Posts By Madeleine Laing

LISTEN: California Girls – Desire LP

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california girls

Sometimes, driven by yet another going-away drinks for a Brisbane mate leaving for ‘better opportunities’ down south, I’ve declared (unprompted) ‘I’d move to fucking CANBERRA before I’d move to Melbourne’ (cue: no one cares). But that statement is starting to lose its weight, as more and more weird and cool music is released down there – especially through the exceptional Moontown Records. Our great nation’s capital is starting to seem pretty happening.

Desire, from California Girls (not actually girls, not actually plural – actually Canberra dude Gus McGrath), is the city’s newest prime cut – hectic desperate dance music that perfectly captures those nights when you party hard not necessarily cause you feel like it, but because what else can you do?

If you’re looking for something to fill the Workshop/Multiple Man shaped hole in your synth-starved heart, this might do the trick. McGrath’s music, though, is without the moody, middle-distance detachment of those two bands. The vocals are a focus point almost as much as the beats, with lyrics that are personal (‘cherub-faced boy/ tears run down my cheeks’) but in a kind of throwaway way – like an accidental drunken overshare followed by a ‘nah, not really’.

Ambition and need and disappointment and resignation all pulse through this record. It’s called Desire maybe cause some of it’s about sex, sure; some tracks, like opener ‘Skin on Skin’, are grimy with suggestion. But there’s also a kind of generalised want, a dissatisfaction that drives so many of our biggest nights. This is obvious on ‘Holiday’, where McGrath lays out his plans to forget someone who’s gone on to bigger and better things: ‘I’ll put out an album/ I’ll go on a tour/ maybe I’ll go to Tasmania… You’ll see the wonders of the world/ I’ll probably get drunk’.

This is dance music before anything else, so obviously keep an eye out for a live show. I saw California Girls in a shit ‘rock & roll’ venue where the sound was way too low, and it still Went Off. Desire really hits its post-2am stride smack bang in the middle, with the Crystal Castles, X-tinnies vibe of ‘Euphoria’ and the slow-build trop-pop of ‘Hidden’ – but the whole thing is packed with opportunities for a bit of reckless abandonment and throwing your body around. This record is up there with the best local underground dance music around at the moment, in a scene that’s only getting more and more interesting and exciting.

Desire has already sold out on cassette but you might be able to snag a copy at a show, and a vinyl release is forecast for the near future.

Catch California Girls at the Moontown Records Melbourne showcase on 23 February. He’s also supporting Naked, alongside fellow Canberrans Wives, at the Phoenix on the 20th.

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LISTEN: Chook Race – ‘At Your Door’

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chook race

Brisbane record label Tenth Court is a pretty safe bet for good shit that’s worth your time. Melbourne three-piece Chook Race know how to make writing jangly hits look both easy and breezy. It’s a match made in SBS-game-show heaven. Keep your eyes peeled for Chook Race’s second LP, Around the House, coming out in a couple of months. For now we’ve got a taste with ‘At Your Door’, a scrappy treat that dreams about escaping it all in some deserted town, in a house you built yourself. At least until you remember that the shops close at 4 and you’re all out of papers. Or someone comes along and reminds you of what you’ve left behind.

Maybe I wish it went a bit harder – if they pushed that downbeat Boomgates guitar thing a bit further and made it feel like they actually had something to run away from. But they still do a pretty great job of making a single that’s immediately listenable but not immediately forgettable once its three minutes are up.

The whole album was apparently recorded in a day, which is a good sign – this isn’t fussy music to agonise over: it’s meant to be heard live or thrown on the record player on hungover afternoons. ‘At Your Door’ is a pretty good indication that Around the House is gonna be some solid blunt-edged guitar pop stuff that we (and I really mean I) can’t fucken get enough of.

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LISTEN: Good Morning – ‘To Be Won’

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good morning glory

‘To Be Won’, the latest single from Melbourne two-piece Good Morning, is largely a song of pauses and sighs. It’s like looking out the window of a train when you forgot where you’re going for a second. Or sitting at home watching nothing happen. It’s kinda like thinking about stuff but not doing a thing.

Previous single ‘Cab Deg’ had that same insistent guitar thing (maybe borrowing a little more than necessary from Deerhunter? Who could say.), pushing it into territory where words like ‘catchy’ and ‘immediate’ are called for. ‘To Be Won’ makes you want to listen by just sounding really nice, with plenty of warm room noise, the rise and fall of the guitar melody breathing steadily. The line ‘I tried, but it’s yours to be won’ has the same sweet relief that comes from cancelling plans, giving yourself a break and giving up on something you didn’t care much about anyway.

I like how it ends loose too – if they’d put one big finishing note in there it might have ruined everything, but they pull back before reaching outright sentimentality. Even when that old piano sound (used so often to beat you into nostalgia) appears, the song remains restrained, nudging towards a kinda wistful end. They know they might have to try again in the future, but right now chilling out is pretty chill.

Good Morning’s second EP, Glory, is out Thursday, 28 January.

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LISTEN: You Beauty – ‘Illywhacka’

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Illywhacka

“I’ll be damned if this perfect fruit is left to rot on the tree,” You Beauty singer Will Farrier proclaimed just after recording wrapped up on Illywhacka, the band’s second record after last year’s footy saga Jersey Flegg. It’s another pub-rock opera, about a Love Rat online scammer who falls in love with his target – and now it’s been let loose on the world, Farrier’s confidence is absolutely justified.

You know how boring and lame it is when the media try to talk about online dating or Tinder or hookup culture or whatever? This record has done something kinda genius, bypassing all that shit to make a love story between middle-aged people in (what seems like) the late 90s absolutely relatable. You know all the way through this record that the protagonist is a scammer, but you’re kinda tricked by him in the same way as Dee, the woman he’s scamming. He’s a conman and a fuck up but a charmer all the same.

Songs like ‘Strong Connection’ and ‘Romeo and Julie’ are, fuck it, genuinely sexy. They’re intentionally cheesy and over the top, and you know this is just a liar trying to buy time with platitudes so he can string his prey along – but try and stop yourself doing the tucked elbows, swinging hips, clicking fingers dance to the groovy rhythm section that pulses all the way through the first half of this record. That just magnifies the brutality of ‘Pin Drop’, a disjointed, off-kilter crisis for our confidence man, which leads into the dark, spiralling ‘Same Damn Thing’. With its rapid spoken-word verses and poppy chorus, I’ll admit this didn’t make much sense to me as a single. But in the context of the record, it absolutely works to transition from sleazy grooves, shining with sweat, to dark, grinding emotional rock’n’roll ballads – when our conman realises his terrible mistake and ends up on TV being berated by Tracy Grimshaw, then in court, then prison.

I didn’t think anything was gonna top ‘Illywhacka’ (which I went on about when it was released in July) for my favourite song of the year, but every time I listen to this record I find something else to love. You Beauty have given us an epic story, rich in lyrical detail, but never at the expense of a hook or a sing-along moment.

It doesn’t hurt that Farrier can absolutely belt it out. In ‘Fast and Scrappy’ he alternates between a fast-talking crim, dishing out advice, and a man totally redeemed by love, singing in euphoric, passionate verses – while Dee waits outside (but for how long?). His voice and character and confidence at the centre of this record are the secret to why it works. He’s also not afraid to get a little real, singing in a moment of reflection on ‘Flake and Chips’ that “all these books and things / they make you think you’re sick if you’re alone”. So under the fake surface of this love story there’s some real shit – or maybe I’ve been conned too. Either way, what an album.

You can buy Illywhacka right now via Rice is Nice or iTunes.

You Beauty are celebrating the launch of the record in Sydney at the Union Hotel Newtown on 31 October with Flowertruck and Marky Vaw, with more shows for the rest of us early next year.

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LISTEN: The Ocean Party – ‘Light Weight’

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ocean party light weight

Not to too get personal, but this Ocean Party record came at exactly the right time for me. I’ve been in one of those drawn-out phases where everything you do seems shit and interacting with the world seems excruciating. Whenever I wrote anything positive about a band I sounded like a drooling fan, and anytime I wrote anything negative it sounded petty and pathetic, and I was like why the hell do anything at all? And then this goddamn band releases their fifth record in as many years – and it’s not Guided By Voices, Ryan Adams-style prolific-ness where you wade through shit for scant gems. Nah, every song is really good and together they make something more than really good. And suddenly stuff’s worth doing again, because there’s a chance one day you might do something that’s almost as good as this record.

There’s self-doubt here, sure, and defensive cynicism, but then moments of clarity and honesty that knock you over – like on subtle and delicate mid-record highlight ‘Anything’. This record is a balancing act that never falters. Whoever thought to follow the coldness of lines like ‘Every drag smells like a butcher’s knife’ and ‘you said can I stay with you/ I said I didn’t care’ with that jaunty little ‘do do do do’ guitar in the title track should get an automatic ARIA. And then to follow that up with the snarly groove of ‘Phone Sex’ – a song full of spit and regret – and then single ‘Guess Work’, with a chorus that comes readymade for mouthing along to at shows and verses political and pointed… I’m gonna stop just describing it song by song now, but you get the idea; there’s a lot going on and it all just works.

The most impressive thing about the Ocean Party for me is their refusal to be any one thing. With so many singers and songwriters, you get some songs that have almost no chorus and some that are all chorus, some that hit on lofty world themes and some that focus on day-to-day minutiae and interrogate tiny moments. A lot of the songs on Light Weight look back on mistakes, missed opportunities, the good that’s gone (‘here it comes… there it went’), but musically they’re always moving forward, pushing the boundaries of what a band has to be, what everyone keeps telling them they are, and making better and better songs for it.

Buy the record now HERE through Spunk.

Mouth along at one of the Ocean Party’s remaining shows on what’s been an EXTENSIVE album tour.

22nd October – Finbox, Wollongong
23rd October – Thyme To Taste, Yass
24th October – The Tote, Melbourne
25th October – Birdhouse, Wagga Wagga
30th October – The Eastern, Ballarat
31st October – The Metro, Adelaide
6th November – The Bird, Perth
8th November – The Newport, Fremantle
14th November – The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart
15th November – Fresh Cafe, Launceston

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LISTEN: You Beauty – ‘Illywhacka’

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you-beauty

This single from Sydney (ish) band You Beauty (who brought us a gem of realist nostalgia on last year’s football romance themed Jersey Flegg) has been out for a couple of weeks – eternity in music blogging terms. I’ve been listening to it so much in that time that I kind of assumed everyone else was too and knew it was one of the best songs of the year so far, and didn’t need me to tell ’em shit. But we still got a presser wanting WTH to write it up – so maybe not all of you have actually heard it. You should. It’s great.

‘Illywhacka’ is apparently about a jaded internet dating scammer who falls in love with his victim, and it’s equal parts romantic and cynical. Those ’80s pup-rock crooner vocals are about as dreamy as it gets, with a wandering bass line leading your heart around – up until the chorus when the tight, insistent drums and shouty vocals remind us it’s a game, a con, and you just say ‘I love you’ cause you like the sound. I think the reason I can’t stop listening to this track is the momentum – it slides from sweet verse to driving chorus so easily that it’s always over too soon, and you gotta go back to catch your favourite part again and again.

If the album, also called Illywhacka and due out later in the year, has more stuff half as good as this single, we’re all in for a treat.

You Beauty are playing a gig at Black Gold Studios in Thirroul on Sunday, 2 August, before they head up to Brisbane for another show at the Milk Factory on Saturday the 8th.

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LISTEN: Ultra Material – ‘EP’

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I like shoegaze that goes a bit hard. In a lot of new bands, the genre’s merging with the more accessible ‘dream pop’ has diluted the essential ‘beautiful noise’-y ness of it for me. But that’s what Brisbane four-piece Ultra Material deliver on their first proper EP (appropriately titled ‘EP’): something essential – a heavy and lovely package of songs tied with a bow. I love the manic, unchained quality to the drums, especially on bolt-outta-the-gates opener ‘Crash’, and the unnerving wails on ‘Pleased To Meet You’.  They’ve got a handle on pop melody and structure, but they’re also not afraid to freak you out a little.

Sarah and Matt Deasy, singer/bassist and drummer respectively, used to make icily mellow sounds of a similar vein in their long-running and wonderful duo Do The Robot, and this EP feels like a natural progression from that insular and intimate project. They’ve added another couple on guitar and vocals, and synth, fleshed out the sound until there’s no stillness left at all, and turned their gaze outwards to envelop the listener, rather than leaving us on the outside looking in.

With an album to come later in the year, you can purchase Ultra Material’s EP on beautiful cassette (Matt Deasy also screenprints some of the best band posters and t-shirts in Brisbane as No.7 Print House, so it’s an object well worth having) or digital from their Bandcamp right now.

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