The Presets – ‘The Girl and The Sea’ (mp3)
The phrase ‘Who the bloody hell are they?’ doesn’t exactly apply to The Presets.
The Presets are ubiquitous. But I feel it’s time to reflect. This stinging, funny, and irritatingly smug review in Pitchfork from a few months back was my catalyst. I felt surprisingly wounded after reading it. Dismissing something on the basis of its association with the ‘scene’ is a bit rich coming from Pitchfork. Just as the ‘record’ seems secondary to the ‘label’ bit of the aggressively fashionable Modular, Pitchfork itself is a brand. Oh what a surprise, the solo multi-instrumentalist with the personal mythology has captured your hearts! But should the merit of individual writers be detracted from just because the aggregate sum of their ideas is an occasionally bland consensus made easily digestible for the indie set? Should the work of The Presets be hated because it has been bastardized by a skinny jean wielding majority?
Their name itself suits this analysis. The Presets: neat and inoffensive, so obvious I can’t believe nobody else thought of it earlier. It implies autopilot, not really having to think about anything. Herein lies their marketing strategy: their aesthetic is polished and very exportable. Offering the hipsters from Berlin to misshapes in New York a cosy feeling of familiarity, The Presets are able to ride on this (new) wave of scenesterdom.
The local release of their 2005 album Beams was met with big sales and strong reviews. In hindsight, it’s not a very coherent listen. On one hand there’s a satisfying, suave, OC-included pop gem like ‘Girl and the Sea’. But then we have to endure really tuneless experimental numbers like ‘Worms’ which could get away with seeming gothic-glam in the haze of a seedy indie club, but it kind of makes me squint in the harsh light of day. Hear the good one above, though it’s such a pity I wasn’t somehow able to offer The Presets iconic Tsubi skull t-shirt up for download- our site viewing figures would’ve soared!
But back to the Pitchfork review (not that I care what they think or anything). What it missed was a sense of was what a good gig the boys put on. Julian Hamilton’s liquid robotic vocals ground Kim Moyes’ mild behavioral problems (the violent shoving of unauthorised stage-goers at one memorable show I saw, for example.) But it’s the redemptive power of the clear synths and the booming bass that have captured some sort of zeitgeist. And it has proven just as appealing in the Northern Beaches as the grubby inner-city of Sydney.
To be honest I’m sort of annoyed at myself for feeling the need to undergo this public ritual cleansing of Presets mania. This desperate bid to contextualize is unfairly holding them responsible for everyone else’s reactions.
Just like the bland, dialogue-driven Australian film that has the mandatory wide shots of beautiful landscape and therefore finds itself on the receiving end of all sorts of off-putting noises from an over-enthused Margaret Pomeranz, perhaps we occasionally err on the side of giving new Australian music too much benefit of the doubt. Just cos it happens to tick a few boxes, references the right influences. Then Pitchfork tells us it wasn’t that good in the first place and the backlash begins. Fast-forward and “Skinny jeans” becomes the call-cry of lazy, debilitating self-conscious writers who use it to distance themselves from a sub-culture that’s under attack, as though they’ve never scraped on a pair of drainpipes themselves. Clearly I lost sight of the possibility of conclusion long ago; I guess I’m just insuring myself against the prospect that the bands I’m gushing about on this blog today now will probably be the beneficiary of Pitchfork bile tomorrow.
In a way I am kind of intrigued to hear what The Presets do next and how they handle the burdens of their own success.
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There’s an abundance of folk-inspired music around at the moment, but Melbourne singer-songwriter Clare Bowditch manages to do it a little differently. At their core, her songs are folk, but she layers them with such wonderful instrumentation, courtesy of her backing band The Feeding Set, which includes a couple of well-known Australian indie musicians such as Marty Brown from Art of Fighting & Sodastream, and J. Walker of Machine Translations (although he’s not officially a Feeding Set man).
I wasn’t sold on her when I first heard her tunes, but she soon won me over with her fantastic vocal ability and her wonderful lyrical strength. In the vein of classic songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and even modern-day writers such as Adam Duritz and Ryan Adams, she tells great stories that engage the listener, with just the right amount of Australiana. Clare’s released two albums with The Feeding Set, Autumn Bone and What Was Left (I own the latter of the albums). She’s completely independent, but with the help of government funding, Clare has been able to get her music out to the masses, and do so quite successfully.
It’s been a little while between records – What Was Left came out almost a year ago – so Clare is currently in the alchemy chamber with her band brewing up a new batch of songs. So I thought I’d grab a track from her latest release, an interesting number called ‘Divorcee by 23′.
Clare Bowditch and the Feeding Set – ‘Divorcee by 23′
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Digger and the Pussycats
About 4 years ago blues-infused two piece rock bands become fashionable, especially if they were colour coordinated / good looking. White Stripes were the world leaders while the locally Mess Hall boys got well known. So how to set a band apart from the pack? By having a stand up drummer and touring non stop! Digger and The Pussycats are guitarist Sam and drummer Andy, originally from Melbourne but now based where ever their current tour takes them. I saw these two noisemakers about two years ago at Spectrum in Sydney, they were selling 7 inches they made in Prague, merchandise made in Holland and other worldly things that only a few fortunate bands can casually boast. They were quite a sight; drummer jumping around singing while sharing the mic with guitarist, different from the other duos.
Now I’m not really that into two piece rock bands anymore, they all come to a point where their music hits limitations and then they’d have to either get collaborators involved or try more instrumentation. The White Stripes hit this limit with their last album, trying out more acoustic songwriting with marimbas. I think that was the end of the rock scene’s flirtation with that sub-subgenre. So here’s a song to close that off:
Digger and The Pussycats – ‘Coming To Get You’
Other notable two piece bands in Australia: The Mess Hall, The Whats, Fire Underground
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Sydney based Faker had a troubled start to their music career. Singer Nathan Hudson allegedly fired the entire initial lineup and had difficulty settling on permanent band members. Rumours of being difficult to work with started spreading around, and for a moment it seemed the band was never going to get anywhere. Many people in the music scene were surprised when their debut album Addicted Romantic came out; a strong collection of new tunes and reworked old favourites that showcased a band who’s not only very tight but seemed to show promise of lasting beyond a debut album.
I’ve met Nathan a few times and he’s very likeable and easy to get along to, nothing like what I heard from rumours. On stage he gets pretty wild, I’ve watched him carry songs while hanging off a speaker bar upside down ten meters off the ground without missing a lyric. The first and standout single out of this album is ‘Quarter To Three’, a very Cure inspired tune that was so in time with the rock scene’s obsessions of early 80s dark tinged sound at the time of its release. There are other standout songs in the album, some sounded like they’re written specifically for mainstream rock radio. But this song has that long lasting timeless quality about it that will outlive this album.
Faker – ‘Quarter to Three’
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The first time I saw the band name Karnivool written down, I had serious doubts about them – what decent band would spell their name like that, only a dodgy high school metal act would do that. That was until I heard these guys… and that was it, I was completely blown away!
Karnivool are far from a juvenile metal act, they’re one of this country’s best heavy bands. Their debut EP Persona generated a lot of buzz around their home state of Western Australia, but it wasn’t until ‘Shutterspeed’ hit the airwaves of Triple J, a support slot on the Cog tour and the release of their awesome album Themata that Karnivool took off. They’re a metal band at their core, but they infuse their music with a strong sense of melody, mixed with some mindblowing instrumentation and constantly-shifting time signatures, and what you get is music light years ahead of so many heavy acts. It’s their infectious music and great groove that’s opened them up to a national audience.
The band was still independent when they released Themata, and the past couple of weeks has seen the band ink a deal with the American label Bieler Bros. Records, which means the album’s going to get a release in the States and other countries too. They’re currently trekking around Australia on their Synopsis tour, their final national tour before they hit the studios to record a new album. So I think we’ll grab the track that brought them to national attention – ‘Shutterspeed’.
Karnivool – ‘Shutterspeed’
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I’ve only heard very little about Brisbane based five piece Operator Please. I heard that they formed the band in jest of the coolsie scene bands that were entering a high school band competition. I heard that they were only 16. And I heard that a certain US major label is interested in them. Without seeing them live, I can only assume that they are a five piece version of the Grates, who are also from Brisbane. A few months ago their ping pong song, a very quirky, jumpy, short number, got some plays on Sydney’s tastemaking radio station FBi 94.5fm. I don’t really dig their other songs on their site, some sound a bit half baked but they probably have new ones by now. Operator Please are playing next week in Sydney, so if you’re around and you dig this next tune come and join me at their show in Spectrum next Wednesday 30th September.
Operator Please – ‘Just A Song About Ping Pong‘
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So many of my favourite solo artists go by mysterious chat room style pseudonyms, as though a mere first name and surname would undersell their creativity. I get a real kick out of knowing that beneath the expansive-sounding Caribou, Destroyer, or Melbourne’s Mountains in the Sky, is an incredible musician tinkering away in a bedroom studio. Melbourne’s “Sample tronica” artist Tim Shiel trades under the name Faux Pas, and he released a pretty ace album called Entropy Begins At Home earlier this year.
Success and recognition began at home too, as he’s received lots of support from community radio stations around the country; scoring prestigious Album of the Week accolades at Sydney’s FBi 94.5. Faux Pas will be globetrotting around Europe for the rest of the year though, where I imagine he’ll be scouring the record racks in flea markets to add to the seriously impressive catalogue of noises you can already hear in his music. But although the music of Faux Pas is constructed of painstaking layers, there’s always a thread of sound that anyone would be in to: such as drum and bass, tribal world music, sparkling squelches and the odd simmering glitch or two.
I love the way each tune creates a narrative of sound. This one starts off harmlessly plucky and then blooms into something kind of merry, via a great sample from The Free Design:
Faux Pas – ‘For The Trees’
Also check out this great article from splendid Aussie electro music mag,
Cyclic Defrost, where Tim Shiel shares his insights on music blogs!
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End Of Fashion
End Of Fashion has been remixed by Australia’s foremost proponents of fashion Van She. This reworking of the very radio friendly pop song has stretched its length almost 3 times to 7 minutes.
End Of Fashion got together after two of their members got booted out of The Sleepy Jackson. Their open love of pop music and Beatles-referrencing vocal harmonies easily found them an audience in Australian radio. Frequent MySpace users might also recognise the photo from their long online marketing campaign. Van She came into the scene earlier this year, able to mash disco and pop effortlessly while still simultaneously holding rock music instruments, they made name through both live and DJ-ing gigs.
So what do these two sound like put together? You heard it here first folks, exclusive to Who The Bloody Hell Are They:
End Of Fashion – ‘Oh Yeah’ (Van She Tech Electric Remix)
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‘Post-rock’ has never been a genre that’s taken off in Australia. Despite the fact that stalwarts of the style such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, Sigur Ros and Explosions In The Sky are quite popular here, that influence has never found its way into new bands. Maybe it’s because in Australia, the chance of being a successful band playing to a niche market is remote considering the size of our population and the limited exposure radio gives acts who push songs beyond the standard 3 1/2 minute format, or who don’t have mass appeal.
But like English poet William Cowper once wrote, “variety’s the very spice of life”, and thankfully Melbourne act International Karate are leading the way in the Australian post-rock movement. They were selected by Decoymusic.com as an entrant in their first annual Post Rock challenge.
The band has been around since 1997, and have released two albums: Weapons of Mass Protection (2003) and A Monstor in Soul (2004). With only four members, these guys still manage to create an impressive and formidable wall of sound. Their new album, More Of What We’ve Heard Before Than We’ve Ever Heard Before is due out very soon, and for the first time will include vocals on selected tracks. To get a taste of what’s to come, we’ve got a special live version of ‘The Future’s Not What It Used To Be’ recorded at Flowercut 2005, and the studio version of said song will appear on International Karate’s forthcoming album.
International Karate – ‘The Future’s Not What It Used To Be (live)’ (mp3)
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Theredsunband (yes that’s the official spelling) are a three piece droney rock outfit from Arncliffe, in Sydney. Vocalist Sarah Kelly sings very much like Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, with most of the songs hovering in that hollow, dreamy way. A couple of years ago they released debut album Peapod which bore two singles each reaching high rotation on national youth broadcaster Triple J’s playlists. This got them on the road playing big supports to The Shins and Sonic Youth, and eventually Big Day Out where they won a young songwriter’s grant they are currently using to record their second album.
Much of their appeal rests with Sarah’s indie-girlfriend image, she’s the kind of girl music critic wannabes love to date. Even when she doesn’t do much in her live shows she seems to have a certain magnetic quality that most guys can’t ignore. After repeated listens to the two radio singles, I bought their album last year and was quite disappointed that those two songs were the only upbeat tunes out of the entire collection. The rest of the songs consisted of slow stoner riffs coupled with Sarah’s thin voice that quite frankly I found hard to listen to. Everytime I tried to enjoy the whole album I couldn’t stop myself from skipping to ‘Devil Song’ and ‘Sleep Forever’. Perhaps I need a rather big joint to enjoy this body of work to its fullest extent, but I do hope their second album avoid these moody David Lynchesque numbers that edges slowly to nowhere.
Theredsunband – ‘Sleep Forever’
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