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LABEL PROFILE: Spirit Level

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New Australian label Spirit Level is the brainchild of electronic producer/Double J radio presenter Tim Shiel, and Wally de Backer of Gotye fame. Originally formed to provide a local Australian release for U.S. outfit Zammuto, who had supported Gotye on some of their U.S. tour dates, the label was then shelved for a period whilst Tim and Wally were busy with other projects.

Fast forward to 2016 and the duo have resurrected the label to provide a platform for unique, compelling artists to be heard. When asked about the decision to revive the label Shiel states that “Part of the impetus for re-launching the label was having this realisation that I am surrounded in my day-to-day life by some pretty amazing creative people, and that we all have the will and the desire to collaborate and support each other – but sometimes you need someone to sort of plant a flag and say, ‘hey – this is a thing now. We’re a family now.'”

In addition to releasing music the label is committed to helping the development of their artists, assisting with any and all facets of the industry from song writing, mixing, artwork, promotion, contracts, booking shows etc. In Shiel’s words “I think we’ll just do whatever we need to do to help out…That’s the job of a label now I think, it goes way beyond just releasing music.” Throughout his own music career Shiel says he’s “really had to learn all of that stuff, piece it all together bit by bit on my own. Now hopefully I’m in a place where I can give some of that back, and through the label just do whatever is required to fill in the gaps. Even if it’s just being a bit of a cheerleader”.

The label’s first official signing is Melbourne artist Jordan White, aka Braille Face. Stumbling across his music on SoundCloud Shiel reached out to White and the two quickly became friends. This eventually led to the release of Braille Face’s debut single ‘Glow; an emotionally resonant slice of electronica not too dissimilar to fellow Melbournites I’lls. Simon Lam, the vocalist from I’lls, coincidentally mastered the follow-up single, ‘Backwards/Medicated’. Offering up a similar mood to ‘Glow’, this latest single builds from a wavering synth line atop a propulsive percussive loop, gradually unfolding and momentarily allowing White’s vocals to soar in beautifully restrained flashes, giving us a glimpse of what the Braille Face project still has up its sleeve.

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What’s next in store for Spirit Level? Firstly, the debut album from Braille Face, due for release later this year, then we can expect new music from the label’s latest signing, Melbourne duo Telling, one of Shiel’s own projects along with singer-songwriter Ben Abraham. And as for the future direction of the label, Shiel notes “We’ll go wherever feels right….I don’t particularly care what kind of music it is as long as I think it’s really great and creative, and that it moves me. And that I can imagine it moving other people.”

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LISTEN: Lucy Roleff – ‘Every Time’

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lucy roleff

Lucy Roleff’s upcoming album, This Paradise, is a little ways off of its 15 July release date, but to distill the wait, Roleff now presents the second single, ‘Every Time’ – a perfect compliment to the soft plucking of previous single, ‘Aspen’.

Composed a few years back in Berlin on some banged-up dollar-store guitar, ‘Every Time’ is rich, slow and sombre. Apparently written about a lover who is an expert in making their absence felt, ‘Every Time’ has Roleff’s admitting that this person has an emotional resonance in her life that isn’t always convenient.

It reminds me of the intimate nylon guitar performances of Jessica Pratt; similar to the ethereal yet emotionally honest cuts from Pratt’s 2015 album, On Your Own Love Again. Roleff’s voice is whispered but strong, woodwinds playing soft melodies behind her wavering vocals.

Considering both ‘Aspen’ and ‘Every Time’, the paradise alluded to by Roleff’s album title could either be a paradise that exists only on reflection or one in which she currently resides: the beauty of solitude in Berlin or the beauty of the countryside in South Gippsland. Either way, This Paradise is shaping up to be one of 2016’s most stark but beautiful records.

This Paradise is out on Lost & Lonesome on 15 July. Get down to the launch show at The Gasometer Hotel on July 28th.

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LISTEN: Emma Russack – In a New State LP

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emma russack

It’s so striking to hear an artist working through stuff on a record – when you feel like you’re discovering things about them as they discover things about themselves. Emma Russack’s In A New State is an album of transition, of slow self-forgiveness and a graceful resignation. Russack knows it’s not as simple as moving on without looking back – this record looks back a lot – but every time it gets a little easier.

The transition process on A New State is completely unhurried – every song unfolds beautifully and gently. Even ‘Have You’, a minute and a half of building stormy guitars and cymbals, waits till the right moment to deliver the crushing end note ‘I don’t have you / and that’s…Just… Fine’. It’s one of those absolutely ‘not fine’ fines, but soon it’ll be the truth.

With a record that’s this honest and lyrically engaging, the temptation is to just quote words from it and make up stories about what they might be about (which I’m definitely about to do), but it’s worth commenting on how much emotional work is done by the music as well. There’s a gentle push and swing to these songs, always coaxing you to feel a little more, listen a little closer. And you do, from the prettily echoing guitar of opener ‘Cottesloe’, a song about a good memory that sets the reflective tone of the songs to come, to the dramatic borderline cheesy oscillating synth of ‘Not the Friend’. ‘Not The Friend’ is probably the most fun song on the record too – it’s still possible to have a good time with some bad feelings.

‘If You Could See Me Now’ reads initially as a kind of declaration on the good of self-care, with the understandably oft quoted line ‘I don’t have sex / for validation / I’ve had no sex in six months / but I’m happy’. But while she’s not looking for validation, she might be looking for something else – closure. The ‘you’ in these songs only exists in memories, they’re not calling or coming to shows or liking your selfies, and some of the best parts of this record have Russack dealing honestly with this loss. Like on ‘Another Chance’, which captures that need to stay busy and distracted in order to forget – ‘so many years to fill up / so many years without you’ – which works especially well back to back with ‘You Gave Me’.  On that song she’s admitting that nothing’s working and the only thing to do is to leave town, cause moving on sometimes means running away.

I’m guilty of romanticising the idea of growing up in small seaside or country towns – I grew up in the city (well, Brisbane) and I still live fifteen minutes’ walk from where I went to high school. I was a sheltered and neurotic teen and I’m an anxious and cynical adult. I’ve never felt what it’s like to move away and come home and be a stranger. Or that feeling of escape; when you get to leave everything behind and start new in a big city. And I’m kind of obsessed with it. So take this with a grain of salt, but I think ‘Narooma’ captures this feeling impeccably. One side of a small-town upbringing is the freedom to experiment and grow up a little fast, as Russack shows on ‘Best Love’, talking about her relationship with an older man at 16. It’s the most romantic song here, her voice taking on a country-singers heavy-hearted nostalgia. But it also isn’t afraid to delve into the grey area, of her being ‘still a child’ and maybe taken in by the adult world too soon. Russack revels in grey areas, in second-guessing herself and her past.

Emma Russack was apparently gonna quit music early last year, before a well-timed grant swooped in and prompted her to give it another crack. And, phew, cause Australian music would be way less brave and beautiful without her.

In a New State is out now via Spunk.

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LOOK: Client Liaison, Backstage in Brisbane

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Client Liaison_Backstage_By Savannah van der Niet_10

If you’ve seen Client Liaison live, you know what the fuss is about. If you haven’t, I can’t urge you to see a live show more.

The same on-stage as off-stage, these guys can’t help but give an air of genuine flair. Manager Adam always seems to sport a CL shirt and business socks, a true devotee to his mates. Monte chats with stylist Kristy about costume changes, as she fixes his collar and tightens his cufflinks. Geordie catches up on lost sleep under the keyboard in rehearsals. I find Tom planning a surprise birthday party at McDonalds for Harvey’s birthday on tour the next morning (they require advance notice, the disappointment sets in), then the pair compare catwalks backstage. The better walk is left undetermined.

The live show is sold out. The window to the backstage area fogs with the heat of a million bodies wildly dancing to music every Australian has a soft spot for. The stage is scattered with palm trees and giant water coolers.

Put it on the company card. Too much is never enough. Get ready to Feed the Rhythm and dance all night.

Photos taken on digital and 35mm film at their ‘World of Our Love’ show in Brisbane at The Triffid. Client Liaison is Monte Morgan and Harvey Miller, plus touring band Tom Tilley and Geordie Miller. Stylist is Kristy Barros.

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See more work from Savannah van der Niet (Savvy Creative) HERE.

Listen: Treehouse – Centre of Their World LP

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‘But the centre of whose world?’ I ask of Treehouse’s new release Centre of Their World. Taken negatively it’s a nod to modern-day narcissism. I’d like to think it beckons more toward Treehouse’s own aesthetic world. That music, in it’s utopian ideal, is a world of its own making and your band is that warm marshmallowy centre. It’s an intuitive world. It’s the nicest thing in the actual world.

Treehouse are Hobart three-piece Cal, Jon and Will and they have a classic three-piece line-up. If rock music and it’s jangle manifestations are the genre, then the guitar is the instrument which is forever being called-out for running out of ideas. Too passé, they say. Too phallic, they quip. And yet here are Treehouse showing us that our knee-jerk doom-and-gloom over rock music is as unwarranted as it is tiring.

Released by Oz-institution Vacant Valley the album’s first single ‘She’s A Mystic’ seeped onto our Facebook feeds at the beggining of this year and enough great things have already been said that I needn’t rehash.Yet despite Treehouse feeling validated in releasing ‘She’s A Mystic’ as the album forerunner, ‘Hammer On The Door’ is the album’s actual pinnacle with its sweetness and pliancy, its aggressiveness and visceral nature.

It has one of the most identifiable and subtly grand guitar riffs I’ve heard from a local Australian band in a long time. It’s such a fucking seamlessly building song that does all the right things in all the right places. Considering this, it’s a miracle the song doesn’t dwindle into cliche, but teeters on the highs and drops we’d expect while adding an indecipherable something that keeps us listening. Maybe it’s in the production, which is wonderfully normal in it’s disregard for lavishness (which often just turns all rock/punk songs to plastic anyway).

In many ways Treehouse is Australian in the way that ACDC, The Church, Go Betweens and Powderfinger are Australian. This is a horribly abstract thing to say because Treehouse aren’t actually similar to any of these bands and yet there’s a feeling of geographical locality that signals that these songs could not have come from anywhere else.

Ultimately Centre of Their World heralds the in-between stance of much music at the moment; it doesn’t exactly try to change the social contract and it isn’t aesthetically wild but nor does it aim to amuse, please or entertain. Treehouse are certainly a band of their time. What Centre of Their World offers is something many local bands could use a lesson in: thoughtful songs rather than boring dribble melodies, horribly painful pastiche or a reliance on tedious spectacle. While Treehouse of course repeat the jangle-tropes and compositional build-ups we’ve heard before, this is a mute point because they do so in such a way that rejects a boring rehash of the past and doesn’t shame or tinge the memory of the old.

Centre of Their World is out now on Vacant Valley with a few limited edition cassettes on the horizon.

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LISTEN: Wireheads – Arrive Alive LP

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arrive alive

The Australia on Adelaide band Wireheads‘  new record isn’t the ‘smoking cigs in your sharehouse and goin down the shops to buy more cigs and cheezels’ kind of Australia. It’s violent and murky and sinister. Sometimes it’s fun too but in a way that might go off the rails any fucking second. Album opener and title track, ‘Arrive Alive’, throws up the image ‘getting shot dead in the head/ for tryna buy orange juice/ you got two dollars in your hand’, and album highlight ‘Dedication’ the merciless bashing of beautiful faces.

But this record also might be about a hunt for something redemptive and beautiful, a bit of subtlety in circumstances that are more suited to blunt, unforgiving ugliness. Cause there’s those female vocals in the background of ‘Dedication’ too, working as a foil to the violence with a bit of uneasy romance; ‘your face is so goddamn beautiful/ your face makes me feel unusual’. And then ‘Organ Failure’s desperate squealing sax offset by interludes of sweetly drawled ‘darlin’s’ and a super pretty bass melody.

You’ll never get the energy of a Wireheads live show on record (take a look at the 20-odd people listed as contributing to the record on Bandcamp though and you’ll see they gave it a good go), but what you do get is time and space to let the emotional core of a lot of these songs to sink in. You get things like ‘Ice Kool Flavour Aid’, a straight husky cowboy ballad that’s earnest in a way that not a heap of other Australian bands would have the guts to do.

Arrive Alive is full of familiar characters and archetypes: prisoners ex-soldiers, emperors and goddesses and the dying. They’re all wondering what it means to survive, and if that’s really the most important thing. The fantastical elements could be allegories to real shit: ‘Proserpina’ is the Goddess of the cycle of life and death – or a woman offering redemption. Emperor Nero is another dictator fucking around while everything burns to the ground. Or maybe they they’re just funny stories to write songs about – ‘Nero’ is especially wacky, with that woodwind that makes everything feel like it’s coming down around your head.

The first couple of times I listened to this record I thought it was a bit long and maybe trying a little hard to be weird – but I reckon that was just because there’s so much packed in here it’s easy to get overloaded. Now I’ve got it a bit more I couldn’t think of anything I’d cut. Maybe ‘Isabella Says’ – I don’t care that much about ‘cosmic gamma rays baby’ – but then there’s the funny little flute freak out that leads you into the beautiful ‘So Softly Spoken’, making the honest simplicity of that song able to catch you off guard and be something properly lovely.

Arrive Alive is a smart, packed, generous record with ideas popping out the seams. Because of this it’s easy to overlook the humanness of a lot of the songs, the honesty and the heart – I nearly did, and now I’m tellin’ ya not to make the same mistake.

You can listen to and buy Arrive Alive via Tenth Court here

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WATCH: Obscura Hail – ‘Little Web’

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obscura hail

As Obscura Hail, multi-instrumentalist Sean Conran focuses on the intricate details on life, revelling in the minute facets of a minimalist folk sound and playing in the infinitesimal spaces between lingering notes. Throughout his songs, which are commonly described as ‘basement pop’ or ‘baroque folk’, Sean handles each delicate moment as if it were dangerously fragile – each experience or thought a priceless treasure to take care of. For his latest single, ‘Little Web’, Sean has taken inspiration from the lives of fictional video game characters. The song narrows its focus to Sean’s self-imposed isolation from others in favour of a virtual world and how his preference towards actions of non-existent figures created a disconnect from reality ­– choosing to dictate his own narrative with the only limitations being the ones imposed by the game itself.

‘Little Web’ opens with a soothing and melancholic guitar melody, before Sean’s wispy vocals interject with the opening lines “Moving pictures on the silver screen / living their lives in a 2D scene / I’m glued, I’m glued / to the seat in this room”, setting the scene of Sean seated in front of the illuminated screen, immersed in a world of his own creation. The accompanying video offers a series of recorded moments, most seemingly insignificant but weaving together into a tableau of introspection. Frames of outdoor scenery offer a glimpse into a world beyond the computer screen – natural sunlight and stars instead of the harsh artificial lighting of the virtual world. The song carries a stark beauty, minimalist in nature but impressive in impact.

Obscura Hail is on the cusp of releasing an album entitled Leaves, Earth, which follows on from the Thrown Into The Sea EP. Leaves, Earth will be out in August through No Safe Place Records.

You can see him supporting Jules Sheldon at the Old Bar in Melbourne on 25 July.

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