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.
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 is available via Temporary Residence now
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.
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.
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.
Reuben Ingall has many faces, somber avant-pop mangler, drone experimentalist, abstract beat maker, jocular mashup artist, and although his oeuvre is far-reaching there are distinct elements that join the dots, one of which is his guitar. His homemade effects can change the sound of his guitar from spacious reverberation to complete audio destruction, the instrument used to generate noise rather than melody and in some cases pushing the sound as far from the original source as possible.
Thread, his latest collection released via Canberra label hellosQuare recordings was recorded between 2015-2018 and spans pastoral acoustic pieces, reminiscent of Richard Youngs’ folk dabbling’s, meditative ambience, and sprawling, barren post-rock. And while Reuben did not set out to make a guitar-based album, in fact he states he “shied away from the guitar as an obvious source”, once he had 3-4 arrangements he was happy with he decided guitar would become the focus for the album.
Field recordings also play an important role, at times sounding like an extension of the guitars organic, earthy tone, other times placing the music in a context that is uniquely Australian. As to his approach, Reuben says “the writing of melodic and harmonic material mostly comes after my initial ideas around a way of recording and arranging and treating a sound.” This concentration on sound is another common element that runs through much of his work, but for those familiar with Ingall’s music you can’t help but expect to hear his melancholy vocals, fortunately the unfolding arrangements need no help keeping the listener engaged.
In addition to the music, Ingall has also created accompanying visuals for two of the pieces, each perfectly capturing the respective mood. The perpetually rolling topography of ‘Sediment’ simulates the vastness of the music, while the dizzying kaleidoscope of ‘Floriade’ mimics the flickering arpeggios. Always true to form the visuals provide another outlet for Ingall’s experimentation, the latter clip composed of footage taken with a phone camera attached to a cordless drill, the YouTube description claiming “no processing, only a dozen edits”.
Thread adds another notch to Ingall’s ever-expanding belt, an artist consistently pushing boundaries and continually innovating.
Setec is the moniker of Sydney-based artist Joshua Gibbs, whose extraordinary new album recently made its way into the world.
Atrial Flutters (or Raise Yr Hand If Yr Afraid), the second full-length for Gibbs, is a warts and all dive into his own anxiety and the turbulent journey that led to the album’s creation. At times the music seems at odds with the candid and personal nature of the lyrics, bursting with utter jubilance but can just as quickly curl up into a tiny ball, each note exposed and vulnerable. The contrast capturing the roller coaster of emotions explored over the course of the album.
The unique way in which Gibbs uses samples in his music is somewhat of a trademark of the Setec sound. Breathing new life into dusty old samples, Gibbs takes unassuming vocal snippets and adds layers of his own voice, building choral arrangements that are nothing short of amazing. So it seems fitting that the theme of this Virtual Mixtape is ‘Found-sound and samples’ in which Gibbs discusses three influential albums from 2005.
Cornelius – Sensuous
The first time I heard Cornelius, it was all in my head. My close friend Alex had described the opening track to Sensuous to me in such detail that it existed before I’d ever listened to it. Usually that would take all the joy out of a song, like someone live-reading a comic strip or when you accidentally set the wrong audio settings on a DVD and spend an hour wondering why there’s a buttery-voiced narrator describing things that are already happening on the screen. (For reference, I eventually found out this was intended for the vision-impaired). But this time was different: there’s a mechanical and exact quality to Keigo Oyamada’s music that easily lends itself to description, and instead of rendering it predictable makes it unexpected, dangerous and exciting.
The opener and title track ‘Sensuous’ ends as one would expect, settling on the major root note of the song plucked on an acoustic guitar – but then it keeps going, with the sound of an acoustic guitar’s low E string being slowly, slowly detuned while the sound swoops left to right. It keeps descending and descending, and you can hear the slack of the steel string slapping against the wood of the neck. It continues until pitch has all but vanished and all we can hear are the raw materials: steel and wood, plastic from a plectrum. This concept was so beautiful to me. I’d heard some music before that could be classed as ‘aleatoric’, but only in a contemporary art sense. Never sewed seamlessly into what was, at its core, a pop song.
It was cheeky but also serious, playful and exacting, and that’s true for the whole record. My personal favourite, ‘Breezin’, blends shimmery synths with staccato drums, a track that should feel busy but actually sounds spacious and vibrant, like a realtor’s description of a studio apartment. It builds with a chorus of clean dry vocals across the stereo spectrum, each cooing a vowel sound and sometimes completing the other’s words. The way Cornelius gives new context to these vocal samples gave me my first ideas in production and drove me to play around with sounds before I’d written any songs. It also led to me letting the songs write themselves around particular samples or vocal snippets, rather than writing long-winded acoustic ballads with too many chords (because I wrote a shitload of those).
Also, the cover art is dope and looks exactly how the music sounds.
The Books – Lost And Safe
I’ll never be able to describe exactly how this particular album made me feel. It remains to this day one of my most listened to records, and I still find myself singing its praises to people thirteen years later. Everything about their approach felt new to me- with time I would find similar artists using similar techniques but none were as influential on me as The Books. Listening back for this article conjures more vivid and colourful memories than I can ever muster on my own.
Lost and Safe was their third album, and at the time their most accessible work. It was still dense with samples and melodic ideas, but now delivered with a patience that let the songs breathe, giving moments to quietness and pauses where they felt natural. The percussion was sparing, dropping in and out of songs like waves; instead of providing the pulse, riding the other sounds and reacting to them. Big and little slices of cello wound around the space, mingling with acoustic guitars, effected voices and chopped samples of spoken-word, converging into something like complete stories.
This music was still calculated and mechanical, but not like Cornelius – there was more room here, a sense of loose improvisation mingling with the meticulous programming. Breakout track ‘Smells Like Content’ was a perfect example: a winding, choppy percussion track looping unpredictably, slowly, underneath a floor of soft bass chords. A salvaged recording of Nick Zammuto’s brother wandering aimlessly in a forest bookends this song. “Balance, repetition, composition, the mirrors”- somewhere between serious poem and silly stream of consciousness: this was a line The Books continued to toe until their breakup several years back.
‘Venice’ is so lovely and whimsical and always makes me smile. We listen to the sounds: a jubilant reporter talking us through a street-painter giving a show of his work, throwing paint on a canvas and the press below, eventually splitting open the canvas to let out twelve pigeons who then fly away. A real special slice of life underpinned by a light, airy soundtrack of rolling basses.
Juana Molina – Tres Cosas
I mean, yeah, I’m missing half the story because I don’t speak the language. And truth be told, I actually never looked up the English translations of the lyrics. The music sounded real summery to me, and I think I just mentally attached images and colours to it in place of understanding the words. Juana was writing such gorgeous, layered music on this album. All the elements comfortably fit together, and the production just felt warm and inviting. Softly plucked guitars underpin each track, but mysterious just-so warbly synths take pride of place. There’s always a sense of the slightly detuned, the not quite but almost pitch of a bending keyboard line.
‘Salvese Quien Pueda’ has such a perfect pop melody that it floors me. It almost reminds me of a nursery rhyme, although the music isn’t childish. Synths gurgle behind this melody giving a sense of warped time. It feels dream-like more than anything, like I’m walking slow-motion in a field of heavy cream.
The ear-splitting frequencies of some of those synths threatens to pull the songs off-course, but they end up integral to the sound of the record- it’s so easy to get comfortable, and then she pulls us out of our reveries and yells in our ears.
The looped nylon-string guitars feel delicate but resonant, and I’d love to know how she recorded them. Seeing her live multiple times further demonstrated that Juana is a real master of her instruments, be they vocal, strung or pressed. I’ve seen her do things with a loop pedal that don’t start with nothing and end up with everything, which is the greatest praise I can afford an artist who works so closely with loops- not everything simply goes from small to large. Things build up and scale back, melodies come and go and are reintroduced as guests at later times.
I love ‘Yo Se Que’ not only for it’s beauty, but also because of that disgusting, jagged synth noise towards the end, rewarding our previous serenity with a new sense of unease. It hurts to listen to but I just love that idea. It’s like she’s saying “Try and fall asleep now, motherfucker”.
Atrial Flutters (or Raise Yr Hand If Yr Afraid) is available now. Check the Setec website for more details.