Posts By Madeleine Laing

LISTEN: Unity Floors ‘Life Admin’ LP

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unity-floors

Whether they’re trying to or not, on Life Admin Sydney’s Unity Floors ask a lot of questions. Like, is there still place for two normal nice guys in Australian music? Obviously in most genres and spaces, men still take up most of the room – but in alternate music media, we know girls are the ones doing the exciting stuff in pop and punk and techno and rock and roll. So what about these two guys bemused by girls and their designer clothes and their yoga on their lunch breaks, who still think moving to Melbourne might be the answer to all their problems. What about these two white dudes probably closer to thirty than twenty, playing drums and guitar and making sweet garage pop music.

What space do these men take up in music right now? Does anyone care? What’s worth talking about at the moment? With Restless The Ocean Party have made something untouchably beautiful, introspective and sensitive and political. They’re trying hard to earn their voices. Then there’s party-rock boy bands who play the sell-out tours and keep Weed Culture hanging around in music like a stain. In Brisbane, and probably other places, white boys who play guitar but wish they were hip hop stars make samples and heavy techno or blunt wild-eyed dumb punk music. Unity Floors aren’t really like any of this. They’re earnest and naive in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, with those jaunty fuzzy guitars that could be from anywhere between 1991 and now.

It’s a fun record, a domestic record to do the chores and ride the bus to. And yeah ‘Give and Take’ sounds like ‘Simple Feelings’ by Twerps but you know it wasn’t on purpose and they probably aren’t sitting around obsessively listening to Range Anxiety enough to pick it up. Just unlucky for them that Australian music writers definitely are.

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Maybe we’ll look back on Life Admin as the last of its kind. Or maybe garage rock for boys is here to stay and I’m talking out of my arse. But listening to this record made me feel nostalgic for something I’ve always loved but only just realised had slipped away, and it’s nice to remember it at least one more time.

 

Life Admin is out on Pop Frenzy now. Unity Floors also do a great live show, which you can catch in Sydney, Melbourne or Hobart on their upcoming tour:

Hobart – The Brisbane hotel, Satuday October 8
Melbourne – The Old Bar, Saturday October 22
Sydney – Chippendale Hotel, Friday October 28

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LISTEN: Pleasure Symbols – ‘Pleasure Symbols’ EP

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pleasure-symbols

Brisbane two-piece Pleasure Symbols (Phoebe Paradise and Jasmine Dunn) have around for a few years, and despite being one of the most exciting bands in Brisbane the entire time have only just released their first EP. And if you told me they’d spent the entire time working on these four beautiful songs day and night I’d almost believe you. This is extremely sophisticated, darkly gorgeous music.

’80s Australian post-punk meets modern electronic pop structures and hooks, but with that goth-ish edge that makes people label this stuff ‘cold’, even though it’s actually as rich and golden as anything you’ll hear this year.

Yet it’s still gotta be called bleak – maybe cause of the suburban hell landscapes of the incredible video for ‘Underneath Your Skin’. But removed from these images the track – still intense and kinda scary, has a slinky, almost groovy feeling.

Pleasure Symbols don’t rely on forced minimalism and empty space to create a cool vibe – they do it with confidence and smart layering. There’s a lot going on here; the songs are heavy with feeling, desire, spite, delicate pain and anxiety, self-destruction – built subtly in Paradise’s voice. There’s not need for theatrics, the drama is there if you care to listen. Like on last song ‘Control’, a master class in understated slow-build sexiness.

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Hopefully signing to new Brisbane label Death Valley Records means we might hear more from Pleasure Symbols before the end of the 2010s – but if not, we at least have to thank them for releasing what is probably the best EP of the year.

You can buy the record online HERE. Though if you’re in Brisbane I reckon take the train out to Morningside and pick up a copy (and a beer) from Death Valley Bar, cause it’s a cool pace and this is as good an excuse as any to check it out (also the postage is a bit spenny for locals).

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LISTEN: Heart Beach – ‘Brittle’

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Heart Beach

Look, I could probably just post this song with ‘Heart Beach continue to rule’ and leave it at that. If you know the Tasmanian three-piece you know they make impenetrably solid, understatedly powerful indie rock.

New single ‘Brittle’ continues the trends of much of their debut self-titled record from last year: two guitars playing the same great riff, two low-key and likeable voices working together to drive the kinda nostalgic kinda hopeful lyrics forward. A steady beat, a terrific bass hook. Maybe that sounds like formula but it’s more like direction – Heart Beach make confident music. They know what they wanna say and they say it well every time.

The emotional ‘brittleness’ of this song comes from in the tension of trying to hold it together, to look like you’re fine on the outside while inside shit couldn’t be more wrong. The measured vocals come out like a speech rehearsed in the mirror. There’s a lot going on under the surface of those fuzzy guitars, the drums constant, spare and flat. I’ll rehash the Pixies comparison cause it’s there, but without the over-seriousness that usually plagues those who try to go for the serious Pixies vibe too hard.

The more poppy elements help to offset the cruelty of the phrase ‘I can’t believe that he got over you’, so it takes a few repetitions for it to really sink in. Then by the time it does the song is just about over, and you have to play it again. And again.

 

Heart Beach have just been signed to Spunk Records, and their next record Kiss Your Face will be out later in the year.

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LISTEN: Thigh Master – ‘Canned Opening’

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Thigh Master

People in Brisbane like to gently make fun of Thigh Master for opening pretty much any given rock show on any given weekend. But I don’t know, I think they’re the kind of band you can pretty happily see heaps of times – their sound is a mix of the familiar , catchy and emotionally affecting that’s at once comforting and exciting.

New single ‘Canned Opening’ is less frantic and furious than previous cut ‘Company’ – it’s kind of introspective but never earnest. Matthew Ford has such downer-boy vocal delivery that if the music was too over-serious it wouldn’t work at all – luckily these guys write hooks that go down easier than domestic beer, with funny little wonky pops of whammy-assisted guitar in-between.

‘Both Company’ and ‘Canned Opening’ will be released on their album, Early Times, out via new label Coolin’ By Sound in October. They’re savvy choices because they capture the Thigh Master vibe pretty perfectly: ‘I don’t like you, I don’t care for myself much either, but that won’t stop us from trying to have a good time’.

Thigh Master will be playing Big Sound next week if you happen to be heading down to that, and probably plenty more times at other places in the future.

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LISTEN: Military Position – ‘Made to Fight’

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military position

Photo by Chloe Alexandra

‘Timeliness is for fucking NERDS’ – me to myself justifying writing about this song from Military Position (Harriet Kate Morgan, from Melbourne) weeks after it was released. I’m sure other things have come out that less people have heard of that deserve attention but are they this heavy with tension and danger and that gutsy industrial techno that I can’t get enough of right now? Nah.

There’s hints of Kirin J Callinan in Morgan’s vocals – that authoritative kind of Australian accent most of us nasal creeps will never pull of – but she’s fucking around even less. Everything here is laced with threat.

It’s the feeling of being followed, clenching your fists and standing up tall. Tick tock drum machines in the last minute making everything sound even more ominous. Whatever their counting down to, I don’t know if I want to see it.  It’s a tough fucking song that works as a response to, as well as a mirror for, masculine aggression. It’s the blood beating in your ears when you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into. It’s sick.

‘Made to Fight’ will be out on a forthcoming release called Black Noise C30 on Trapdoor Tapes

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WATCH: Wireheads – ‘So Softly Spoken’

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Wireheads 4

Image by Sia Duff

A good low-budget clip should make you think two things: ‘hey that’s cool’ and ‘these guys are cool’. Alex Gordon-Smith’s one shot, one take (yeah, let’s not fuck around) clip for Adelaide band Wireheads’ ‘So Softly Spoken’, off their recent album Arrive Alive (which we  liked heaps), does just that.

It starts off inside a share house with an effective mix of the surreal and mundane, matching the haphazard energy of the first half of the track perfectly. This is a song that sounds like it could be coming through the floor into your room while your housemates band practised downstairs – if that band was actually good.

Then the tempo slows, becomes more reflective and romantic, as the camera’s blurry gaze shifts to the world outside, walking down familiar suburban streets, smoking durries and drinking tallies, eating whole heads of lettuce. The clip ends with the members of the band (and other bands – Adelaide mates from Rule of Thirds, The High Beamers, Gentleworms, and more were roped in for the shoot) walking down the street playing guitar, or wearing a stained wedding dress and drinking a bottle of red wine.

It’s a melancholy note to end on – this band house with your mates stuff doesn’t last forever, things change all the time. With that in mind this clip becomes a weird, slightly dark but affectionate document of a specific time and place and people.

You can buy Arrive Alive from Tenth Court now, and if you live in Adelaide or Melbourne and don’t catch one of the album launch shows (dates below)… sort your shit out.

August 6 – The Metro, Adelaide w/ Primo (Melb) + Fair Maiden + Workhorse

August 19 – The Grace Darling, Melbourne w/ Summer Flake + Primo + SMB

August 20 – The Curtin, Melbourne w/ Shame Brothers + Blank Statements

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FEATURE: Sarah Mary Chadwick – ‘Roses Always Die’ LP

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sarah mary chadwick LP

I’ve never really been able to listen to sad music when I’m sad. I’ve never had the emotional capacity ‘have a good cry’, wallow in it, let it out and move forward. I’ve kind of always found sadness unbearable and unacceptable. I can’t deal. So I turn it into hate or anger at myself or those who’ve done me wrong. Now I’m not gonna say Sarah Mary Chadwick taught me how to feel sad, cause that’s some trite bullshit. I am gonna say that the themes on her new record Roses Always Die reveal something is so important, but almost impossible to accept: that there’s no shame in feeling bad.

These spare and beautiful songs pick at the stiches of every bad feeling: fear, grief, desperation, loneliness, hopelessness, and examine them with heartbreaking clarity.

Accessing these emotions, for Chadwick, has become routine. I can’t really kid myself that the catharsis I feel from these songs is something I’m sharing with the woman who wrote them, but you know, art’s in interpretation.

‘It’s something that I’ve just got into the habit of doing,’ she says. ‘I think when I used to play in the band [Batrider] and it was more physical and aggressive, that was probably more of a cathartic experience. I think as I get older it’s got both more of a purpose and less of a purpose. I do it more, it’s a bigger part of my life, but it’s become more mundane.’

Routine and boredom seem to be big parts of Chadwick’s creative progression. The guitar that still lingered around in a few songs on last year’s 9 Classic Tracks is gone here, leaving vocals and the organ that Chadwick bought from her housemate for $50 as the only instruments (the drums are the beats built into the organ). Chadwick said that keyboards are just more interesting to her at the moment: ‘it helps that I’m not that good at it. I got to a point when I’d been playing guitar for so many years that was like I just don’t think I can do anything that I’ll enjoy doing with guitar anymore. Maybe with keyboards the same thing will happen.’

There’s something big about these songs. For one thing, organ just sounds important, even if it’s backed up by thin programmed drums and sparse production. But the grandness is also in the way Chadwick builds drama with these few elements. She says that the idea of drama was really the only preconceived notion she had making the record.

‘I wanted to have some big songs. Some of them I reckon ended up sounding like a real Liza Minnelli show tunes vibe. I was telling Geoff [Geoffrey O’Connor, who recorded the album] a couple of times, “Oh yeah, that’s a Liza one”. ‘The Fire That Torched My Fear’ is one – I imagine that as being a big moment in like a musical or something – not in a way that anyone but us would really get.’

I get it. Yeah, probably only because she told me, but now I can’t listen to that track without seeing a ‘Life is a Cabaret’-esque black stage and spotlight, tears streaming down a stark white face.  ‘The Fire That Torched My Fear’ follows ‘Yunno What’, my favourite song on the record for its groovy-ness (the dance track) as much as it’s visceral desperation. Each song easily wounds you on its own, but back-to-back they’re out to destroy you.

Not necessarily just with the bitterness of lines like ‘The Fire That Torched My Fear’s opener why did I expect more from today? I should have let it just be nothing’ but also with that ever-present tenuous hope of the redemption that friends might offer, if you can muster up the courage to ask (‘maybe I’ll see someone who cracks me up all night / someone who’ll make it feel alright’).

‘Four Walls’ is the shortest song on the record but the most intense and claustrophobic. You can hear Chadwick’s fingers moving over and hovering on the keys, while she sings, I’m guessing, about the responsibility of living for someone who’s gone, trying to be witness to their life: ‘some things speak through me / and I can feel your pain wild and free’. This intimacy may have been helped by the way the organ was recorded. Because it was too big to be moved, Chadwick had to record everything in her apartment. Which, she says, made things easier.

‘We live in a big warehouse style apartment thing, and I think that really worked for the recording – if we lived in a tiny dead apartment thing it wouldn’t have. I think we did the tracking over a day or two, tops. And then all the vocals I recorded in his studio.’

She continues, ‘I actually wrote 9 Classic Tracks on the same organ, but when I recorded with Geoff the first time, to be honest I think he didn’t trust me. He was like, ‘Um let’s just record it on this synth…’ And because I hadn’t done anything like that before I didn’t mind at all, and I think that sound really worked for that record. But this time I wanted to use the organ I wrote it on, just to make sure it sounded different from the last [record].’

It’s easy to assume that every sad song is about sex and relationships – especially when you’re young and privileged and nothing else particularly bad has gone wrong in your life (hello!) – but there’s a lot of different kind of pain in here. Chadwick’s father and close friend died very close together in the last year, and she says obviously that influenced the record a lot, as did starting psychoanalysis. She says she’s become more interested in her own motivation – ‘there’s a lot in there: what makes things happen and what’s propelling things, why things happen’ she says.

The frankness of her own self-examination is instantly appealing. ‘I’ve never been worried about admitting the bad things about myself, or someone else,’ she laughs. But she says it might also be slightly defensive. ‘Maybe that’s a bit of inoculating yourself against bad things, or being surprised. Because if things go to shit you can be like – well, I knew that was gonna happen’.

While the record might not be overtly about physical and romantic connections, they’re still in there, still affecting everything else – you can’t put your traumas in a line and deal with them one by one. There’s no song that’s just about death or just about sex or just about hope; Chadwick’s stories are way too complex and whole for that. ‘Turn On’ deftly mixes intimate imagery and beauty with grief in lines like ‘I believed your skin would cauterise me’ or the picture of ‘a stupidly idyllic cemetery’. The vocals here are fuller than the rest of the record, dark whispers fill up the background while Chadwick’s voice strains under the weight of her loss, front and centre.

Maybe one of the reason it’s hard to separate these songs from sex and love is the art that has accompanied most of Chadwick’s music since 9 Classic Tracks. If you’ve seen much of her very cool, uninhibited pen and water colour pieces featuring sex and sex acts, it won’t surprise you that most of the subjects are directly copied from porn. But the way she describes it as inspiration is with characteristic subtlety and thoughtfulness.

‘I think porn’s really interesting’ she says ‘it’s people’s base instincts and there’s all these power dynamics and it’s a little bit seedy and a little bit hot and a little bit lame and problematic and there’s so much stuff going on in there, it’s never boring’. Like in Chadwick’s music, nothing is ever just one thing in these visual works.

It’s also shown her something about the perceived value of art. ‘There’s something kind of weird about it,’ she says. ‘If I did a song or whatever, you can buy that for a dollar on Bandcamp. But all the feelings in the world went into writing it, then me and Geoff did the tracking, then the vocals, then he mixed it and it got mastered and someone from Rice is Nice promoted it. Whereas I can sit down and watch some porn while I’m watching Bridgette Jones’ Diary in the background and draw a picture and I can sell it for like $100! It just cracks me up, how much effort goes into one or the lack of effort that goes into the other.’

There’s kind of pure joy in these drawings that comes from self-destruction and abasement – when you’re heading towards someone with open arms, asking them to fuck you up/ just fuck you. You can  hear it on the record too, most notably in single ‘Cool It’ – which comes around with some arse-moving drums and some deep and slinky base notes.

It’s hazy and kind of dangerous; ‘you’re not my good time… Unless you wanna be / I could do with a little pick-me-up/ and looking into your eyes/I wanna test out some limits’ she sings, before the song ends to slide into ‘The Man in the Flags’, where she becomes the wise friend consoling someone else. ‘I can see you’re reeling / from that last punch you’re still bleeding / she is nothing more than dead wax / and when her hold over your heart slacks,’ she sings over a jittery high hat and snare sound and a keyboard solo straight out of a sea-shanty – a false kind of joviality that sounds like putting on a happy face for the sake of a friend.

Chadwick leaves the end of the record for the more quiet and delicate moments. Like in late highlight ‘Make a Boundary’, with it’s startlingly beautiful melody in a chorus carried by vocals that catch at all the right moments. That song and the strained, empty-sounding ‘Right Now I’m Running’ make up her last exhausted shout – ‘blackened by the fire’ – wanting to be able to end things and walk away with something left, but ending up giving it all away anyway.

But she still can’t resist finishing with one eye on the hope of other people: ‘hey your eyes light up / and hey your mouth seems smart / and hey look the sun’s up’.

Different parts of the cycle of hope, loss, disappointment and trying again that makes up pretty much everyone’s whole life, are scattered over this record. There is progress, but it starts and stops, moves backwards, sometimes gives up. The absolute honesty and self-knowledge with which Sarah Mary Chadwick approaches this cycle makes her an artist to be in awe of. Roses Always Die is an album that makes you wanna be brave, to make any shame in sadness cower under that beautiful, real-shit, truth.

 

Roses Always Die is out on Rice is Nice Friday August 5.

And, if you really wanna hear some guitar, Chadwick is releasing a seven inch on a Swedish label later in the year with two guitar tracks that were cut from the record.

Sarah Mary Chadwick is touring around Australia, and will be in:

Melbourne at the Northcote Social Club on September 1

Sydney at the Newtown Social Club September 3

Brisbane at Trainspotters on September 17

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