In 2014, Brittle as Bones, the intimate debut from Setec, aka Sydney artist Joshua Gibbs, was released via artist collective Feral Media. Combining gentle melodies, ramshackle percussion and looped acoustic instruments with deftly chosen samples, the album created a warm and delicate world, each track immersing you in gentle evocations of a different time and place.
Over the past few months we’ve heard rumblings of a follow-up LP, and today we’re excited to present lead single ‘Cotton Bones’. Opening on a minimal piano loop, with spectral echoes dispersed among pitter-patter rhythms, the track recalls the dusty layers of Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House or Four Tet’s early folktronica.
There’s a melancholy to ‘Cotton Bones’ – perhaps typical of Setec’s nostalgic approach to song craft – which is belied by a breezy chorus. The song gradually blooms into a bright singalong moment, as Gibbs adds his own voice to the gauzy source material.
Sydneysiders can catch Setec launching his new single at the Gaelic Club next Saturday. The gig is hosted by Skydreams, with support from Spirit Faces, Imperial Broads and Okin Osan. Full event details on Facebook. You may also be lucky enough to pick up an extremely limited lathe-cut vinyl copy of the single, with 3 alternate sleeves.
Stay tuned for more news on Setec’s second album, but for now slide into ‘Cotton Bones’ for a while.
A Quality of Mercy – the debut album from Melbourne’s RVG, premiering here – is a collection of sharp, driving pop songs that draw equally from the goth palette of early 4AD and the literary proto-punk of Television. To celebrate its release, songwriter Romy Vager spoke to us about androgyny, emotional intelligence and The Twilight Zone.
Tell me about RVG – who’s in the band, what brought you together?
RVG Consists of me, Reuben, Angus and Marc. We’ve all known each other for at least a few years at least through playing gigs with each other in other bands we were in (I used to play in a band with Marc called Sooky La La).
Angus and I were sort of planning a record of my songs a few years ago that was was going to be a lush Echo and the Bunnymen kind of album. We made a few demos but didn’t really do anything past that. I made a little tape of songs taken from my Soundcloud in the meantime and arranged a small launch for it. I asked everyone if they’d be interested in playing a one-off gig as a band. We did it and people liked it and so we just kept going.
We like a lot of the same music, and we don’t get into those weird passive-aggressive fights that seem to happen with every other band. We all seem to be on the same wavelength about what’s a good idea and what’s a bad one. It’s weird, I’ve never been in a band like it.
Aesthetically, RVG and [your other band] Avoid are quite different (at least, one reminds me of Television, the other – from what I’ve heard – ‘Atmosphere’-era Joy Division), but they both seem to be drawing on sounds from the late 70s/80s. Is that an era you return to a lot as a listener? What music was formative for you?
I started paying attention to music in my teens, and at the time being a sensitive, gender-confused loner, I was very attracted to the androgyny of people like The Cure and Patti Smith, which was the closest thing like that for me growing up in conservative Adelaide. I saw Bowie on his last tour and it cemented the fact that I belonged in that universe. I’m still also a massive fan of The Sisters of Mercy. That band introduced me to a lot of non-music influences like T.S Elliot and Francis Bacon.
I love the emotional intelligence of that era of music. Everybody seems to know what they’re upset about and can express it to you clearly and concisely. I don’t like listening to anything that’s unclear about what it’s trying to tell to me.
Do you write songs and bring them to the others, or do you jam/write together?
I make little demos of songs and then usually put them on Soundcloud. Initially RVG was just sort of selecting songs that would work with a band, but as a band the songs come out very differently. ‘A Quality of Mercy’ was initially a half-speed country ballad. It sounded awful. Angus suggested we speed it up and turn it into more of an Echo and the Bunnymen song. He pretty much saved that song from being unbearable.
I really can’t do jamming, it makes me feel gross. I generally write the lyrics and most of the structure and the band builds around it. We only really rehearse a song a few times and then start playing it live. It never usually sounds any good if we work on things for too long by ourselves. Angus said once that a gig is worth four rehearsals and that’s become a bit of a mantra for me.
How did the LP come together? do you feel like there’s a theme?
The title track is named after an episode of The Twilight Zone. The American army has cornered these sick Japanese soldiers in a cave during battle. The soldier in charge is about to blow up the cave for no immediate reason. He gets knocked out or something and wakes up as a Japanese soldier who’s just been given orders to blow up some sick Americans in the same circumstance. The whole episode is about perspective and empathy, which is similar to the theme of that song. We decided to name the album after that single cause it felt like a bit of a mission statement. It’s a very moral and perspective-conscious album.
I think previously to RVG, I wrote songs that were mostly bombast and shallow, in which I would always be the voice of perfection – real ego driven songs. I think so much in my life has changed and I’ve been able to write stuff in the last few years that has a lot more empathy. The album feels like the shedding of some kind of old skin. I think that might be a bit to do with being trans, and maybe because I don’t take as many drugs as I used to.
Do you have a favourite track on the album at the moment?
‘A Quality of Mercy’ will always be my favourite. I was really proud of myself when I wrote the lyrics to that song, and watching it grow with the band has been really beautiful. It’s also really interesting to play the part of the second character in that song when we play it live. I really like to get into it.
RVG launchA Quality of Mercy at the Tote on 3 March w Scott & Charlene’s Wedding and Girl Crazy.
We’re not gonna labour the point about the dog’s breakfast that was 2016. You know. We know. It knows what it’s done.
Life got hectic for all of us this year. While we think of this blog as a year-long ‘best of list’, cuz we only write about the good shit, some of the best stuff still slipped through the cracks. So here are the songs and album’s we’ve loved this year, but didn’t get a chance to write about for whatever reason. Blaming the year seems like the cool thing to do, so please excuse us for being deadshits; it wasn’t our fault.
Sydney 2000 – _
‘Don’t Do Bad Olympics’ is, at this moment, my favourite song of the year. This is all such catchy shit and Steve Rose (who does the Hanibaf mixtape stuff that I wrote up here) really knows how to make singing he’s like having a bad time sound like fun. Rose and Guitarist Tristan Murray both clearly love playing around with how they can fit a whole lot of wacky, difficult melodies in without making it hard to listen to – so you get music that’s immediate and poppy but unlike most stuff you’ve heard before. The drummer on this tape is James Elliott, but since he moved overseas earlier in the hear they’ve been playing with Bent’s Heidi Cutlack who’s replaced his athletic style with a more ragged, joyous sound, making them even more impressive live.
100% – ‘Lost Youth’
When 100% first started there was some jaded bullshit talk floating around like ‘yeah, they take good press shots, but is the music good?’ From day one they’ve been making any doubters shove their words up their arses and then eat them, with some of the sickest darkly sexy synth pop in the country. Where sometimes Melbourne bands doing a similar thing get laboured and over-concerned with sounding scary, 100% have kept a relentless euphoria central to their sound. I love how everything sounds together in the chorus of this song, drums sharp like a thousand tiny pins, shiny and dramatic. ‘Nikita’, the other song you can listen to from this album at the moment is uncompromisingly feminine and emotional – an absolute ‘80s banger that resonates with whole-hearted desire. And fuck yeah, they take good press shots.
(I got the record of this for Christmas so not ruling out writing up the whole record in the new year, but just in case. This song rules.)
Nun – ‘Can’t Chain’
I really liked this as soon as it came out but didn’t write it up then cuz the Noisey premiere mentioned some kind of architectural philosophy concept thing it was based on and I was like, shit man I’m gonna sound really stupid if I try and talk about this. I just like how it goes fast and Jenny Branagan sounds so threatening in the verses and it builds up into the kind of dance music that runs electricity through your body even when you’re sitting down completely sober.
Centre Negative – Emotion is Cringey
When New Zealand band Centre Negative were in Brisbane a while ago they played shows with some friends of mine so I ended up meeting and having a chat to Michael McClealand. By which I mean I mentioned knowing someone from New Zealand and he spoke in a ten minute uninterrupted stream about poetry, New Zealand, a lake near his house, Evangelical Christianity, Noisey, some kind of science shit, his bad feelings, bad writing, good writing, The Internet, other things. And all in a super interesting way – he just wasn’t really concerned with keeping to the accepted structure of ‘a conversation’. This is a super smart record riddled with that mixture of insecurity and self-aggrandisement that is so relatable – a lot of people talk about what it’s like to hate yourself while also thinking you’re a genius, but it’s rarely translated with this kind of skill. It’s jaunty, jarring, ironic, dry experimental guitar and tinny synth music sparsely filled out with snowy drum machines and strangled shouting. At the Brisbane shows everyone walked to the bar after going, ‘what’d you reckon?’ ‘yeah, I liked it! Something different, hey?’
Also the record starts off with a computer voice saying something like ‘If you’re thinking of mentioning the words “Flying Nun” in your review, please send your review to the centre of the sun and then set yourself on fire and die’ – and that’s great stuff!
Police Force – Formula One
When people ask me what kind of music I like my general answer is ‘I dunno man, I just like shit that gets you revved up’. Police Force’s Formula One does this from beginning to end – all riffs on riffs on riffs and repetition when you dunno where it’s going if anywhere but who gives a fuck and funky bass that does more than just fill out the low end, actually makes you wanna listen over and over again. Sound effects, good beats, echo and distortion build something cool and interesting out of the too-often tedious bones of groovy old rock and roll. Also: do you like bitchy boy vocals as much as me? Then yeah this is gonna be your thing.
Forevr – ‘Petrichor’
These guys are my very good buds, so I never really know if I like their music so much or am blinded by deep love for them as people. But this song is so impressive, so different from anything they’ve done before, and, to my mind, so beautiful that I have to mention it. The first time you hear this track it’s hard to get hold of, to make a reference for. It’s almost trendless – it seems outside of what’s happening, definitely in Brisbane and probably in Australia. This is not the sound of effortless cool, it’s the sound of work, talent, and commitment, and it absolutely goes off.
Friendships – Nullarbor 1988-1989
I love jangly guitars as much as the next Aus music loving asshole, but I’d be happy if ‘Australian music’ becomes synonymous with friendships’ terrifying electronic dystopia rather than another wave of #dolespo. It’s jarring and relentless in almost every track and I haven’t stopped listening to it yet.
Maia – lofi mixtape
Brisbane’s very own downtempo RnB Soundcloud superstar, Maia Francesca followed up a handful of smouldering covers and originals with an eight-track mixtape in March, and it caused everyone who heard it to do a double take. SZA? Baby Badu? In our own city? Surely not. But here she is, and I don’t reckon I’m on my own in hoping desperately there is more from Maia in 2017.
Habits – Ugly Cry
I honestly can’t stop talking about Habits. They can do no wrong. Their debut EP is ferocious and is some of the best music out at the moment guaranteed to whip anyone who hears it into a frenzied, angry-dance. The music is huge and the expression is total, everything I see and hear about the Melbourne duo excites me.
A.B. Original – Reclaim Australia
‘You had to be in their face,’ Archie Roach tells Briggs in the opening track of one of the most deservedly hyped releases of 2016. Everything that I want to say about this album has already been said, mostly by Trials and Briggs themselves on the actual record. Reclaim Australia is meant to smack you in the face, and being heaps white I can only speak to how white Australia might take this album which is predictably entitled so I’ll direct all I have to say in my pasty peers’ direction: it’s not about you, shut up about your feelings and listen to what A.B. Original are saying.
Spike Fuck – The Smackwave EP
Spike Fuck’s four track debut EP is heavy enough to feel like forty. This release is brilliant and distinct because of its post-punk minimalism backing country singer inflections, all working to do her stories justice. Spike Fuck’s recent experience with drug addiction and ailing mental health is the central theme (in case the EP title ‘Smackwave’ didn’t give it away), and the tracks sound like four pillars of triumph after a succession of losses. Maybe not quite triumph as in success, but the triumph of figuring important shit out and starting to move on.
Reuben Ingall – TT002
The second instalment of fledgling label Tandem Tapes’ split-release series paired Indonesian artist Logic Lost with Canberra’s Reuben Ingall. Ingall is certainly one of the most interesting and intriguing artists currently operating in the Australian underground, one who deserves far more praise and recognition. Following his 2015 album Microclimates, Ingall serves up another stunning collection of meditative, experimental pop and ambient electronic oddities, capturing the best parts of his distinct sound.
Hyde – Ox Hill
Under his former guise, Electric Sea Spider, Melbourne producer Jim Sellars came out of the fertile beat scene in the late 00s. As Hyde, Sellars’ music is much harder to classify, which is a good thing. This sound was heralded by his final release as Electric Sea Spider, the restless brain-explosion Ten Hunters. After the amazing ‘Sacrificed Greyhound’ single, Sellars offers up Ox Hill, his proper debut as Hyde. The music is furiously innovative, warping elements of world music with post-modern beat abstractions that leave you giddy and hungry for more.
Lovely Head – Always
After some great collaborative releases with Teenage Mustache and Pendant, Lovely Head aka Vivian Huynh returns with a new solo effort for Provenance Records, Always. Huynh’s smoky vocals and atmospheric guitar work lay the foundations for an intimate set of dark pop ballads that seep into your consciousness with simmering clarity. Beautiful and haunting in equal measure.
Spartak – I Fought The Style
After shifting away from the improvised sound experiments of their earlier work, ever-evolving Canberra outfit Spartak continue down the path forged on their 2014 EP, Five Points, with another venture into minimal electronic territory with I Fought The Style. Enlisting the vocals of fellow Canberran Becki Whitton (aka Aphir), the sound on IFTS jumps between skewed pop, propulsive techno and glistening ambience with effortless confidence.
I’ve heard a lot of great music this year but, for one reason or another, I’ve let most of it pass by without comment. In a lot of cases, my own contribution – in this forum, at least – felt kind of redundant. Our readers already know they should be listening to Spike Fuck’s debased heartland rock, Gregor’s deconstructed schmaltz, Gabriella Cohen’s effortless garage pop, the bubblegum menace of Loose Tooth and cathartic bellowing of Cash Savage & the Last Drinks. Sometimes the music I loved best – Emma Russack, Dag, Heart Beach – was already covered brilliantly by Maddy, our editor since May and a girl, it seems, after my own heart. Often, though, I just didn’t find the time. So I’m really pleased we settled on this theme for our end-of-year post; it gives me a chance to redeem myself. Here are some things I wish I’d written about in 2016:
Katie Dey – ‘Fear o’ the Light’
I would have liked to spend more time with Flood Network, Katie Dey’s second album, which seems to fit together like puzzle pieces. So far I’ve mostly hammered the single – a short, powerful little pop song, fitting somewhere between Shocking Pinks and Jackson Scott. Dey is reclusive, cloaking her voice with a pitch shifter, washing her images with light. She does very little press and doesn’t play live, as far as I’m aware. Sidestepping the local scene, her records have found a home all the way across the Pacific, with the eccentric sentimentalists at Orchid Tapes. I hope we get to see a bit more of her in 2017; so far, secrecy has only increased the allure.
Native Cats – ‘Soft Chambers’
The Native Cats released ‘Soft Chambers’ as a prelude to their next record, which will be out early in the new year. Vocalist/Game Boy-fiddler Chloe Alison Escott says it’s ‘the most complex thing we’ve ever recorded’, featuring samples, backing vocals and a guest percussionist. The layers soften a regimental rhythm section; the track sounds like Gang of Four by way of Stereolab. Meanwhile, Escott’s elliptical poetry is both defiant and thoughtful: ‘Anywhere I have walked armoured / I will walk again … Anywhere I have spoke cruelly / I will come to speak again’. All proceeds from the single go towards the US-based Trans Lifeline, a decision taken in the wake of the catastrophic November election. Head over to Bandcamp for a name-your-price download.
Ela Stiles – Molten Metal
On the Molten Metal LP, out via Paradise Daily Records, Ela Stiles takes a sharp turn from the delicate acapella of her self-titled debut. Built around analogue electronics, this record blends industrial, house, folk and drone – which sounds like a mess, but it works surprisingly well. In lesser hands, old-style electronics can feel retrograde, with drum machines sucking energy from the mix. Stiles’ work, though, is tactile and inventive: she wrings some new life out of the machine.
Comrad Xero – Comrad Xero
Also on Paradise Daily, Comrad Xero is the new solo offering from Irena Luckus of Brisbane post-punk/no-wave outfit Xero (also Zero/Xiro). White noise and harsh licks wash around Luckus’s chanting and her heavy, primitive beats. The songs skitter and sway like wind-up soldiers, restless but utterly hypnotic.
Although he recorded prolifically, Fergus Miller’s last official release as Bored Nothing came out over two years ago now – which makes the recent singles by Pansy, a project with wife Anna Davidson of Major Leagues, rather special. The tracks, ‘It’s All Over Now’ and ‘Cold Enough’, sound like the work of 90s obsessives, lo-fi guitars muffling despondent lyrics clothed in power pop melodies. Miller and Richardson make quietly emotive music; it feels private, like an unmarked eight-track tape discovered at some suburban garage sale.
Sarah Mary Chadwick – ‘Turn On’
It’s hard to listen to Roses Always Die, the latest album from Sarah Mary Chadwick, all the way through; most of the time, I feel I just don’t have the grit. The last track, though – ‘Turn On’ – is different. With her vocals, Chadwick foregrounds despair, but a euphoric undercurrent slips in on that soft, rising synth. Dark as it is, this song lifts me up.