Angie’s 2013 solo record Turning was one of the first things I wrote about for this site, and her 2017 piano album Shyness is one of my favourite Australian albums of all time. So my first hearing of The Underling’s first single, ‘Blood on My Eyes’ with its ROCK beat and its simple riff, took a little change of expectations. But maybe this was on purpose – a classic rock song to throw off all the nerds that just wanted more fancy piano. Because there’s nothing simplistic about the rest of The Underling.
The Underling illustrates the total uselessness of genres, the way Angie’s refusal to be restrained. Sometimes it’s a heavy sounding noise record, vocals are dredged up, with effort, from under layers of guitar and effects. Then ‘Your Style’ has a rhythm guitar like The Go-Betweens or something, totally out of place and easy breezy but still somehow it works. ‘Your Style’ is followed by ‘A Century of All This’; the biggest downer of the record, with its droning guitars and droning vocals and noise like a plane taking off.
You hear a song like ‘A Century of All This’, and you think there’s no way this is gonna turn into something easy or fun. But while The Underling sounds like a struggle a lot of the time, sometimes it’sounds like victory, like on ‘This House (Athens Reprise)’, a reprise of the track of the same name from Shyness. Where it once was a haunting piano ballad, a quiet statement of defiance, on the reprise the power of a full band is let loose and becomes less about desperately trying to ‘move on’ on more like fighting words; ‘gotta get it, before it gets to me’.
More in feeling than sound, The Underling seems to reference back to some of the stuff from Turning (which is, somehow, 6 years old now) but with all the growth and experimentation that’s happened in the period clearly audible. With her uncompromising attitude and classic rock sense with a noisy, experimental edge, Angie makes guitar rock seem like something worthwhile to invest time in, rather than just background noise to a night out. Something worth loving. And, at least when she’s doing it, it definitely is.
Brisbane forever favourites Bent may have stopped playing a couple of years ago, but singer and multi-instrumentalist Heidi Cutlack has given us plenty of good music since then. Her solo project Scaredy Snake was breathy, stripped back pop, and now, with bassist Phoebe BMX (from Come Die In Queensland, who released a truly terrifying tape early this year) and Matt Kennedy (from Kitchen’s Floor, of ‘pissing people off at The Sydney Opera House’) on drums, Brick Brick is Cutlack moving away from cuteness or naivety into something more disillusioned, heavier and ah, more rock.
Cutlack might be channelling a bit of Kennedy’s downer-than-you lyricism in the opening track’s drawled, ‘everyone is boooooooored / everyone is saaaaaaaaaaaaad’, but then, that song’s called ‘Sooky’ so you know it’s more tongue-in-cheek than that. ‘Sooky’ is that belligerent brat we can all be, grumpy for no reason, picking fights with whoever, and it’s making no apologies – a ratbag song and a fun listen.
Cutlack’s voice on this EP is strong and expressive – pouting then powerful, sinister on ‘Fill Me Up’, then plaintive and desperate on ‘Houseshow Song’. ‘Houseshow Song’ is chaotic and catchy – one you could imagine shaking some floorboards and inviting noise complaints. Anyone coming to this record looking for Bent’s wonky pop savant won’t find it, but there’s plenty to like in this collaboration of Cutlack’s bare-bones poetry with BMX and Kennedy’s tough-as rhythm section. The bass especially fills up all the cracks with a deep kind of muck. Combine that with the thick, uncomfortable, production, Chip 4 Chip is the kind of tape that makes me pine for Brisbane.
From the first golden second of Love Songs & Poetry, I’m blissfully drowning in sweet melancholy, nostalgia, romance. I put it on in the background at work but it’s too beautiful to focus on anything else. Esther Edquist’s voice is so rich it’s rude. Like how dare someone sound so good when they’re saying ‘I don’t wanna be your girlfriend / I just want someone to hold you / give you all the love I told you you deserve’. Oof. That’s from the very first track, ‘Girlfriend’, and while that song hints at an irony in the EP’s title (also see: ‘some of us are made for coupling and suffering / but that girl ain’t me’), these are definitely love songs. More in how they feel than what they say – the way they build and shimmer and fill up your whole heart. The goddamn strings. The low-key intricately lovely base and guitar. Fucked me up.
Love Songs & Poetry is Edquist’s first release on Chapter Music, and it’s a perfect fit for their clever Aussie pop vibe. I loved O.K. Permanent Wave, that moody, intimate LP Sweet Whirl put out in 2016, but this release is so good in such a different way. Can’t believe I put off listening to it for a few days cuz I thought the first single ‘Strange News’ was a little too cute at first. I was wrong! It’s a gently swinging country-tinged gem, looking up under its eyelashes asking for a kiss, while warning you all the reasons you shouldn’t give in; ‘I’m not the kind you should be taking home / drunk and lingering’. That’s a trend across lyrics on this EP; they’re resigned, knowing, sometimes cynical, warning you to keep your eyes open the whole time the music is begging you to just let go. The music wins every time.
These are six songs for people who wish that Sharon Van Etten had could have resisted the synth a bit longer (… even if they’re still insisting they love the new direction). It’s emotionally generous; Edquist gives us plenty of material to get to know her, to relate to her hopes and mistakes. Final track ‘Rubber Heart’ is a perfect evocation of that ‘oh no, I’ve kissed every single person in this town’ feeling, ‘each ghost has a street name, each corner a voice I once knew’. It’s a movin’ on song, skipping along, shaking off the cold water ready to start again. Edquist, like the rest of us, is unable to resist the pull of another big, messy splash.
Melbourne’s Lucy Roleff returns with another taste from her forthcoming album, Left Open in a Room, following on from whimsical lead single, ‘A Woman’s Worth’.
Roleff’s enduring, folk-leaning music draws comparisons with understated artists such as Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake. Its ageless beauty is imbued with a sense of history despite its current context, even Roleff herself at times appearing to have emerged from some mystical time capsule. This is not to say the music is in any way passé, more so that it is impervious to the fleeting (and ultimately forgettable) tendencies of some contemporary music
The songwriting on the new album is refined and confident, exposing a vulnerability in the lyrics, adding to her already rich musical universe. Latest single, ‘Sometimes Do’, exemplifies this vulnerability; a delicate harp arpeggio cradling Roleff’s exquisitely elegant vocals that appear suspended atop the sparse, pin-drop arrangements.
Left Open in a Room is due out May 15 on Lost & Lonesome, Little Lake Records (au) and Oscarson Records (eu). If you’re in Melbourne, you can catch Lucy launching the album on May 26th at Eastmint, Northcote with supports from Mindy Meng Wang & Genevieve Fry, and Pascal Babare & Band. Full event details here.
‘Body Crush is Tasmanian solo artist Slumber’s first release; a collection of 2 years’ worth of work, made up of snippets, found sounds, and drowsily beautiful vocals from Tasmania’s Amber Perez. Perez also plays guitar in ferocious Hobart pop punk band Slag Queens, but with Slumber she’s turned her attention inward, making, in her words ‘dank sadgirl bops’ (and you’ll find no better description).
This EP came to me kind of like a balm against that constant low-level anxiety that we’re all getting, if not used to, bored of. Do you ever feel like there’s so much fucken blah blah everybody talking constantly out there that you struggle to even listen to music with lyrics in it? You’re like, oh god, please shut the fuck up? I do. But this EP is like restorative good company, like an afternoon spritz, like a friend who’s just as happy to spend the afternoon watching Seinfeld as talking deep stuff.
Dealing abstractly with ideas of romance with the self and others, the takeaway from these songs seems to be a kind of inner peace that comes from looking back at the past with a kind of forgiveness. With the inevitable backslide into wistful regret in ‘let u go’, a pretty highlight that brings glitches, birdsong and mumbled vocals together for a deep wallowing sigh. It’s the quiet acceptance in lines like ‘we are both the seas that we drown in / we are both our only way out’ that makes this EP more than breezy listening bleep bloops and more like a real document of progress and growth.
‘sick dank track #5’ is just what it says… kinda. An optimistic dance song to bring on the dawn ‘I’m getting better at being good to myself / I think I’m almost ready to let things work out’, Perez sings with a half-smile, multi-tracked vocals bringing the sense of euphoria to the only song I wanna hear if I ever go to the club again.
Listen to, or even buy (!) Body Crush on Bandcamp.
Here we are in 2019, but before we can fully embrace the new year in all good conscience, we must first look back at this little gem from late last year, that somehow slipped under our radars.
Alex Badham has been a staple of the Melbourne music scene for a number of years, as the banjo-wielding frontman of freak popsters Aleks and the Ramps, and more recently as one half of sultry dream-pop duo Magic Hands, with the ever-talented Lucy Roleff.
Alex returns under his new solo guise, Victory Lap, a project that finds him further honing his pop tendencies into perfectly formed nuggets of lo-fi indie goodness. Following on from lead single ‘The Afterlife’, the new single ‘I knew that I’d regret it but I did it anyway’ has a similarly playful feel with its slinky bass line and infectious groove providing the counterpoint to Badham’s endearing deadpan vocal delivery.
At first glance, the cleverly edited clip could pass for some corporate video cliché, stitching together an innocuous collection of stock video footage…that is, until the digital ghosts start to creep in. There is something unnerving about the seemingly random jumble of footage. A feeling further heightened by the subtle warping of the images, leaving you questioning what it is you’re actually watching. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, the song collapses into a psychedelic guitar breakdown as the ghosts take control and the video boils over in a melting overload of digital disruption.
If the first two singles are anything to go by, Victory Lap’s forthcoming album, Bleakend at Blernie’s is one to keep an eye out for in 2019.
Shrimpwitch are the kind of band I wish I’d found when I was a teen – maybe it wouldn’t have taken me till I was 25 to start playing music. Cuz I don’t remember seeing girls be weird and funny like this, you know, not singing beautifully from behind the piano. These are the kind of heroes we need – ones fighting for a girl’s right to be messy and gross.
Their sound is extremely classic – rock and roll like the ’80s American bands who toured non-stop for twenty years; crusty, street smart, been-there-done-that-fucked-it-off. Surf rock guitar that went for a rollaround in the gutter. But with a thoroughly modern sense of humour, and outrage.
‘Leerers’ is a statement of personal fury that’s relatable to plenty of women, without preaching to the choir. ‘Mystique’ captures the specific kind of madness that comes from trying to maintain a cool and mysterious persona to keep ‘em all interested when you’re actually a leaking sack of blood and tears. They’ve also got that hip ‘trashbag, but make it fashion’ aesthetic, as shown in the very fun clip for ‘Digestion’.
Usually I prefer my rock and roll under two minutes, and songs like ‘Trouble’ and ‘Leerers’ deliver on the FUCK YEAH WE’RE PLAYING AS FAST AS WE CAN energy. But longer songs ‘Sever’ and ‘Digestion’ show enough of their more structured song writing skills to make it worth it. I like the messy, live-ish sound of the record in general, but sometimes I wish I could hear the vocals better, only cuz the lyrics that you do pick up are so good.
Considering how much energy and fun they’ve managed to pack into these ten songs, I can only imagine Shrimpwitch absolutely go off live. If you’re in Melbourne they’re playing a launch on January 19. But to paraphrase one hundred Shakira video commenters: COME TO HOBART.
You can buy the tape or digital album for yourself and any young girls you know right now here