Sunday, 14 August 2011

LOST ANIMAL “demo” Albert's Basement

The pleasure of observing actual careers emerge, grow and change is, to my mind just about the most satisfying thing about being a music fan. Watching a band take those stumbling first steps, seeing them fill with piss and vinegar and really work out what it is they're doing, mature, change, go in new directions, find things out about themselves and apply that to music – hell yeah.
One chap whose stabs at song I've dipped in and out of over some years is Geelong-bred Jarrod Quarrell who has grown over a lengthy period of time into one of the musicians I truly admire in Australia. There truly aren't all that many these days – I used to care about music a lot more than I do now, and I really need it to be great to make an impact. If you're not The Stabs or Batrider, you're going to have to do a lot to impress me at all, and you better not be Alex and The Ramps.
Or you could be Lost Animal.

It was funny, hearing of the demise of St Helen's. I'm not in Melbourne much and I want to make sure I see the right band when I do, so ending up at a some trendy muso party was going to be a risk, but off I went and was lucky enough to be at the debut gig of Beaches. They were pretty damn good but not that fantastic the night I saw them, but there's good stuff in that outfit. I think they've been over-cheered a bit by the Melbourne music Mafia, but that's scarcely their fault; it's just that things that are fine, but not that good, are getting lauded as being brilliant when they aren't but might be, as if potential is all one needs. This is bullshit, your band has to actually get there to worthy of all the shouting, and I worry that some acts will get too hyped and fuck themselves before time (I'm looking at YOU Woollen Kits. Don't listen to anyone, just write some more songs. Don't listen to me either, just keep doing exactly what you're doing and don't think you're shit hot just yet). Beaches are, nevertheless, a fine band who I wish a long career to (and maybe longer than some of the other bands they're in).

The same party night I saw Beaches though, I saw St Helens.

My lord, did I see St Helens.
Now, I was already a fan of The New Season, and indeed, an EP of theirs was my most played release of 2006. The song writing, the lyrics, the delivery – as good as it gets, really. One foot in classic rock, one the truth, The new Season could hit it. I had seen them a hundred years prior, in ancient Hobart days, with a line-up that really only played in Hobart, and liked fine then, but that CD in a cream sleeve was a revelation and a half – I loved it. When I heard of St Helen's I was interested, but seeing them confirmed it - Jarrod Quarrell is a force. I damn near wet myself with excitement and really could not understadn why so much attention was being paid to Beaches when there was this thing to get knocked down and mugged by, but my guess was that they'd be seen before and everyone was thrilled by the fresh thing, so I guess that's okay. You get a pass.

I eventually scored the album and it was all there – the vocals, the breathy masculinity haunts all of Quarrell's work – some music isn't gendered some is, and this is music by a dude, with dude's issues – it's not bogged down in maleness but there's no mistaking the air of sex and loss in the lyrical content. I mean, it ain't Hemingway, but there is a bit of Bukowski hanging around.It was fine stuff and the next thing i knew, that's all she wrote. No band. Done. Okay.

Which, finally leaves me with a demo cassette of songs released by Albert's Basement. Who sent me this and another pile of neat enough stuff that got shunted off to a box while I did an art project that involved travelliung the hinterlands of Tasmania in a truck then going to South East Asia to kind of recover from said proejct, that was hard for a lot of reasons. I'll tell you over a beer. A lot of beer.

This cassette is Jarrod Quarrell solo, under the name Lost Animal, and never has something been better named because this beautiful, surly music does indeed have a pulse and a bit of a defensive snarl, that doesn't want to let you in but just has to, carrying you along on smart, emotional hookd and the dissections of life as it really is I've come to expect from Quarrell.

I do expect the guy to be good these days, yeah. A proven track record is even less of a reason to relax and this is where Lost Animal really does it for me – there was nothing wrong at all with St Helen's. It was great, in fact. And I'm sure the Lost Animal material could have been done just fine in that combination, but that is not what it's about – they had to be this way to get them right, and so, Jarrod just moves on then and there, because it's not the band or my career, it's making the best music you can the right way.

And this crappy demo is just that – the best music made the right way.

I am fairly keen for an album, but I assure you, these songs hit the damn spot.
Get this, get an album, go see the guy. 
I have a feeling it'll be completely fantastic.

Monday, 23 May 2011

THE WIZAR'D Pathways Into Darkness (Barbarian Wrath)

Sometimes it's important that a band is from my home town or that I have some connection to them, and sometimes it's not. Increasingly I just don't have much time for the local Hobart scene, not that I dislike it by any means, it's just a bit hard to keep up with it all, especially when a night out costs so damn much. I pick the things I like to see and hope I gamble correctly. Shitty internet recordings and bad You Tube clips can confuse me far more than they can help, and sometimes I'd rather sit in the front bar of The Brisbane Hotel and talk to someone who isn't an idiot (although that is bloody hard).

Over the last while, something that did pop up on my radar as being pretty good locally has been The Wizar'd. Yes, there is a ridiculous apostrophe there. It's a clue. Most metal bands have a ridiculous umlaut. The Wizar'd aren't most metal bands, at least not Hobart metal Bands. In fact, to my jaded ears, they're probably the best one in town right now, having a good sense of the ridiculous nature of metal whilst being completely into it. Live, they're a hoot. Over the top costumes and pants around ankles in a glorious Carry-On tradition, mixed up with a venomous hatred of just about everyone else in Hobart makes for excellent entertainment. The sound is pretty traditional Doom, referencing all the touchstones – St. Vitus, The Obsessed, Pentagram, Witchfinder General and so on, with a good solid dollop of Evil Satanic Forces and Hatred in the lyrical department, but in an entirely 70s Uk Horror style. You get the feeling they watch more movies than they listen to metal records, which could only be a good thing in the end. There's a bit of punk attitude chucked in as well as a nod towards early glam rock – think the big riffs of T- Rex as opposed to the cartoon twattery of 80s Sunset Strip Lingerie Club shite (I am NEVER going to get that shit. Not even ironically. I could mount an argument that it's not even metal but I'll leave that one for now).
It's all skilfully blended, with the band's great strength being song writing and arrangement – none of them strike me as being particularly great players, but they have a good idea of what they want to sound like and do it very nicely thank you. Fine live band. Nice and hateful,  just the way it should be.  

The recording nearly does the live act justice, but not quite, and while it's a competent job, it's not the same. I've got a bit of trouble with the vast amount of echo on the vocals, which seems a bit overused and un-necessary – the snarling sneer inherent in the live delivery is a bit swamped and I miss it, I gotta say. The songs could have been thicker in sound overall but the clean aspect really brings out the solos which are for the most part pretty fun. What you do get is a good grasp of the song writing and whilst the influences are worn on the sleeve, I'd rather listen to this than a whole lot of Nu Punk, Nu metal or Nu anything. It's good angry music that makes me want to drink beer and tease goths, and that must be a good thing. If you live in Hobart, go see The Wizar'd next chance you get, simply because a good band is a good thing, and buy the album just to hear competent song writing, because it's bloody rare in any genre these days. Don't believe me? Nick off over here and there's a couple of mp3s, although given that it's Doom, and somewaht Bass-y,  they are a bit lame sonically, although you'll certainly get the idea and feel compelled to buy the album.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Monday, 1 November 2010


This isn't really a review, it's just a straight from my head to blog spew. 

I was interested to hear that The Little Ugly Girls, an excellent musical unit I associate with a fertile time in Hobart music, were reforming for a one-off gig at a Punter's Club memorial, what ever the hell that might be – actually to get it out of the way, I think pubs, bands and scenes come and go, and that one can wallow a little too much in nostalgia, but the thing is, this is what I’m about to do, and if I could get to the show the LUGs are playing at, I would, with bells on.

Because Little Ugly Girls were a fine band, and had an excellent combination of a very gifted musician (Sloth) and the intense creative energy of Danny and Linda Johnston. There was also a cast of Bass players - Lauren Moore, Cameron Stopps - cripes, I can't remember. It was during The Grunge Years. The focus always seemed to be on Sloth and Linda, and Danny kind of gets missed out a bit I think; he was never a great guitarist in the traditional sense but he used to really think and his playing in LUGs had a very unique expressionist overtone that was nuanced and textured, whilst also being ferocious. He reminds me now of Gareth Williams from This Heat, in that it he always tried to stretch and re-think what he had, and what he could do with it – and this isn't say that he wasn't a whopping good guitar player in the end, it's just that what really made him special was the applied intellect. His sibling Linda was something else again, and far more of performer than again has ever been given credit for. I recall her being mesmerising and ferocious and vulnerable all at once, the mighty voice roaring out the lines that, as the band developed, were far more like poetry than song lyrics. Indeed, by 1996 the band had abandoned a lot of musical tradition, were thinking hard about how to make music, and seemed at the top of their creative game despite earlier triumphs of songs like Power-full and In Plastic. Those early songs saw a good band being a tight musical unit and write well above average hard rock that was well timed for the grunge era, but a series of ups and downs and intellectual criticisms saw the band develop into – well, something else.

Hobart was a melting pot of ideas at the time, with everything being questioned. Noise was being made to some extent and certainly listened to, vital New Zealand band The Dead C were being consumed to some extent, and this had a discernible effect on a few local musicians; people got very high a lot and drunk the rest of the time. It was destructive and creative and Little Ugly Girls, always an emotional whirlpool, were in great form, making excellent new music and shedding skins. Sloth in particular seemed very concerned with arrangement and shutting up when required - less was a whole lot more and the emotional content, the thesis, of the music, was paramount. The controlled, forceful, and expressive nature of LUGs music remained a potent memory for me, but that was all it was: an exciting memory.

That's why I got excited by the posting of this 1996 tape over on 2001 punk greats :  a live recording even, because the LUGs were a formidable live unit at their peak. In my mind they would explode on stage, the people becoming more - well, to me a great band is defined by being more than the sum of it's parts.

This tape documents a very experimental phase for the band. There are songs but structure is manipulated and stretched into different shapes, the whole thing almost charting a reducing of song form across the tape's course until we are left with the remarkable Boxenhoodahayda, with only Linda singing, invoking childhood rhyme, taking the very idea of a song back to where we all first met it and using the resonance of that moment to invoke a strong and potent emotion of a childhood fractured and lost. Simple and deft, it lets us know what we have just been – a journey through lives bruised. We have been set up for it since the first song and the realisation that this is an inter-connected song cycle, a play in music is potent to me, maybe more than ever it was way back then. 

I have no idea what this music is really about but it has always chilled and saddened me whilst being some of the most purging and honest music I ever encountered. The reach into abstraction revealed much that song form had hidden – listen to The Pit, where it is just the Johnston siblings: a guitar that sounds like a suqalling storm of gulls and Linda screaming into the wind. listen to the controlled detonation at the end of Tractor, the driven rhythm section and mid-air freeze at the end of Slip. There was much of what seemed to pain and anger here, so much hurt that was fashioned by these four people into something unique. Yes, I think LUGs had a lot of personality, and that interaction of complex characters with strong and differing creative ideas produced a fantastic set of songs here.

It's so good to hear all this music again.

It was so long ago, and so far away, and it still makes the necks hair bristle.  

Sunday, 24 October 2010

AN OLD SCAB: Watching The Paradise Motel play Sirens

“I'm here to pick an old scab, I suppose”, I said, in reply to being asked why I had come to see The Fucking Paradise Fucking Motel on a windy Friday in Hobart. The reply to that was that I must be covered in old scabs by now, and I suppose I am. I'm quite happy with that; they may even form some sort of armour by now, though I doubt it. It was a good question though; I have never really liked this band all that much, and I was wondering as well why I'd felt such a complete compulsion to go and see the reconstituted Motel play.

First time around, The Paradise Motel were an incongruity to me, mired as I was in the ragged glory of the creative mess of music that fermented in Hobart in the mid 90s, an odd scene that has been over praised and thrashed too hard at the same time, but nevertheless gave Australia some stalwart musicians, many of whom are still at it, incredibly. Some have done well for themselves, others are bitter messes of people and some have not grown up in the least, and none of it really matters anyway. The Paradise Motel were certainly ambitious, certainly interesting and certainly not like much else that emerged from Hobart; they were not feedback drenched punks or brittle minimalists or sonic bludgeons (work out three all allusions there and you get a prize), they were big, lush sounding and wore suits. My head was so elsewhere I could not have possibly appreciated it at the time, and I think I was wondering if I could now, as the intervening years have forced me to remove my head from my arse a fair fair bit, though not entirely.

I wanted to see if I could like The Paradise Motel now, I think. That could have been it. Or perhaps I just wanted to stand there and judge the fuck out of them. They'd just gotten under way when I strolled into Sirens, threw my money on the table like an arrogant prick (what do I mean 'like'? I AM an arrogant prick), and proceed directly to the bar, where I remained for most of the gig, downing stubbies in the company of two other Hobart stalwarts who would not appreciate being named at all, but had similar opinions to me. One would not shut up and got a good stare from Mireda Sussex, and I was sorely tempted to begin heckling the fuck out of the band, but I let it go; I'll do my heckling from over here these days. It was hard to resist though. I had a good one up my sleeve, about travellers from antique lands.

They played well. 
They are a good band, there's no doubt of that. The strengths of writing and arrangement augment the work of the central vocalist, which has lost none of it's power and indeed, she has probably become better as a musician in the eleven year hiatus since The Motel last convened. When she is on point, the vocal attack is a beam of clear, hard light. It's not a siren song, but a reply to one: tied hard to the mast she is Ulysses begging to be set free, and never being allowed.
Yes, she is a pretty good front person, and the songs allowed her to really be that good front person more than once during the performance, but not always. Sometimes the whole thing got lost, and I wondered if I was listening to songs or an arrangement of indulgent histrionics – I mean good fucking grief, what where those bizarre cockatoo cries Charles Bickford launched into at one point? I nearly pissed myself laughing at that moment, it just seemed ridiculous. It wasn't helped by the general sound either – I know The Paradise Motel have a conceit about playing non-standard venues(one with which I concur, I might add), and they could not have known how bad the sound at the high ceiling at Sirens can be, and there had been some valiant work by the band and crew to compensate, but I have to chastise them for not doing a little more homework – they could have sounded fucking incredible at The Brisbane and totally seduced me, or even gone to The Peacock Theatre for a functioning compromise. I like Siren's ambience, but it's hard to make it work sonically. I think the band were let down here, and I also think they should know better by this stage of the game. Whatever else they are, these people are seasoned performers who rely much on good sound and live production to get to their sweet spot.

Nevertheless, a couple of the songs got me in. I moved away from the bar at one point, needing to be front and centre as, for the only time on the night, the band really took off.
“Oh, this is good” I thought.
It was, really. They were working like bastards. I don't know if I truly liked it or not, but watching people try hard is beautiful in and off itself. The moment where good art struggles for transcendence is the moment we all get it, because we all do this, in our own way; one of the reasons we like things like this is the moment when the music is us, the moments when it is a metaphor for life, be it a struggle, as it is for many for much of their lives, or a moment of bliss and relief.
They were nearly there, you know, but I didn't like the next song so much and it was gone, but that's the point I guess. Moments.

Yes, The Paradise Motel are a good band, I really don't know if I like them and there are some things wrong and I can tell you right now they miss some old members a bit, but that is much a bigger scab to pick there, and it is not really mine to pick anyway. I picked at my scab enough for it to bleed a little and the blood caught the blue light and looked pretty enough, and now I'm wondering about the album, and whether or not I should listen to it, because I wasn't going to at all.
Yes, I think I might want to give a good, in depth listen now, and ask all the other questions about why this band even exists, and why Matt Aulich doesn't have a band of his own, and all that crap.
I may even have to buy the fucking thing.
I doubt very, very much that they'll give me one.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

SUPERSTAR 'Floating Weeds / Double Peace' (Totem Tapes)

It's taking me a while to really feel like I'm ready to write anything about anything just at the moment. It's long been a phenomenon with me that I would take ages getting to know things and keep having to go and sit with them again and again; and more to the point, it was also true that I got sick of things that grabbed me straight away. The more confused I am, the better it generally is, and the more I wonder if I am really enjoying something, the more I probably am. I think it's the the wondering itself, the enquiry into music that makes for the best for me – rich complexities that emerge from even the simplest arrangement of two instruments and their subtle interplay – there may not be all that much going on, but the drift back and forth and the choices made by the players – well, I want to get sucked in and a little lost, particularly by something like this cassette.

Yeah, I am reviewing a particular release here. It's a cassette by Super Star, each side an exploration of folding riffs into magic lanterns of sound.
I think I am writing about this cassette, but it's more likely I'm writing about me listening, some layer of mediation of some sort there. It's a bit difficult because it's so laden with mental imagery for me - i see pictures heaps with this one as I unpeel it's sound - it's the soundtrack for some memory of distant past, but not really. I doubt these people where even alive when I was at school.

The music is making me think of other things than itself and I feel right inside it as a result. It's very float tank – I want to be immersed in it and whilst it is quite sweet and simple, something more complex and maybe sinister has emerged over a fair period of time listening – and maybe I read far too much into these things, but possibly I don't at all, maybe they read these things into me.
It does smack of the hypnagogic worlds hinted at by David Keenan in that there essay in the The Wire, but it could also be some trendy inner city art kids with a bunch of Kraut albums and maybe some Tangerine dream – yeah that is possible. Anything's possible.

The tones intertwine like ivy up the old broken swing in the back garden. Spring is here and I really must do some weeding, cuts some things back, water those little corns that got planted. Each movement of Super Star takes me to a new place around my home. Sometimes it's jarring stuff, slightly grating, sometimes it's a ripple that come together. It's a very small universe that one might find in one's pocket by accident.

I do come back to this cassette. It goes better with wine than it does beer, and just fine with herbal tea and a joint. Except I didn't need one and it's morning.

I have to go to work. I don't want to. I just want to turn the tape over and over and over, getting lost in the island of sound. The forward stepping synth riff on the second side – almost jaunty, certainly lively and celebratory – taps my toe. The little stabs of sound turn into awkward memory and all the pictures of segments of plants – with arrows labelling the inner and outer structures are evoked. Yes, it's music from a film I watched at school way back when. Primitive and excited. A bit like that Raymond Scott stuff maybe.

Maybe. I'm not sure as the images cascade past me; perhaps it's not anything more than the sensation evoked and that shall be that.

I really need to do something about my life and my motivational skills. Things like this, that evoke wet swamp worlds made of blue light and winking mould, do not help me hang onto anything like reality. I think this is a good thing but it may not be, but I can really hardly blame Super Star, can I?

Ltd run of 100 cassettes from Totem Tapes.