Posts By Madeleine Laing

LISTEN: Bitumen – Discipline Reaction LP

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bitumen

Like every inner city nerd who couldn’t find a warehouse party with an event invite and maps, I love industrial music. Like every weepy romantic who stopped being cute ‘n’ tortured a long time ago, I love post punk. And, like every right-thinking person, I love metal. This deadly tough and dramatic record from Melbourne’s Bitumen is the best part of all three.

The album opens with the dance track, ‘Lash’, and there’s some beats here and there across the whole thing you could make a party out of if you were really committed. But at its heart this record is sinister. They play with the goth, old-timey references in the titles ‘Sicker Dowry’, ‘Pound of Flesh’, and keeping these songs out of a modern context is important. It wouldn’t work at all if these songs were about Tinder and Newstart and missing the bus. I think we’re maybe a bit sick of that anyway. I know I don’t want to hear about my own life in a song any more. Yuck. Give me darkness and depravity, power, violence, dangerous seduction. Not more constant niggling anxiety.

A lot of guitar bands are using drum machines now – it makes sense, give the people something different, don’t have to worry about a kit, hey, you’re playing clubs now. But it’s for this kind of music that drum machines were invented. Cold, precise, robotic, not a hint of swing or groove. The bass is tech without being distracting, guitars tense, tight and massive.

First single ‘Twice Shy’ comes with an unsurprisingly dark and moody film clip, it’s a good punchy single, but doesn’t quite do justice to some of the complexity of the rest of the record. But that is honestly some nitpicky shit. I’m trying to avoid slavish enthusiasm. It’s not working.

‘Pound of Flesh’ is my favourite song because it is drone and desire and it is absolutely huge. Until like a minute from the end it builds, guitars groan and rattle and shake the foundations. Kate Binning whispers ‘I’ve been watching from a distance I’ve been waiting for a signal…’. Then it opens up with her frenzied spat vocal. ‘Pound of Flesh’ and ‘At Bended Knee’ are both revenge horror movies, menacing anthems for the wronged; ‘I’m not quite who I used to be’ ‘I take back what you took from me’.

I think the secret to Binning’s power is how absolutely in control she sounds through the record. Plenty of vocalists could get lost in the sea of riffs and synth hysterics, but the vocals always do them one better, sounding a bit sicker, a bit darker, a bit more crazed. No monotone drone under reverb (well except in the obligatory atmospheric track ‘Wriggling Signal II’, but who doesn’t like a bit of atmosphere) the vocal melodies hit just as hard as anything else. Cardinalidae is the stadium track in an album full of stadium tracks.

This record, to me, is so extremely Melbourne, but without the bad parts. It’s that self-confidence, style, cool, with just enough edge, but it doesn’t try too hard at any of it. It’s dead serious, without crossing that thin sneaky grey line into being silly. Which is hard. Most bands wouldn’t even try, let alone pull it off this well.

Buy this good record from the good label Vacant Valley

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LISTEN: Sarah Mary Chadwick – Sugar Still Melts in the Rain

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Sarah Mary Chadwick cover

At an art show in a convict-built gunpowder warehouse in Hobart someone brings up Sarah Mary Chadwick. They’re telling a story about a New Year’s party where they’d turned off the party songs playing at midnight to belt out songs from 9 Classic Tracks. ‘Have you heard the new one?’, I ask. They say they haven’t. ‘It’s much much sadder’, I say ‘it’s really… hard’. Their eyes light up. ‘Oh fuck yeah.’

Is it unfair to call our love of public sadness a kind of fetish? We respect people who spill their guts in public because in real life it still feels kind of illicit. Like when you start to get into an unexpectedly deep conversation with a not very close friend and start telling them about an ex boyfriends dick problems or some mutual friend you actually hate or how you once took a lot of pills ‘just to see what would happen’, and then afterwards feel that rush of regret. Revealing ourselves feels good, until the shame hits.

But this record. This record is harrowing. It’s hard to look at right in the eye, real depression. When you’ve made so much of your life about being an unlucky sadgirl. Then you realise you’re pretty well adjusted and life is not bad. And THEN a record like this comes along and puts you on your knees with its power. That weak part of you hopes that it’s kind of put on, a bit of artistic licence to make a record. Maybe at shows she makes a couple of jokes about what a downer it is, says something ironic to lighten the mood. But right here and now all we have is this music.

Gone is the one-organ show and tinny dance beats. The minimalism and slight dinkiness that alleviated some of Roses Always Die’s darker moments. On first listen Sugar Still Melts… might have you begging for a hint of a drum machine. Something that takes you, if not to the dance floor than at least to the corner of the bar, swaying your hips and looking come-hither at whoever catches your eye. But instead it just builds and builds, the enormous weight. ‘It’s Never Ok’ is so dramatically catchy, the music sounds like she’s about to turn it all around and bust out some great empowering life affirming line that just never comes. The chorus is ‘I’ve got a lifetime of practice/ at keeping the hurting inside/ and tying myself to a lover/ who can’t tell I’m even alive’. I interviewed Chadwick once and she talked about the image of ‘Life Is a Cabaret’, this huge sad show tune at the end of the musical Cabaret. And even though she was talking about Roses Always Die at the time it feels even more apt for this record, especially in the beginning with songs like ‘Flow Over Me’ and ‘It’s Never Ok’. It’s full of showstoppers that leave you bruised but like you want to go back and feel it over and over again.

We (listeners, music writers, whoever) often want artists to grow and progress in a recognisable narrative. We like breakup albums followed by love albums followed by ‘mature’ records about life and art. We like stripped back acoustic records followed by balls-to-the-wall highly produced pop records followed by a nice middle ground. The way Sarah Mary Chadwick is growing is something hard to recognise. To say her records are getting sadder is reductive. Nothing comes close to the dewy sweetness of something like ‘Aquarius and Gemini’ off Nine Classic Tracks, but really it’s about diving deeper and deeper into the feelings that have been around forever. She’s rejecting another kind of narrative too, the one about grief, the ‘time heals all wounds’, the one that tells people to stop talking about it, to stop making people uncomfortable. ‘Dancing Slowly’ is a heartbreaking picture of how you can become trapped in moments that have defined you, getting stuck and watching the world pass you by, needing help but knowing no one can give it ‘I just need a lighthouse/ I just need some energy’.

She’s still a searing judge of character, the way she strips an ex-lover down on ‘Bauble on a Chain’ is not so much a ‘fuck you’ as a ‘fuck me for falling for it’. For real people grief can make you difficult, morose, hard to be around. God forbid, ‘negative’.  But when you can turn it into a kind of art it also makes you attractive to people who want to seem deep and understanding. Chadwick sees through this – on that song her lover reveals themselves as wanting something a lot prettier than anything she’s got to offer;  ‘you want a prop with only lines / that ask your favourite things to eat / and then enquire about your day’. And she’s realising how this all sounds even as she’s singing it ‘when I describe it / this has no semblance to love after all’. That familiar feeling coming to the end of a relationship or friendship and wondering what the hell that was.

All her world-weary knowingness is stripped away in the heartbreaking ballad ‘Five Months’ with its almost childlike rhymes ‘five months without you is too long / so come back when you hear this song’. This is one of the few songs on the album where it doesn’t seem like Chadwick is commenting on her own feelings while she’s singing about them. Every now and then she’s slip in some reference to second-guessing if she should be making these big statements, like in opening track ‘Flow Over Me’s’ lines; ‘some of us can take it / some of us don’t make it/ some of us are fakers only ever be heart breakers’ and ‘all tied up inside my mother / never really knew my father / this is boring to you’, but ‘Five Months’ she gives in to naked wishful thinking. It’s a delicate song, a dream world this close to falling apart.

I go back and forth over whether there’s something to take from this record. I don’t think there has to be, I think as a thing, as a document from a person who’s gone through more than any of us have or probably ever will, it’s beautiful and worthy and basically above analysis. But maybe there’s a hint in ‘Wind Wool’s slowly lilting piano ballad of fighting your own brain, giving up, memory and friendship. It’s one of the record’s shortest and simplest songs, and gives us the line ‘I’ll die/ you died/ we die’. But she also seems to rally something close to a knowing smile in ‘some people think skies should be blue all the time but me I love a storm.’ Maybe this is the sentiment that us great fetishists of sorrow identify, or desperately want to identify with, that feeling of getting a little thrill as the dark clouds gather, to love that cleansing destruction of a good hard rain.

Buy the record or forever live with that nagging feeling of regret.

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LISTEN: Wives – ‘White Dogs’

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Wives

Wives are from Canberra and they know how to do it!

*link to video*

End of article.

Nah, we promise this is still a serious music blog. So, Wives are from Canberra and they know how to make music that makes its point, hits hard, no frills, no fuckaround. This new single is post punk at its best, minimal, cutting and cool. The video does everything that good Australian horror does – juxtaposes our perfect landscape with deeply flawed white culture. Beautiful pink galas and native flowers, framed in soft pastels, the chorus breaking into a scene from Summernats – a car festival that seems to attract an especially rabid kind of rev head.

Personally I love a good old fashioned rally down a mountain, but what’s happening here, either in fact or in clever editing, is something that seems about to boil over with violent excitement. Burnouts and shirtless dudes in speed-dealers and sombreros, terrible cars souped-up to all hell. It’s ugly.

The concept is clear, but never over explained. The refrain of ‘let sleeping dogs lie/ no comfort in this home’ will be familiar to anyone who’s felt the extreme discomfort of broad, hyper-masculine Australia. They perfectly capture the can’t-look-away fear of a drunken ‘sporting’ spectacle in ‘I peer inside / the white dogs mouth open wide’.

This is one of the most commanding tracks I’ve heard in ages, and I can’t wait to hear more from their new LP Doomsday, out April 4 on Black Wire Records.

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LISTEN: Lowtide – ‘Southern Mind’ LP

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lowtide

Two weeks ago me and my boyfriend moved from Brisbane to Hobart. So you have to excuse me if I get a bit drippy and sentimental over Lowtide’s new record, a record called Southern Mind, a record that breaths transition, progression and a clear-eyed kind of optimism. A ‘letting go’ record with only a suggestion of melancholy.

Then there’s the other thing; Lowtide’s self-titled album, which, somehow, came out in 2014, is one of my favourite Australian albums of the last ten years. One I’ve never gotten sick of, still gives me the same kind of ache today. The main difference between that album and Southern Mind is the necessary letting go of lightness. There’s no such thing as an ‘effortless’ song or album, and most bands give up trying to pretend there is by their second record. So while nothing on this one seems as kind of incidentally perfect as Lowtide’s ‘Held’, the simple pop smarts they showed on songs like that one and ‘Wedding Ring’ have become something more complex, but just as listenable.

‘Elizabeth Tower’s’ ‘Open hands, go on your way / stand and deliver, your task is forgiveness’ is the album’s pop song, open-hearted and immediate, a perfect choice for the second single after the more scrappy ‘90s-feeling ‘Alibi’.  ‘A.C’, with its more straightforwardly pretty guitar melodies, opening up into spacious, introspective verses, may be the song that most resembles that first record, though sadder, more resigned. Though when Giles Simon [who’s since left the band] consoles with ‘separate yourself / you’ve had enough’ you still feel like it’s about giving up to move forward. It’s a striking song, particularly when all the atmospherics drop out for a few bars in the middle, leaving resonant guitar and bass and Simon’s vocals, matter of fact and unadorned. Final track ‘Fault Lines’ leaves you with Lucy Buckeridge’s impressively swooping, twisting vocals, sweet and searching. With its slow, steady rhythm developing over it’s 4 and a half minutes, it’s maybe the most structurally simple song, but also one of the more personal and intimate, the counterpoints of Buckridge and Simon’s voices, ‘you’re always on my mind / you used to say this all the time / you’re leaving’.  It works to end the album with a kind of meandering, band-wanders-off-into-the-distance fade out than a resounding bang.

We know why people dismiss shoegaze (or dream pop, which is… faster, brighter guitars? I understand genres) as kinda wussy, almost boring. It’s samey by nature, having a consistent tone, drawn-out effects, a sense of each song lingering through the next is all part of the charm, and if you need your music to beat you up to make a point then it’ll never be for you. It’s also the genre that attracts the most cliche kind of description. You know, people says ‘dreamy’ ‘wall of sound’ ‘reverb-drenched guitars’ in their 200 word new music piece and think you get the picture, when the real feeling of the music is much more complex and particular. Like, there’s nothing really dreamy about this record – it’s purposeful, composed, exact. And as much as, going in, I wanted it to be something romantic and pastoral about love and loss in a harsh southern landscape, it’s not that either. It’s beautiful in totally its own way.  And the only way to really find out how is to listen.

Buy this beautiful record via Rice is Nice here

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LISTEN: Total Control – ‘Laughing at the System’ LP

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total control

I finally got to see Total Control for the first time at the Opera House show. It was in Sydney so everyone basically stood there with their arms crossed the whole time, and it was a huge show so cunts called out for ‘Carpet Rash’, then didn’t really react or move for any other song, even like, ‘Black Spring’ or ‘Safety Net’. But whatever, I got what I wanted out of it – I got to see my favourite band play some of my favourite songs and I got to feel the anger and the energy and the melodies that tear you apart and look at all those men on stage and feel like I got some closure on something. After two staunchly beautifully complicatedly moving records they don’t owe us anything. But hey, this new record is something else entirely.

It doesn’t crack through like the other two, there’s less urgency and more playfulness. Maybe music in general has lost some urgency. With every new niche that opens up and every person that ages out of their scene and every new kid who books their first show we move away from the world of Serious Music that Henge Beat came out in. While it used to feel like genuine expression of anger and fear could change something, it’s now more like everything’s so terrifying it’s rolled over into being ridiculous. It’s hard to fathom how fucked we all are sometimes. I’ve moved to Tasmania and started hoarding car batteries. So let’s enjoy this very good and fun record.

It’s not the first time Total Control have had a sense of humour – those huge metal guitars in ‘Expensive Dog’, over the top in a ridiculously theatrical way, that felt like them having fun. But this is definitely the most irreverent we’ve heard them, despite the title track starting us off with a kind of sinister circus slide into madness, and the closing reprise finishing with something startlingly hectic. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were in for more of the same with those familiar obtusely serious, vaguely political lyrics; ‘celebrate intoxicants / laughing at the sentiment’, but you’d be wrong.

Because after that heavy intro we’re straight into the album’s strange and catchy highlight, ‘Future Creme’ with it’s toy-sounding instruments, Dan Stewart crooning ‘lost in the future / I am your milkman’ over a fuzzy groove and acoustic guitars, a strange echo-ey voice describes the process of cheese making in the middle. Have Total Control ever been weird before? Obtuse and abrasive, sure, but not silly. I love it.

‘Vanity’ again puts you off-guard with its preening stomp, it’s rolled ‘r’s and rhymes, Stewart announcing ‘guitar!’ before the most trashed-up, wacky guitar solo, like yeah, there’s the fucking guitar. This track might give us the most clear explanation of what’s going on with this record in the lyrics ‘when you stop having any fun / your mind stops loving anyone’. Maybe? ‘Vote Cops’ throws out a distorted play on a blues riff over Stewarts’ familiar matter-of-fact directives. The melody’s so hard to grip onto, it makes you wanna go back. Like what the fuck was that. The lyrics seem like the kind of obscure social commentary we’re used to ‘vote cops / more shops / more more more more’ and ‘get cred / move fast/ get spent / built’, but delivered in a newly resigned way.

Maybe they’re bored of big show-stopper riffs, cuz the electric guitar on this record seems like more of a noise or rhythm instrument. Most of the proper songs rest on light-as-air synth and acoustic guitar. The second half of the album, before the final jarring reprise of ‘Laughing at the System’ is all sweetness and light. ‘Luxury Vacuum’s swinging acoustic chords sound almost cheeky, after ‘Her Majesty, Budgie’’s pulsing and panoramic synth, and before the prettily weird bleep-bloops of ‘Cathie and Marg’.

This is the most happily confused I’ve been about a record in a long time.

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LISTEN: Madboots & Areaboys – ‘2Hard’ EP

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madboots

Photo by Josh Watson 

Madboots have been around drawing crowds at live shows in Brisbane forever. They make a rare kind of RnB that’s funny and good, and put on live shows that are a mixture of pure hip hop showmanship and theatre. They open and close for rock bands and usually blow them out of the water. Madgif, their beat man, stands around on stage on his phone, wears full face bandannas, takes photos or makes cup noodles (one time), while Dewi Djamal Wilson and Angelica (Gel) Wilson rap, skit, and sing. Then their producer/scratch DJ, DJ Returnagain makes the music happen. They’ve put out videos and kind-of-mixtapes before, but 2Hard is them getting serious. Or nah, not serious, just like playing into the whole make an EP, premier it through a music mag with a video thing.

2Hard’s six songs make for a tight 17 minute EP (including remix) – they’ve got a short attention span, these songs give you the idea, the joke, the vibe, then disappear without outstaying their welcome. This is what they do. Whatever if you don’t get it.

It’s a great introduction for the uninitiated. You total get Dewi’s mix of sugar-and-sex ‘90s RnB vocals and Brisbane suburban talk-rap. She’s breathy and sweet on tongue-in-cheek opener ‘Cocktails’ then tough and dirty on ‘Snowy’; ‘put this pussy on ya like a winter coat-ah’, then bratty and hectic on ‘Facts’, a hard-hitting, totally nonsense song. The dynamics of Dewi’s vocals, supported by the more straight RnB hype of Gel’s backups, give these songs their likeable let’s-party-but-don’t-fuck-with-us character.

In an interview that I’m hoping one day will get out there (my fault, I keep not writing it), Dewi told me that the lyrics and song writing in general are often based on jokes, or ideas for music videos, or just some funny phrase she or Angelica can’t get out of their head, and it makes for totally un-laboured song writing. The joy for them is often in the production, in messing around with the sounds, in making things that sound like real songs they used to hear on the radio. Madgif’s beats lay the clever and layered but always smooth groundwork for the sunny West Coast vibes of ‘Respectful and Cute’, a light-as-air love song, or the album’s super catchy centrepiece ‘Headstone’.

It’s cool that after decades of ‘Aussie hip hop’ being the butt of every Triple J or festival bashing joke, our underground RnB scene is the one pumping out the music that you wanna listen to, and putting on shows you actually want to go to.

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HOT TAKE: Alex Cameron’s ‘Forced Witness’ is good

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Alex Cameron

Junkee is a media company that exists to get clicks, sometimes they post good stuff sometimes they post shit, it’s whatever. But that article about Alex Cameron, Kirin J Callinan and Client Liason being apologist for toxic masculinity kind of seems indicative of the media’s obsession with slowly stamping out of nuance in all kinds of art.

It seems purposely obtuse for anyone to say that by representing a bad man Cameron is benefiting Australia’s problem with toxic masculinity. Firstly, from the very start it’s clear his character doesn’t have power, he’s a loser. He’s a pathetic, creepy guy, and that we can know that and still want to listen to a whole record about him is testament to Cameron’s song writing. But there’s also no Australian references at all really – from Cameron’s upward and outward trajectory you’d guess this was targeted at his new American audience – he’s lived in the states for years.

There’s no leaving your kids in the car at the RSL here, it’s all motels and superclubs and getting shat on by eagles. If you follow Cameron or his sax player Roy Molloy on facebook or twitter, yeah sure there’s plenty of Aussie as stuff, but from the record alone there’s no reason to think the character is Australian. He’s a faded vegas grifter, the kind of guy who buys nunchucks, watery eyes, too rough handshake. We’ve seen it in movies, always the character who gets killed off in a funny way. It always feel like we’re laughing at that kind of guy with Cameron, his lame faded party fantasies in ‘Hacienda’, the Vaseline-lensed portraits of twisted sheets and fucking raw. It’s like porn, funny and gross and you feel guilty for liking it but almost everyone does.

But, for sure, I won’t tell gay people how to feel about the F word. If someone hears ‘Marlon Brando’ and it makes them feel degraded, regardless of context, that fucking sucks and Cameron should have found some other way to make the character seem even viler then he already is.

I guess the main confusion in that article was that the writer obviously likes at least some of these bands, some of these songs. They call them ‘clever’, ‘well-intentioned’, even ‘jaw-dropping’. They’re constantly second guessing themselves through the whole thing. Maybe they feel weird about liking songs where a guy sings about waiting to fuck his 17 year old girlfriend until her 18th birthday. But that’s what it’s like sometimes, the world’s fucked, got a lot of fucked people in it, and sometimes artists wanna represent those characters and also make really, really good pop songs.

Cuz Forced Witness sounds slick and sexy and cool – and cheesy and bombastic and cringey, it’s all part of the world Cameron invites us into. When you rub off a bit of the grease, ‘In my dreams I miss you / and I wake up to reality’s bliss’, is a fucking romantic line. His gift is one that allows you to dance along to ‘The Chihuahua’ even if it reminds you a bit of your ex who used to always try and touch your vagina in public, and even laugh at that guy while you do it. ‘The Chihuahua’ is full of great lines ‘Chasing pussy online cuz the dog’s feeling fine and he needs it’ – hilarious, ‘love’s a diabetic sweetness, love’s a fistful of bronze jewelry’ – great stuff. There’s also that kinda dance hall feel, the fizz and swing of brass and percussion that makes this song sound light as air while the lyrics stay mucky. It’s a bummer that people think they’re not allowed to enjoy such a fun song cuz the dude says ‘pussy’ a lot in it.

Of course people like Cameron and Callinan and all the dudes in Client Liason have benefited from white male privilege. Every white man has. To put limits on the way they can comment on this privilege seems backwards and pointless. I have benefited from straight white female privilege. You’ve probably got some privilege that you benefit from. From that point we start out, then we decide what to do from there. And what Cameron’s done is a lot better than pretending to be the sad guy who never gets the girl cuz she only chases sleazebags (the kind of cliché that ‘Marlon Brando’ so perfectly skewers), or a right-on warrior for equality getting limbered up for all the dick sucking he’s about to receive.

It’s cool that somewhere with money is publishing long form music journalism with a point. But if you think about it for more than one second, there’s a lot more going on in Forced Witness than fits into this article’s opinion of what art is allowed to say. And boy, it’s GOOD.

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