New Music

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: Yon Yonson – Fermented Fruit

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fermented fruit

The Yonnies return with their new EP, Fermented Fruit, the follow up to the excellent Yes No Sorry from last year and the surprise 2-tracker, ‘Ten Four/Dolphin’.

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.

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LISTEN: Harmony – Double Negative

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double negative

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.

Double Negative is available through Poison City Records now.

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LISTEN: Tangents – New Bodies

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new bodies

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 tour

 

New Bodies is available via Temporary Residence now

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LISTEN: Denton & Russack – ‘I’m Right Here’

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Denton and Russack

Lachlan Denton & Emma Russack continue to mine their collaborative vein on ‘I’m Right Here’, the first single from from new album Keep On Trying, which follows their first record from just a…month or two ago, When It Ends.

Denton is predominantly known for his input to The Ocean Party; a Melbourne pop-rock mainstay that seem to deconstruct slightly in-between releases, each member taking five to pursue other things in life. Denton’s approach to songwriting has consistently carried a sort of generational angst; he often seems emotionally rapt, self-reflective to the point of anxiety. He’ll switch between personal confessionals before projecting outward to call out inter-generational wrongs by those that came before.

Russack too is at times a deeply sombre artist, but life has clearly imbued her with a sort of smirking bemusement about everything; a dry wit that surfaces real heart and tenderness within her music.

Nowhere is either’s softer side more exposed than on ‘I’m Right Here’.

“If you need space I’ll give it to you / If you need me near, well, I’m right here”. Deeply sincere and undramatic, a salve for the weakened, the anxious, on the verge of panic. Unselfish love given as needed. The music; with it’s sparkling guitars and melodic piano lines, energises the warmth of the vocals. Denton and Russack are confident but not forceful, calming yet engaged. Sure, it is vague, but the sentiment of unconditional, purely unselfish support is refreshing.

Keep On Trying is out July 18 on Osborne Again.

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LISTEN: Match Fixer – Rubble

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rubble

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.

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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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