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INTRODUCING: Okin Osan

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Okin Osan is a new band fronted by Sydney-based Rose Chan, sporting a hyperactive, grungy take on surf rock with a kind of 60s Japanese twist. She’s supported names like Jeremy Neale and Empat Lima, and if you know those artists, you’ve got an idea of the off-kilter kind of alternative pop-rock you’re in for. Rose also happens to be the sister of electro-pop mover-n-shaker Rainbow Chan.

Rose doesn’t take much inspiration from her sister’s already considerable back catalogue, instead focusing on carving a new vibe full of fuzzy chord progressions along with razor sharp riffs and vocal melodies. Rose clearly has a deep affection for the period of mid-1900s western dance-hall optimism, but digging deeper into the demos on her Soundcloud also shows her leaning towards the grungy angst of the ’90s.

Okin Osan’s debut single ‘You Tell, I’ll Listen’ is a strong starting point. It’s got that lonesome, sun-soaked delivery of something like Martha and the Muffins’ ‘Echo Beach’, but is a little more rough around the edges in a youthful, carefree way. It’s short but upfront, confident, and full of ideas that are begging to be expanded on.

Okin Osan’s debut EP will be out digitally and on tape via Healthy Tapes come November 10

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LISTEN: Unity Floors ‘Life Admin’ LP

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Whether they’re trying to or not, on Life Admin Sydney’s Unity Floors ask a lot of questions. Like, is there still place for two normal nice guys in Australian music? Obviously in most genres and spaces, men still take up most of the room – but in alternate music media, we know girls are the ones doing the exciting stuff in pop and punk and techno and rock and roll. So what about these two guys bemused by girls and their designer clothes and their yoga on their lunch breaks, who still think moving to Melbourne might be the answer to all their problems. What about these two white dudes probably closer to thirty than twenty, playing drums and guitar and making sweet garage pop music.

What space do these men take up in music right now? Does anyone care? What’s worth talking about at the moment? With Restless The Ocean Party have made something untouchably beautiful, introspective and sensitive and political. They’re trying hard to earn their voices. Then there’s party-rock boy bands who play the sell-out tours and keep Weed Culture hanging around in music like a stain. In Brisbane, and probably other places, white boys who play guitar but wish they were hip hop stars make samples and heavy techno or blunt wild-eyed dumb punk music. Unity Floors aren’t really like any of this. They’re earnest and naive in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, with those jaunty fuzzy guitars that could be from anywhere between 1991 and now.

It’s a fun record, a domestic record to do the chores and ride the bus to. And yeah ‘Give and Take’ sounds like ‘Simple Feelings’ by Twerps but you know it wasn’t on purpose and they probably aren’t sitting around obsessively listening to Range Anxiety enough to pick it up. Just unlucky for them that Australian music writers definitely are.

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Maybe we’ll look back on Life Admin as the last of its kind. Or maybe garage rock for boys is here to stay and I’m talking out of my arse. But listening to this record made me feel nostalgic for something I’ve always loved but only just realised had slipped away, and it’s nice to remember it at least one more time.

 

Life Admin is out on Pop Frenzy now. Unity Floors also do a great live show, which you can catch in Sydney, Melbourne or Hobart on their upcoming tour:

Hobart – The Brisbane hotel, Satuday October 8
Melbourne – The Old Bar, Saturday October 22
Sydney – Chippendale Hotel, Friday October 28

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INTRODUCING: No Local

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Image by Greg Holland Photography

Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell isn’t a content man. You see it his songwriting, and the fact that his main band camp page looks like this. He reminds me of the classic fervent artist – constantly immersing himself in creative process, creation and destruction, rarely rising up to the surface to breathe in and take stock, always sorting through his ideas as quickly as possible.

The focused movements of his best-known work with The Ocean Party are probably the result of having to work to the combined schedule of five other dudes, but in his new project, No Local, Snowy is purely himself.

His debut release under that name is Nolo Contendere, named after a kind of plea bargain where the defendant admits neither innocence nor guilt. If you’re familiar with Snowy’s preference for darker self-reflection, these themes will come as no surprise.

Here Snowy’s exposed, no longer hidden behind a guitar or nestled in with others’ sounds. Last time I saw No Local perform was at STRINE WHINE’s August residency at Melbourne’s Gasometer. In that performance Snowy approached a pop-star iconography, his all-black outfit bookended by his mess of blonde hair on top and white Converse All-Stars on the bottom.

Zach Denton, also of The Ocean Party (and other groups, like Pregnancy and Cool Sounds) backs him up on drums, so Snowy’s not totally on his lonesome. In a conversation we had the other day about the project, Snowy told me that he was looking at No Local as a collection of shifting parts, different players coming in and out, bolstering and subtracting as they come and go. He likened it to operating Sui Zhen’s live outfit.

Nolo Contendere is scattershot in its sounds but unified in its intent. Speaking on that lack of cohesion, Snowy harkens back to Aphex Twin’s 2001 release Drukqs, a double LP that flits between classical composition and razor’s-edge electronic production. To him, as much as that record is sonically unpredictable, as an Aphex Twin project it all makes sense.

Nolo Contendere contains two songs that’ll eventually make their way onto No Local’s debut album later this year – the already released ‘Thinking the Wrong Things’ and ‘Somebody Else’ – but it’s the deep cuts on the tape that are the true gems. ‘Do What I Said’ could almost be summer anthem, if it weren’t for Snowy’s hushed vocal delivery. ‘I.W.B.W.U.’ is a contorted chop up of Flowertruck’s ‘I Wanna Be With You’, showcasing deft vocal sampling.

Skating the edges of indie pop, house, funk, and dance music, Nolo Contendere sounds unique. Snowy coming out from the conventional (but still wonderful) world of guitar pop is something to behold.

No Local are about to go on a wee tour in support of the Nolo Contendere release. You can catch them on these dates:

22 September – The Phoenix, Canberra, w/ Sachet, Dog Name, Territory

24 September – The Fitzroy Pinnacle, Melbourne, w/ The Finks, Frances Fox + Yours & Mine Zine Launch

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LISTEN: Akioka – ‘Right Here’

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Akioka is the solo project of Tess Darcey, a key member of Perth’s small but extremely industrious experimental electronic scene. She plays in both Mei Saraswati and Phil Stroud‘s live bands, and shares with those artists a taste for light-handed, organic compositions blending soul, dub and new age influences.

Her latest release, a two-song cassette called Right Here, is out this Friday on Pouring Dream, a bedroom-size label responsible for ambient pop releases by local artists Spirit Level, Leaving, Bahasa Malay and more.

The title track is a gentle, minimalist drone built around Darcey’s vocal loops, which flutter and tumble over a bed of sparse keys and thumb piano. Listening to it is almost a somatic experience – like lying in a shallow stream with sunlight and clear water running over your body, the sounds of birds, insects and rapids mixing in your ears.

Preorder Right Here on cassette and digital via Bandcamp. Each tape comes with a risographed cover and artwork by by Dolphin Secrets. West coasters can also catch the tape launch, presented by Pouring Dream and Semi-Decent, at Highgate Continental on 24 September.

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INTRODUCING: RVG

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Romy Vager Group

Image by Anna Cunningham

Melbourne four-piece RVG write tightly wound heartbreakers, with characters poised between defiance and despair. On debut single ‘A Quality of Mercy’, frontwoman Romy Vager channels everything from Camus to Television, delivering a sermon from the electric chair. “You can open me up/you can dig forever/you won’t find what you’re looking for,” she sings, quicksilver riffs coiling behind her. “There’s no evil in me”. The climax sounds like a car crash on a rain-soaked highway, with layers of synths, cymbals and blaring horns.

Vager’s urgent, slightly off-kilter vocals (imagine Robert Forster could sing) are paired with an aesthetic drawn from post punk and new wave. It’s a vivid, natural dynamic, recalling the Jam in their more reflective moments, or Florida punks Merchandise.

RVG’s latest release, ‘That’s All’, is a slow-building ballad about the self-cannibalising that comes with unrequited love. “I’ve been trying not to ruin your day/I’ve been trying not to get in your way,” Vager sings, the crack in her voice revealing the strain.

Catch RVG at the Worker’s Club on 30 September supporting Oh Mercy, who’s appearing in a one-time-only line up with members of the Triffids, Laura Jean, Loose Tooth and Dorsal Fins.

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LISTEN: Redspencer – Fuss

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Redspencer are a chill band. Their new one, ‘Fuss’, is a chill song. Makes sense to me.

The band seemed to be on the back-burner for a little while, a time when members Aiden and Dave McMillan threw their efforts into Jesse McCormack’s Tourist Dollars EP, a severely under-appreciated release from earlier this year. Coal’s back in the furnace now though, and the engine purrs once more. It’s the kind of jangly, driven-but-not-too-quick kind of guitar pop that you’d recognise from their self-titled 2015 EP.

“It doesn’t matter too much / what they say about you / you’re flying up and above / over the fuss” sings frontman Dave McMillan. Absolutely dude, right fuckin’ on.

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LISTEN: Pleasure Symbols – ‘Pleasure Symbols’ EP

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Brisbane two-piece Pleasure Symbols (Phoebe Paradise and Jasmine Dunn) have around for a few years, and despite being one of the most exciting bands in Brisbane the entire time have only just released their first EP. And if you told me they’d spent the entire time working on these four beautiful songs day and night I’d almost believe you. This is extremely sophisticated, darkly gorgeous music.

’80s Australian post-punk meets modern electronic pop structures and hooks, but with that goth-ish edge that makes people label this stuff ‘cold’, even though it’s actually as rich and golden as anything you’ll hear this year.

Yet it’s still gotta be called bleak – maybe cause of the suburban hell landscapes of the incredible video for ‘Underneath Your Skin’. But removed from these images the track – still intense and kinda scary, has a slinky, almost groovy feeling.

Pleasure Symbols don’t rely on forced minimalism and empty space to create a cool vibe – they do it with confidence and smart layering. There’s a lot going on here; the songs are heavy with feeling, desire, spite, delicate pain and anxiety, self-destruction – built subtly in Paradise’s voice. There’s not need for theatrics, the drama is there if you care to listen. Like on last song ‘Control’, a master class in understated slow-build sexiness.

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Hopefully signing to new Brisbane label Death Valley Records means we might hear more from Pleasure Symbols before the end of the 2010s – but if not, we at least have to thank them for releasing what is probably the best EP of the year.

You can buy the record online HERE. Though if you’re in Brisbane I reckon take the train out to Morningside and pick up a copy (and a beer) from Death Valley Bar, cause it’s a cool pace and this is as good an excuse as any to check it out (also the postage is a bit spenny for locals).

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