The trio’s unique brand of indietronica is as strong as ever, full of sardonic wit and subtle hooks that sneak into your subconscious only to reveal themselves when you unknowingly sing them to yourself in the shower, in the line at the post office (if this is in fact still a viable pursuit), or other such times when your mind is left to wander.
Opener, ‘Noise’, kicks up with some cosmic synth noodling before sliding into a typically bent pop number, the kind we’ve come to expect from the group. This is followed by the single, ‘Cardboard’, a song which relishes the schmaltz taking musical clichés from another time and turning them on their head within a clever indie pop framework. Lyrically, Andrew Kuo is at his candid best with his humorous and poignant commentary on the idiosyncrasies of the human condition.
‘Chinese Whispers’ explores the group’s love of hip hop, a fondness which has borne fruit in the past through collaborations with rap upstart and Yes Rave label head, Simo Soo as well as the surprise guest spot from former Das Racist member Kool A.D. on last year’s ‘Dolphin’.
The EP closes with the psychedelic ‘When I’m Freaking Out’, a song that harks back to older Yon Yonson material, albeit in a more restrained and ultimately successful way. A good example of how the group has matured even in their fairly limited time together.
Fermented Fruit is another notch on the metaphorical belt of this talented crew. Now off to the post office.
On Double Negative, the latest effort from Melbourne band Harmony, the blueprint for the band remains the same. The heart on the sleeve arrangements are stripped of all excess, never overplayed or exaggerated. Yet although things may seem the same on paper, this new collection is more refined without losing the raw edge, more immediate, without seeming obvious.
There’s a deliberate looseness, which could be mistaken for sloppiness, be it the way the band casually rides the tempo in and out, or the bare bones approach to production, not an overdub to be heard. Yet these elements are very much calculated, each adding to the scrappy vulnerability and driving home the fact that in order to make everything work the songs need to be extremely well written, and catchy as hell. And the songs on Double Negative have this in spades.
The unique vocal sound, now a trademark of the band, is as engaging as ever. Tom Lyngcoln’s impassive vocal drawl explodes into cathartic wail, fervently flanked by the rag tag soul harmonies of Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Maria Kastaniotis. A sound that is at once uniquely Australian but on the other hand, universal.
Double Negative could be seen as Harmony maturing, shedding some of their noisier tendencies, but far from mellowing the emotion is now fully charged and the dirt under the fingernails remains.
Tangents continue their winning streak on new full-length, New Bodies. The album lands on the heels of the Stents + Arteries EP from earlier this year, which found the group introducing new elements into their already expansive sound. New Bodies continues this exploration while further refining the distinct amalgamation of styles on their 2016 breakout, Stateless. As with Stents + Arteries, the new album shifts the balance between processed sounds and live elements, the latter now becoming the more prominent feature. There is a looseness within their sound that brims with confidence as the players explore beyond the gridded confines of electronic music.
Opener ‘Lake George’ picks up where ‘Stents’ left off; gentle, meandering post rock underpinned by delicate electronic flutters gradually give way to processed drum and bass rhythms and swirling ambient textures. ‘Terracotta’ revisits the formula explored on Stateless with renewed vigour as subtle cello and squalling guitar accompany an exquisite and transcendent melody before exploding into a frenzy of drums and organ stabs.
Album centerpiece ‘Gone to Ground’, finds the group channeling a different mood, one which has yet to appear in their previous work. Beginning unassumingly enough the tension slowly eats away at the edges, the throbbing bass and prepared piano clunks foreshadowing a creeping anxiety. This anxiety continues to build until finally conceding to the exhalation of ‘Swells Under Tito’, its whimsical tone accentuated having weathered the storm which preceded it.
There is much to love here, the group embracing their live roots without losing the adventurous studio experimentation sees them eschew the tropes commonly associated with much improvised music.
Tangents are currently embarking on a national tour in support of New Bodies, so be sure to catch them as their live show is an adventure in itself.
New Bodies is available via Temporary Residence now
Melbourne artist Andrew Cowie (aka Angel Eyes) returns with his debut full-length under his Match Fixer guise.
As Match Fixer, Cowie occupies a somewhat similar musical realm as with Angel Eyes but with more focus on rhythm and less on the abstracted pop elements of the aforementioned project. The atmospheric synths remain but the cavernous vocals and processed guitar are replaced with crunching percussion and forensically assembled sonic detritus.
Following his amazing 2014 split with Glass Bricks and more recently, the Attempts EP via Nice Music, the aptly titled Rubble is far more complex each piece layered with a manic intensity. The title itself could easily refer to the harsh percussive elements, which sound as if they have been torn from a metal scrapyard, or to the curious sounds emerging from some vast, smouldering wreckage.
Where the split honed in on an idea and slowly developed it over time, Rubble seems less disciplined instead moving with a restless energy, ideas teased at, sometimes quickly abandoned, other times revisited and fleshed out further. Dynamics are key here, shifting from an anxiety fuelled overload then stripped back to exposed and unassuming rhythms left to stutter away while various other elements drift in and out of the mix.
It seems obvious to draw parallels with outer space or science fiction, but to me there is an undeniable link. A link further reinforced by the cover image, which at first glance could be the remains of a destroyed spacecraft. Taken from Restricted Areas, a series of photographs by Russian visual artist Danila Tkachenko’s, the images depict abandoned structures and harsh frozen landscapes which could provide the cinematic backdrop to some stark, future dystopia. A scene that could very well be soundtracked by Match Fixer.
Rubble feels epic in scope, each piece intent on travelling its own path while remaining part of a greater whole, like some amorphous organism with its expansive colonial networks. The album is available digitally and as a limited edition cassette via the Match Fixer bandcamp page here.
Reuben Ingall has many faces, somber avant-pop mangler, drone experimentalist, abstract beat maker, jocular mashup artist, and although his oeuvre is far-reaching there are distinct elements that join the dots, one of which is his guitar. His homemade effects can change the sound of his guitar from spacious reverberation to complete audio destruction, the instrument used to generate noise rather than melody and in some cases pushing the sound as far from the original source as possible.
Thread, his latest collection released via Canberra label hellosQuare recordings was recorded between 2015-2018 and spans pastoral acoustic pieces, reminiscent of Richard Youngs’ folk dabbling’s, meditative ambience, and sprawling, barren post-rock. And while Reuben did not set out to make a guitar-based album, in fact he states he “shied away from the guitar as an obvious source”, once he had 3-4 arrangements he was happy with he decided guitar would become the focus for the album.
Field recordings also play an important role, at times sounding like an extension of the guitars organic, earthy tone, other times placing the music in a context that is uniquely Australian. As to his approach, Reuben says “the writing of melodic and harmonic material mostly comes after my initial ideas around a way of recording and arranging and treating a sound.” This concentration on sound is another common element that runs through much of his work, but for those familiar with Ingall’s music you can’t help but expect to hear his melancholy vocals, fortunately the unfolding arrangements need no help keeping the listener engaged.
In addition to the music, Ingall has also created accompanying visuals for two of the pieces, each perfectly capturing the respective mood. The perpetually rolling topography of ‘Sediment’ simulates the vastness of the music, while the dizzying kaleidoscope of ‘Floriade’ mimics the flickering arpeggios. Always true to form the visuals provide another outlet for Ingall’s experimentation, the latter clip composed of footage taken with a phone camera attached to a cordless drill, the YouTube description claiming “no processing, only a dozen edits”.
Thread adds another notch to Ingall’s ever-expanding belt, an artist consistently pushing boundaries and continually innovating.
Setec is the moniker of Sydney-based artist Joshua Gibbs, whose extraordinary new album recently made its way into the world.
Atrial Flutters (or Raise Yr Hand If Yr Afraid), the second full-length for Gibbs, is a warts and all dive into his own anxiety and the turbulent journey that led to the album’s creation. At times the music seems at odds with the candid and personal nature of the lyrics, bursting with utter jubilance but can just as quickly curl up into a tiny ball, each note exposed and vulnerable. The contrast capturing the roller coaster of emotions explored over the course of the album.
The unique way in which Gibbs uses samples in his music is somewhat of a trademark of the Setec sound. Breathing new life into dusty old samples, Gibbs takes unassuming vocal snippets and adds layers of his own voice, building choral arrangements that are nothing short of amazing. So it seems fitting that the theme of this Virtual Mixtape is ‘Found-sound and samples’ in which Gibbs discusses three influential albums from 2005.
Cornelius – Sensuous
The first time I heard Cornelius, it was all in my head. My close friend Alex had described the opening track to Sensuous to me in such detail that it existed before I’d ever listened to it. Usually that would take all the joy out of a song, like someone live-reading a comic strip or when you accidentally set the wrong audio settings on a DVD and spend an hour wondering why there’s a buttery-voiced narrator describing things that are already happening on the screen. (For reference, I eventually found out this was intended for the vision-impaired). But this time was different: there’s a mechanical and exact quality to Keigo Oyamada’s music that easily lends itself to description, and instead of rendering it predictable makes it unexpected, dangerous and exciting.
The opener and title track ‘Sensuous’ ends as one would expect, settling on the major root note of the song plucked on an acoustic guitar – but then it keeps going, with the sound of an acoustic guitar’s low E string being slowly, slowly detuned while the sound swoops left to right. It keeps descending and descending, and you can hear the slack of the steel string slapping against the wood of the neck. It continues until pitch has all but vanished and all we can hear are the raw materials: steel and wood, plastic from a plectrum. This concept was so beautiful to me. I’d heard some music before that could be classed as ‘aleatoric’, but only in a contemporary art sense. Never sewed seamlessly into what was, at its core, a pop song.
It was cheeky but also serious, playful and exacting, and that’s true for the whole record. My personal favourite, ‘Breezin’, blends shimmery synths with staccato drums, a track that should feel busy but actually sounds spacious and vibrant, like a realtor’s description of a studio apartment. It builds with a chorus of clean dry vocals across the stereo spectrum, each cooing a vowel sound and sometimes completing the other’s words. The way Cornelius gives new context to these vocal samples gave me my first ideas in production and drove me to play around with sounds before I’d written any songs. It also led to me letting the songs write themselves around particular samples or vocal snippets, rather than writing long-winded acoustic ballads with too many chords (because I wrote a shitload of those).
Also, the cover art is dope and looks exactly how the music sounds.
The Books – Lost And Safe
I’ll never be able to describe exactly how this particular album made me feel. It remains to this day one of my most listened to records, and I still find myself singing its praises to people thirteen years later. Everything about their approach felt new to me- with time I would find similar artists using similar techniques but none were as influential on me as The Books. Listening back for this article conjures more vivid and colourful memories than I can ever muster on my own.
Lost and Safe was their third album, and at the time their most accessible work. It was still dense with samples and melodic ideas, but now delivered with a patience that let the songs breathe, giving moments to quietness and pauses where they felt natural. The percussion was sparing, dropping in and out of songs like waves; instead of providing the pulse, riding the other sounds and reacting to them. Big and little slices of cello wound around the space, mingling with acoustic guitars, effected voices and chopped samples of spoken-word, converging into something like complete stories.
This music was still calculated and mechanical, but not like Cornelius – there was more room here, a sense of loose improvisation mingling with the meticulous programming. Breakout track ‘Smells Like Content’ was a perfect example: a winding, choppy percussion track looping unpredictably, slowly, underneath a floor of soft bass chords. A salvaged recording of Nick Zammuto’s brother wandering aimlessly in a forest bookends this song. “Balance, repetition, composition, the mirrors”- somewhere between serious poem and silly stream of consciousness: this was a line The Books continued to toe until their breakup several years back.
‘Venice’ is so lovely and whimsical and always makes me smile. We listen to the sounds: a jubilant reporter talking us through a street-painter giving a show of his work, throwing paint on a canvas and the press below, eventually splitting open the canvas to let out twelve pigeons who then fly away. A real special slice of life underpinned by a light, airy soundtrack of rolling basses.
Juana Molina – Tres Cosas
I mean, yeah, I’m missing half the story because I don’t speak the language. And truth be told, I actually never looked up the English translations of the lyrics. The music sounded real summery to me, and I think I just mentally attached images and colours to it in place of understanding the words. Juana was writing such gorgeous, layered music on this album. All the elements comfortably fit together, and the production just felt warm and inviting. Softly plucked guitars underpin each track, but mysterious just-so warbly synths take pride of place. There’s always a sense of the slightly detuned, the not quite but almost pitch of a bending keyboard line.
‘Salvese Quien Pueda’ has such a perfect pop melody that it floors me. It almost reminds me of a nursery rhyme, although the music isn’t childish. Synths gurgle behind this melody giving a sense of warped time. It feels dream-like more than anything, like I’m walking slow-motion in a field of heavy cream.
The ear-splitting frequencies of some of those synths threatens to pull the songs off-course, but they end up integral to the sound of the record- it’s so easy to get comfortable, and then she pulls us out of our reveries and yells in our ears.
The looped nylon-string guitars feel delicate but resonant, and I’d love to know how she recorded them. Seeing her live multiple times further demonstrated that Juana is a real master of her instruments, be they vocal, strung or pressed. I’ve seen her do things with a loop pedal that don’t start with nothing and end up with everything, which is the greatest praise I can afford an artist who works so closely with loops- not everything simply goes from small to large. Things build up and scale back, melodies come and go and are reintroduced as guests at later times.
I love ‘Yo Se Que’ not only for it’s beauty, but also because of that disgusting, jagged synth noise towards the end, rewarding our previous serenity with a new sense of unease. It hurts to listen to but I just love that idea. It’s like she’s saying “Try and fall asleep now, motherfucker”.
Atrial Flutters (or Raise Yr Hand If Yr Afraid) is available now. Check the Setec website for more details.
In anticipation of their forthcoming album New Bodies, instrumental quintet Tangents deliver a new EP featuring album cut ‘Arteries’ along with two more new tracks.
On opener, ‘Stents’, the processing and production of Oliver Bown isn’t as immediately apparent, the band instead opting for a sound more akin to their live form. The flittering thrum of the electronics still provides the pulse, while the piano and cello parts gently inhale and exhale giving the controlled frenzy of Evan Dorrian’s drumming freedom to explore. As the track approaches a mid-point this balance soon shifts as Bown takes control, the drums swallowed up and spat back out in pummelling drum n bass rhythms, while the band paints in wild brush strokes across the musical canvas before a sputtering dissolve.
‘In the Beginning’ has a far more spacious feel, at times recalling the sparse post-rock landscapes of Talk Talk. As with ‘Stents’ the piece gradually morphs into something altogether different, in this case slowly building to a blissful, hypnotic crescendo as a perpetual drum loop and floating piano collide until neither is recognisable against the enveloping milieu.
Final track, ‘Arteries’ feels similarly sparse to begin, the undulating piano, subtly affecting guitar, and almost celestial atmospherics giving an air of euphoria, a mood that suits the bands sound perfectly. Flickers of this could be heard on their previous album – the final act of 12-minute opus ‘Oberon’ springs to mind – but this feels more fully realised here, an exciting preview of how the group has evolved since we last heard from them.
As with their previous effort, Stents + Arteries is released via U.S. label Temporary Residence who will also release the new album due out later this year.