth Than Money

[Upset The Rhythm]

normil

Another reissue here but one that again wholly deserves recognition.  This is a very recent discovery, from a few weeks ago no less, but it has quickly gained high rotation. 

Post-punk has rarely sound as free as on this expansive set.  The music falls in and out of focus like a fever dream of wayward ideas – sonic collages, baroque arrangements, spoken word, noise, with more cogent post-punk bangers emerging from the fugue (boy ’Sally IV’ really snaps you out of it).  There are even some oddly prescient post-rock churners in the mix.  Not like the forerunners i.e. Talk Talk, Slint, Bark Psychosis either; this is swimming in the same earth-splitting tectonics of GY!BE.  

The Quietus were sheepish to describe More Wealth Than Money as the Pet Sounds of post-punk, but I’d throw out an equally tentative Smile of post-punk – a pointilistic painting with a strange air of sadness and despair.  Stunningly ambitious for a debut.

Hypnobeat – Prototech

[Dark Entries Records/Serendip Lab]

 

Probably getting egregious with these reissues now, but shit if I’m not astounded by the precociousness of these recordings.  This is one of those records that is so ahead of their time that it makes you realise how stupid it is that we still marvel at techno in 2017.

In a time where the genre was still lurking in the shadows of Afrika Bambaataa and Kraftwerk, Hypnobeat emerged as one of the few acts I’ve heard to give the 808 that real thrust before people thought to dance to it.  Indeed, most of the tunes on this comp were almost entirely conceived with a pair of them – heavy jacking broken electro jams mugging full sleaze a la Diagonal, Mazzochetti et al.  The cowbell has rarely sounded so surly. 

Monologue – Spazio

[Hylé Tapes]

 

A stunning treat for the ears from Monologue aka Marie e le Rose on Paris’ Hyle Tapes.  Rose’s glacial evolutions have the sensation of a bud coming to bloom in slow motion, while sleepy resonances and sonic artefacts orbit around the stereo field.  But it’s a real tour of moods, so don’t be expecting your regular ambient sleep-aid.

Yair Elazar Glotman – Compound

[Subtext Recordings]

 

As more and more NTS shows edge into kosmiche and spiritual jazz (I’m sure Alice Coltrane has been blogged up to a fine SEO in recent years), it was only a matter of time before more producers commenced the search for the real spirit sound. 

Which is a very cynical way of putting it; there have been some excellent journeys into the deep dark forests of Jon Hassell over the last few years with the likes of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and Refracted.   But where those records channeled natural soundscapes into ambient music, Glotman is not so subdued.  His music is a garden of instruments awakening into full flight; a rich vibrant sonic cornucopia with the consistency of water.  As with the Necks, it’s a record enamoured with the perfect combination of timbre, and it comes damn close. 

Davy Kehoe – Short Passing Game

[Wah Wah Wino]

short pass

Few records have been as on point as Kehoe’s Short Passing Game this year.  And by on point I don’t mean it’s a ripper, which it is.  Rather it feels like Kehoe has telekinetically mined the brains of the alt-music press for the most critically-assured cocktail of ideas.  He knew the answers before he sat the test. 

But don’t let that suggest for a second this is some focus group’s chimera; Short Passing Game is extremely creative.   In many ways its the perfect intersection of krautrock, punk and techno that we’ve been trying to concoct for years now, and not in the way we expected (apparently harmonica in techno is a good idea).  And sometimes there’s just a straight up rock tune because fuck it, he wants to.  That’s what makes this record feel so alive. 

JASSS – Weightless

[iDEAL Recordings]

weightless

Believe the hype, the Spanish producer’s debut on the excellent iDEAL recordings from Sweden is an intoxicating blend of African percussion, dub techno and psychedelia that would be in line with dreamier offerings from the Livity Sound ouevre if it weren’t so restless in its creativity. 

Rather than cruise on a trusty groove for a marketable unit of time, JASSS allows her elements to swarm into an impressively noisy climax, twisting from one fever dream to the next.  Luxurious track lengths are taken full advantage of, with a permanently upward trajectory thats more cinematic than conscious of any dancefloor potentiality.

Wetware – Salpinx

[Bank Records]

 

At a time where the post-industrial fatigue is starting to settle in, the Philly duo of Roxy Farman and Matthew Morandi whet the appetite with shuddering intensity.   It’s all the hypnotic pleasures of Factory Floor without the playfulness as Farman plies her disembodied poetry and Morandi coaxes unusual angles from his modular.

Honorable Mentions

Lee Gamble – Mnestic Pressure

[Hyperdub]

Félicia Atkinson – Hand in Hand

[Shelter Press]

Errorsmith – Superlative Fatigue

[PAN]

Still – I

[PAN]

Alan Vega – IT

[FADER]

Perc – Bitter Music

[Perc Trax]

JLin – Black Origami

[Planet Mu]

Gnod – JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT​-​WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE

[Rocket Recordings]

Ross Manning – Both Sides of the Cocoon

 

[Chemical Imbalance; 2017]

With ‘Both Sides of the Cocoon’, Ross Manning shares a more pensive side to the clamorous unstrumentals of Brisbane/Melbourne avant pop group Sky Needle. 

Where most critical discourse is levelled these days at the production feats of hyper definition Europe, Manning’s solo work is top heavy; his sonic collage nutted out well in advance of the record button.  Manning is not the kind of audio collagist who needs any composing, or indeed finessing, in post.  Overdubbing is hard to place other than beyond the realm of human possibility (yet even then I suspect he’s devised a workaround). 

You’d be mistaken for thinking this is a Sky Needle record with all members present for a more hallucinatory session, such is the sense of real-time interplay between obscure percussion and otherworldly resonances.  But instead the band’s musical philosophies have been recalibrated by Manning from the performative to the generative, with the chemistry of band members substituted for careful manipulation of algorithmic interplay.

I’m yet to see Manning’s live chain, but by all accounts it’s an ever-expanding retrofuturist assembly line – wood on metal on circuitry.  Manning carefully selects a new family tree for each piece which, despite origins unknown, always seem to speak the same language.  As such, each song on ‘Both Sides of the Cocoon’ reveals a new timeline of a city of antique apparatus springing to life then receding into twilight.  It’s a bit too fiddly to label it sonambience, but I’m not going to put my name to something as self-congratulatory as post-sonambience (but if it takes off, you heard it hear first).

We’re lucky we live in a time where there is a good appetite for experimental music, fed largely by select publications and festivals whose popularity seems largely self-sustained without corporate intrigue.  But this can also lend itself to a new stagnation, in which the previously indeterminate moniker begins to assume the genre tropes it is meant to shirk by definition and fork out into more determinate points of reference.  (They are far from kicking the bucket, but there is certainly a vanguard of popular experimental music with their own distinct ‘sound’; Pan, Posh Isolation et al.)  There are few people focussing on diversifying instrumentation over process and so devotedly, and its a forgotten tradition in the vain of Bertoia and Neubauten that deserves a long and healthy future.

Pick the record up from Chemical Imbalance.

Scattered Order – A suitcase full of snowglobes

 

[Rather be Vinyl; 2017]

When asked the question “what does industrial music sound like now?” you’ve got many press-friendly touchstones at hand: the cold wave boogie of Factory Floor, the high octane ladware jams of the Diagonal stable, the apocalyptic dancehall of the Bug.  In other words, there is not so much of an industrial 2.0 as much as it just permeates everywhere.  Every time you hear a vocal contort in theatrical agony, the crude, primitive rhythms of DIY abominations, or the million other tropes such an intrinsically adventurous genre could mount its flag on, you feel the legacy of industrial’s erstwhile uncelebrated antiquity, raising it’s hand meekly from the back of the room. 

Fast forward to 2017 and it’s a different story entirely: every prick and his dog have licked the industrial stamp, invariably to catalog some vein of dreary otherness.  Which is, cynicism aside, a great thing.  The amount of compilations released to celebrate the industrial scenes here and abroad, and most importantly the old groups it has brought out of the woodwork, more than makes up for the cast that would seek to regressively attitudinise it.

What then does industrial music sound like now for the original players?  As it turns out, both quite unlike what they used to and very little like their modern counterparts.  Primitive Calculators have completely revitalised their set up, while Tom Ellard makes his disinterest in early Severed Heads emphatically clear at every available opportunity.  And, as it is with Severed Heads, a cursory glance at the discography of Scattered Order quickly reveals that these aren’t acts that are hot on the heels of their flavour of the month. 

Coming off the back of two releases in 2016, ‘A suitcase full of snowglobes’ offers over 90 minutes of heady, colourful material showcasing the band’s ease around a crowded studio and skills at production in equal measure.  This is no ‘we’re getting the old band back together’ affair (they’ve had one hiatus over nearly forty years), and as deep cut after deep cut is effortlessly rolled out you realise how in shape these guys are.  This is the sound of a band who been making noise together for a long time while restlessly upping the ante at every creative juncture. 

(Makes you wonder whether the old aphorism of ‘you have your whole life to write your first record’ is worth its salt when the fecundity of an immediate sequel eclipses the eventfulness of a long-awaited release.   I think about this concept a lot with artists like Thee Oh Sees or any other act out of the Castle Face/Drag City continuum, Shit and Shine and Yo La Tengo, who spit our records faster than you have time to parcel one as the canonical cherry on the cake.  Other than being excellent acts, I don’t think these artists ever went out of critical favour because they never gave an opportunity for the press to craft a career-defining moment – and as such, the peak of a journalistically necessary decline).

Scattered Order were traditionally more aligned with the mood-driven end of the spectrum as opposed to the wild-eyed freneticism of contemporaries PrimCalc and Severed Heads or the skull-crushing processes of SPK, and ‘A suitcase’ further inures us to the more groove-oriented kraut pulse heard on 2011’s ‘It’s behind you’.  Processed kits and fourth world percussion lend a sense of perpetual motion to the band’s synthetic textures, making your arrival at the end of what is an exceptionally long record come as somewhat of a surprise.   It may be a full suitcase, but it’s all killer no filler. 

Scattered Order have sidled easily into the digital age of production – opting to explore the possibilities afforded by new technology rather than shoehorn old habits of composition into fresh devices.  And, despite having the hit scene a good forty years ago, they remain one of the most consistently surprising, and exciting, underground acts in the country.  In an era where we marvel at the return of Midnight Oil after beginning to think Garrett had a foray into music not politics, let’s not forget the salt of the earth. 

You can pick it up now from Scattered Order’s Bandcamp.

The Trendees – We Are Sonic Art

 

[Albert’s Basement; 2017]

Where the term noise pop has come to characterise a certain lineage of indie groups with ornamental scuff and strain, The Trendees build it straight off the plan.  Like Half Japanese and other garage noiseniks before them, the NZ three-piece take the blueprint of a pop song and brick it with paddle pop sticks and asbestos.  Guitars gnash, drums spill out the meter and vocals buckle at full tilt as the three-piece render their tunes as unfaithfully as gleefully possible.  They’ve lathed some fine renderings for this LP but you can imagine these 7 cuts contorting into completely different beasts every time the band hit the stage. 

Going hand in hand with the mangled pop antics are the lyrics (from what you can pluck out): the intimacy of the familiar, passing the time, “boring parties” – small town indifference. The album art is exhibit B – a faceless dilapidated backyard that could easily be hosting its own boring parties in the suburbia of your choice.  Whether it comes from a place of bucolic affection or ennui for their hometown of Oamaru I couldn’t say for certain, but I suspect they wouldn’t back either.   It’s not a curse, it’s not a blessing; it’s just there.

But despite the dereliction, ‘We Are Sonic Art’ never bleeds into seedy territory.   This is daytime noise no doubt about it.  And in the ballad-y moments in particular (“Centre of Town”/“Boring Party”) the slightest of a sunny disposition shines through the pandemonium, like an X or Replacements record churned through a cement mixer. 

The album title says it all – this band isn’t preoccupied with the politicking of noise as philosophical endeavour.  They just play their tunes the only way they know how: fast, loud and combustible, like a steam train on a track laced with pennies.  And it’s one beautiful racket.

Moe Chee – Testament of the Trinity

 

[Albert’s Basement; 2017]

Spiritual street concrète from Clinton Green/Chun-liang Liu duo Moe Chee recorded live on the steps of the State Library.  

Without the ordinary musical watersheds – chord changes, guitar solos, “kick out the jams motherfucker” – what feel like points of ellipsis in the live street performance Testament of the Trinity Cassette feel momentous.  A brief ducking in the stream of metropolitan chatter signposts a scene change, and a new stray snatch of conversation comes to the fore. 

While the recordings appear to have been compiled in one take there is sufficient narrative to infer an editing process, as the listener is drawn to the counterpoint of the profound and the mundane.  From the muffled proselytising of street preachers to thrill-less renditions of the the night before (“what was jennifer dressed as?”), Moe Chee place meaning in the meaninglessness of a thousand idle thoughts vying for conspicuity in the crowded CBD (one that could exist anywhere in the world if it wasn’t for the familiar sting of occa).   There are no grand monologues here, just the vibrant hum of the day-to-day.  

In the midst of the bulge the performers persist with their strange oscillations – communicating so silently with the crowd that there is never any hint of recognition from their subjects (that is, until the comparative hush of the final movements, where the sea of murmurs subsides into a more serene air of focus).  This sensation strikes me as critical to the project – a 7 day impromptu performance at State library forecourt involving sound and movement.  For all the movement you can’t see, sound infers it:  limbs on percussion, the meditative poses of ceaseless resonances, and the swaying siren song of guest Jen Calloway. 

The Mandarin phrase Moe-chee carries many meanings – ‘silent bonding’, ‘unspoken agreement’ – but it’s essence is illustrated perfectly in these recordings.  Busking these performers are not, as the lines between musicians and listeners and stage and audience are blurred to reveal the strange dance of civilisation.  One where your tantrum over the lack of authentic ramen on the menu reverberates off the scenes of protest out the window.  Where the presidential handshake is no more purposeful than the cat shitting on freshly mowed grass.

Testament of the Trinity is a unique exercise in hands off, interactive musique concrète and another strong instalment in our city’s stellar performance art scene.  Wish I got to see it in the flesh.  You can get the cassette now from Albert’s basement.

No Sister/Bitumen Split EP

nosisterbitumen

[Vacant Valley; 2017]

While VV label runner Peter Bramley’s PBS show Club it to Death continues to exhume the mummified hand of the late Australian and New Zealand noisy underground, the label trims its roster from the same crypt.  For its first release of 2017, the label have found ideal compatriots in No Sister and Bitumen – two bands blazing a similar trail of Nosferatic post-punk hiding behind The Birthday Party’s total solar eclipse.  And while the bands are unabashed in their affections, they distil their influences with authenticity and intelligence.

One of the more formidable live acts to devour the Melbourne pub circuit, No Sister (formerly – partly – from Brisbane) have translated their cacophonous live show into a lean double A-side.  Though it doesn’t necessarily indicate a new direction for the band, ‘Score’ and ‘Perpetrate’ are well ventilated to give the vocals a lot more breathing room.  The spider web guitar harmonics and the morse code shifts from staccato to legato are still omnipresent, but relieved from an oppressive wall of feedback they converse more distinctly with the vocalists and the band’s razor sharp rhythm section. 

For this split Mino, who held down vocal duties for the lion share of the band’s self titled debut, passes the torch to bassist Siahn (‘Score’) and guitarist Tiarney (‘Perpetrate’).  Sharing vocal duties might ordinarily portend a creative shift, but here the consistent MO of No Sister’s vocalists – insistent, erratic but not abstract – reveals a striking simpatico amongst the four-piece.  As such the band feel less like a group of musicians with predetermined roles and more like a flock of acolytes trading satanic verses over a pentagram. 

Although the medium typically denotes a sense of rapport between the artists featured, both No Sister’s and Bitumen’s separate releases can be viewed as more companionable than this split.  And where Bitumen’s self-titled release last year had its sleazier moments indebted to the junkie punk reverberating through the alleyways of mid-eighties Australia, ’Honey Hunter’ leads the cassette into colder territory.  On this cold-wavier turn, the drum machine ticks like a manic clock as vocals drip stalactites over foggy reverb from dual guitarists Sam and Bryce. 

If ‘Honey Hunter’ felt too impressionistic, the band lob a brick with ‘Winter Swimmer’.  With all the fury of Savages’ heavier/proggier material from last year, the bared teeth of a Tracy Pew bassline and squealing feedback herald the circular mantras of vocalist Kate, spurring the band into a towering climax.  It’s a triumphant turn from Kate, whose cold wave-via-Nick Cave incantations have never sounded more forceful, and it stakes fertile ground for the band’s future. 

’No Sister/Bitumen’ sees the two bands continue to mesmerise with demonic grooves and refreshingly unironic gusto.  If that’s your ointment you can see them at the Tote this Saturday.  Grab a cassette and, more importantly, see the bands. 

Secret Valley – The Glisten e.p.

 

[Albert’s Basement; 2014]

With male and female vocalists exchanging MB tinnie drawls, soporific strumming, prominent accessions from non-rock instruments – trombones, drum machines here – The Glisten contains, at a glance, all the touchstones of Melbourne jangle (right down to a Mikey Young master credit).  But Secret Valley are more adventurous than that, and more than a little misanthropic.  In fact, for all their genre infidelity and ambitious lo-fidelity, Secret Valley are more like the Beta Band making a moonlight confessional.

‘Angry Loners Unite’ makes for an arresting opener, greeting us with a playful synth keyline before engulfing it in the unmistakable scuzz of J&MC.   Dual vocalists Dan Cross and Phoebe Robertson (who with both trombone and vocal duties makes a welcome new addition to what was originally Cross’ solo project) are deployed to great effect, intersecting less as a conversation and more as two lone satellites ambling in silent simpatico.  It’s a well-timed revisitation of the Mazzy Star/J&MC collab ‘Sometimes Always’ via muted new wave cool, condensing the double helix of hermetic love into two a half minutes of pop bliss.

‘Be Happy and Enjoy Yourself’ is SV at their slackest, a stoner drawl waltzing in after a lengthy meander of trombone.  It’d all make for a lovely summer’s day, but the interjection of dissonant drone and boisterous buzz saws land like a fly in your Calipo as the tune’s core platitude dissolves from proverb into taunt.

‘Crow Bar’ brings Modern Lovers’ comparisons to sharper relief, as syllables stagger for emphasis from the mouth of a disillusioned party goer.   Finally, the acoustic strums of “My Two Kids” false starts as an act of contrition before the rainclouds of distortion appear and take us somewhere darker still.

Don’t be fooled by the playful synths, this is deeply jaded music.  But where cynicism can often translate as a symptom of arrogance, ‘The Glisten’ EP is full of pathos.  Its not your Blood on the Tracks moment, but it will take the edge of a boozy lunch with an ex or, better still, some successful asshole you wound up seated next to.

Secret Valley are playing at Albert’s Basement’s showcase at Tom Tom this Tuesday so do yourself a favour and get around some eclectic sounds.

Elli and Bev – Might Not Look Like It To You

 

[Albert’s Basement; 2014]

Ecstasy is a musical trope that will ordinarily grace your air waves in one of three ways: the pop-friendly sublimations of “tonights gonna be a really good night”, phoned-in metaphors (you ARE my ecstasy) or agonising braggadocio.  Indeed, for how fun the drug can be, especially while enjoying a sweet banger, in reality there is nothing less fun or imaginative than ecstasy in song.

Fortunately, with “Might Not Look Like it To You” Elli and Bev have supplied us with a faithful rendition of the ecstasy fuelled exploits that allow us to proudly call Melbourne the highest consumer per capita of MDMA.   

Elli and Bev was a short-lived collaboration between local synth heads Natalie K (from The Enclosures) and Karl Von Bamberger (from every other band).  Incubated, tellingly, in a Preston party and recorded subsequently in two days, “Might Not Look Like it To You” is the duo’s love song to party culture.  And, believe it or not, it doesn’t sound like the new Melbourne cum Ibiza Balaeric sensation.  Rather, E & B exploit slow reflective pacing and laconic vocals to bridge the gap between Saturday night and Saturday night when you are a disembodied pair of sunglasses nursing an iced latte.

However, Elli and Bev aren’t the arch-miserablists this synopsis would have you believe.  Humour may be a common symptom of the short-lived collaboration, but here the duo are in fine form.  Funny yet never jokey, the lyrics are cold and observed, and like any slow onset of sober conscience they play the fly on the wall in the room of their own cold sweat come down.

The vocalists are distinct but sympathetic, with Natalie K’s more lucid melodicism being intercepted by Von Bamberger‘s loose singspeak.  On opener “31 Men” Natalie K reflects with cool detachment on the previous night’s alleyway trysts before concluding “something’s aren’t even that fun/do it like no one ever cared”.  Among the sly nods debaucherous grandstanding, Von Bamberger takes aim at chemically enhanced amorousness on “Already Gone”: “I blink and live my whole life with you”.  The pair are tongue-in-cheek but never facetious, and there’s a facet of truth in every anecdote.

Sonically ,the record sits somewhere between the glacial pace and textural meditations of HTRK and the spectral brutalism of Throbbing Gristle (the elegiac “Bonus Life”, in particular, recalls the mothball dirge of “Convincing People”).  On the cusp of dissonance, synth and organ tones fill the space wonderfully, as vocals surface on heavy rainclouds of polyphony.  All this, set to minimalist drum loops that make Beach House sound like Art Blakey.

Unlike their analogues however, Elli and Bev aren’t impressionistic about their art; vocals are laid gloriously bare to serve the narrative.  The Aussie accent, in all its unadulterated twang, is an instrument in and of itself.

It all makes for an enticing package, and it’s a shame this will likely be the first and last instalment for the duo.  Elli and Bev have gifted us an original, spreadeagled take on the long weekend, as humorous as it is bittersweet.   ’31 Men’, I’ll add, is an underrated dart for the ages.

There’s vinyl available via Bandcamp plus a $5 digi download on the cheap.  If you like the record I also urge you to check out both Von Bamberger’s and Natalie K’s other projects too, particularly The Enclosures and Horse Mania, as well as many of the other excellent releases from Albert’s Basement.