New Music

LABEL PROFILE: Nice Music

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Melbourne label Nice Music arrived fully-formed, 6 beautifully packaged releases in tow in May last year. A bold introduction from a newly-minted label, followed swiftly by 6 more releases in November. Simultaneously issuing the 6 individual releases in both series one and two was an ambitious and confident statement of intent, one that hopefully pays off for this intriguing and forward-thinking label.

While it’s easy to overlook the ease with which all the pieces fit together both musically and aesthetically, this belies the hard work going on behind the scenes in order to bring this vision to life. Like a timepiece with its sleek clock face masking the myriad of grinding gears at work beneath the surface.

When asked why he took this approach label founder Simon J Karis, himself a collector, says he is “comforted by consistency and sets of things” adding that his vision for the label was “to create something I would personally love to follow and collect…letting things happen organically out of my own enthusiasm for the material”. This enthusiasm shows in the curation and execution, something made easier by the highly active music community which Karis is a part of. “There’s so much going on here it’s overwhelming and being a hoarder or cataloguer type I worry that some of it will be missed if someone doesn’t help or push”.

The diversity across the catalogue, a result of Simon’s ‘fidgety listening habits”, is somewhat disparate at first glance but there is a common thread tying the music together, a thread I find difficult to pinpoint. When asked for his take on this Simon puts it down to the artists, who according to him are “pretty idiosyncratic thinkers stretching their wings in a very honest and productive way…everyone on the label transcends genre or label to a degree in my head at least…I like the themes and emotions in music to hit you hard in the brain or spine or bloodstream in a way that means you’re never really sure why – that’s kinda ultimate for me”.

Offering each series as a bundle is a great way for the audience to discover new music, a quality missing in the current age of steaming services and digital singles. And for collectors like Simon the catalogue is available in cassette format which, of course look nicer as a collection.

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From the warped post-modern beat abstractions of Hyde, and the seething bass music of Various Asses, to the disconcerting techno sound collage of R Hunter, this is a catalogue which begs to be explored. An insight into a thriving community of artists pushing boundaries with little regard for genre or music trends. Get acquainted and get Nice.

If you’re so inclined, check out Madeleine’s review of another Nice Music release, Sweet Whirl’s beautiful O.k. Permanent Wave

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LISTEN: Half High – Rubble Indent EP

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Half High

Half High is the work of Sydney Artists Lucy Phelan and Matthew P. Hopkins. Their latest three song, 30 minute EP has arrived right on the heels of their previous release Deserted Squares Under The RainHowever, it’s an entirely different beast from the pure crystalline sounds of that recording with it’s long emotive silences, where buzzing mechanical noise was used as rhythmic devices, to deliver small shocks to stop the music fading into the background.

Deserted Squares… is a beautiful mixture of ‘natural’ sounds – electronic ripples and whispers, with industrial undercurrents breaching the surface every now and then. It’s the kind of ambient music that draws vibe and mood from silence and stillness. Rubble Indent  is wholly intrusive. It invades the space around you creating a character that is unnerving, unpredictable and harsh.

Gone are the chimes and ripples, there’s no pretence of naturalism here – this is a kind of practical music, the sound of motions and actions repeating, energy being built up then deconstructed in surprising and uncomfortable ways.

Phelan and Hopkins are also visual artists, whose live shows are as much about picture as sound. You will lose something when listening to this music without visuals, but it’s also startling how readily your brain will create its own given the droning stimulus.

Phelan also plays hard-hitting and inventive dance music under the name Lucy Cliché, though I’d find it hard to draw too many comparisons between the two – maybe those heavy crashing beats, cement against metal, brain against skull, cycling faster and harder towards the end of ‘Glorious Glug’. But that’s probably a stretch.

Rubble Indent‘s second track, ‘Ground Grey’ is comparatively pretty to begin with – the ambient sounds of a space prison yard, of an empty robotic future. My favourite part comes towards the middle of ‘Send Caresses’ – a seething ocean of sharply sparkling noise punctured by dark whale-like sounds.

Honestly, I don’t listen to much stuff like this cuz I’ll have a weird time for the rest of the day – I’m too easily effected by mood in music. But this EP is just so impressively constructed, such a beautiful piece of sound art that I keep coming back for more unsettling noise, more strange and sinister droning to freak out the work day.

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LISTEN: Yon Yonson – Yes No Sorry

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Sydney outfit Yon Yonson have been making music since 2010, and after a string of self-released EP’s and albums they have joined forces with local label TEEF Records for their fourth full-length, Yes No Sorry.

Continuing to mine their quirky blend of electronic indie pop, this latest effort is a joyous patchwork of soulful synth jams, funk-fuelled samples and stripped-back, contemplative ballads. At certain points the music could be placed alongside the tongue-in-cheek RnB experiments of Oscar + Martin or even Hot Chip, but just as quickly shifts into some sample-heavy mutant lounge, and it’s this effortless eclecticism that gives the music a certain charm.

There is much to love here, a personal highlight being ‘Figurine’ with its propulsive beat and infectious energy. Not to mention the killer opening line, “It isn’t easy being flesh, and piss, and blood, and spit, and ugliness, with most of the light taken out of it all”.

Balancing flippant humour with sincere introspection, the songs are at times polished and confident, at other times scrappy and vulnerable. The latter like scrawled messages, placed in bottles and cast away into the vast waters of internet music archives.

Another impressive entry from the band, and another exciting addition to the TEEF roster. Grab a copy from the TEEF bandcamp store here.

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LISTEN: Hannah Kate – Late Brunch EP

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Much like Madeleine, I’ve been somewhat caught in the throes of the debut record from Dag outta Melbourne [ml: … Brisbane first]. I know it’s strange to start off a post about one artist by talking about another, but the shambling melancholic cloud of a record like Dag’s Benefits of Solitude hangs over you with a tenacity that can only be dissipated by something as shining and delicate as Hannah Kate‘s debut EP, Late Brunch.

As something that exists solely in vibrations, music has an incredible ability to make humans want to ascribe it emotional weight and meaning. But, to me, Kate’s collection of six songs has a grounded intimacy that seems undeniable. Warbling guitar chords that float on deep inside your ears with Kate’s youthful yet retrospective lyricism and loose drums.

These songs live and die in spaces that can only ever be inhabited by one or two people at a time, the production of the EP holding everything very close together. The only thing that’s allowed to float away is Kate’s voice, twirling off within some reverb up above.

It’s a strong first effort, a nice dose of singer-songwriter focus within a wash of bedroom guitar recordings.

If you’re in Melbouren, get down to the EP Launch on Thursday March 23, with Culte and Weatherboards

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LISTEN: Beloved Elk – Distractions LP

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Beloved Elk are a band of great focus. Whether or not you see nobility in their gaze being so consistently directed at human connections, trauma and anxiety is a personal feeling. But there’s something to be said about the boldness of duo Amy Wright and Tina Nyugen dissecting their deepest-selves on record over the course of three E.P.’s, and now their debut album Distractions.

Writing on the production of the record, Wright speaks of a healthy dissonance in the band, and discusses the influences and overall intent of the record.

“We took all of May 2016 to home record the album in the shed at my place. Most of the songs were just guitar chords and vocals to begin with and each morning we would write out new guitar lines together and Tina would come up with drum parts on the day.”

Aside from splitting lead vocals and drumming duties separately, we shared all the guitar, bass and keys playing down the middle. Kinda fighting over each instrument and picking whichever takes sounded best…. I wanted to do all the arranging from scratch and in one hit during the recording of the album itself to keep all the songs unified together in tone and feel…”

Distractions is a collection of sombre, twinkling guitars; clattering experimental drumming; and Wright’s wrenching, mournful vocals. The pieces create a sound that is absolutely sincere and melancholic, working together to form a complete, fully-realised whole.

“It was really inspired by late ’90s Modest Mouse, Cat Power and the Drones when making the album. I intentionally minimised the use of effect pedals and overdubs so it would be as raw and immediate as possible. I was feeling very courageous going in to recording it and wanted to make something that would be challenging to listen to in parts but would take risks and cut through, wanting the delivery to be bold, brave and nuanced… recording it ourselves meant we just had no personal boundaries in what we could do in the room. Even if it meant screaming til our voices were gone.”

“The album covers a lot of ground but ultimately keeps coming back to the two main themes of feeling out of place in society/cut off/not belonging — and feeling overly sensitive, having immense difficulty connecting or reaching out.”

Distractions is out now on LISTEN Records.

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WATCH: Pillow Pro – ‘Beyond the Rave’

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Pillow Pro

Melbourne two-piece Pillow Pro pull a kind of bait and switch with their new video, stunningly directed by Lara Kose. At first it’s a couple of cool girls in hoodies walking down monochrome Melbourne streets – sitting at the laundromat, looking at derro stuff etc. But then it fades into a kind of dream-sequence sun-dappled and soaked in colour.

Though the down-tempo beats and chorus of ‘Pick up your phone / been waiting / I’ve been down too long’ suggest a romantic kind of longing, it doesn’t seem much like they need anyone else. This video seems to posit that maybe all the shit you do with your best friend killing time until your lover calls you back is actually the interesting part. Especially if that shit involves dressing up in the cutest fucking cowgirl outfits I’ve ever seen (will pay any money to cop btw – madeleine@whothehell.net) and lounging on li-los with umbrella drinks and curly straws.

It’s girly, embracing all the loading bullshit that comes with that term. Its pastel-toned and pretty, wistful and sassy in equal parts. It feels luxurious, from the pristine quality of the production to the beautiful costuming and the languid slow-mo. Pillow Pro have said they were inspired by ‘90s pop videos, and this definitely comes through – though updated with all the fun and none of the daggy-ness. It’s a pure and confident statement of intent from a band who seem to have a huge year ahead.

Pillow Pro are playing at Rack Off in Melbourne on March 4th. That’s DEFINITELY where I’d be if I didn’t have to be somewhere else.

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LISTEN: RVG – A Quality of Mercy LP

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RVG

Image by Louis Oliver Roach

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 launch A Quality of Mercy at the Tote on 3 March w Scott & Charlene’s Wedding and Girl Crazy.

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