I was engaged in one of those “list your ten favourite albums without thinking about it too much” things on Facebook the other day and I asked a like minded group of souls to do the same thing, as you do. The surprising , and perhaps concerning, result from this swapping of ideas was, in the most part, there were not many current/contemporary releases in the lists submitted by my chums. I was also a culprit in this regard, which got my thinking about my current listening patterns, and maybe the digital revolution had somehow, altered the way I absorb and remember music. Maybe it’s an age thing? Anyhow that’s another discussion….
The other notable thing was the lack of music from Australia in all of the lists except my own, I had two albums – Night of the Wolverine by Dave Graney ‘n’ The Coral Snakes, and Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express by The Go-Betweens. I considered the lack of Aussie material to be a matter of some concern given the quality of both historic and current music emerging from the other side of the planet that I am aware of. So I set myself the task of exploring some recent music with a view to sharing some of the albums I consider deserve a wider audience.
I’d guess for the unenlightened Aussie “rock” music begins and ends with AC-DC, with the occasional thought for the likes of Men at Work. Midnight Oil and INXS. The more enlightened might have cause to mention The Birthday Party, and consequentially Nick Cave, together with The Go-Betweens, and The Triffids. Beyond that initial list of “well known” bands there is a vast array of exceptional talent in Australia both current and historic. Last years break through of Courtney Barnett, merely scratched the surface of what is, if you do enough work researching what is out there, a very impressive scene. Like the UK the scenes are disparate and different between the big cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Bands like The Holy Soul and singers like Jess Ribiero have been featured on my podcasts but I am lightly dipping my toe into a huge musical stew, there is a lot more out there.
It is no coincidence of course that I have been somewhat engaged with matters Antipodean over the last few months, what with Mr Graney and his band of merry troubadours paying a visit to Salford/Manchester. As is my custom when these things present themselves a detailed examination of the wider Melbourne music scene followed. Which lead to many hours pouring over arcane links between musicians and bands and many pennies spent acquiring material for consumption.
As discussed with the Graney band pre-sound check at the Eagle as couple of weeks back there are direct parallels between Manchester and Melbourne in that they are both music cities. The population of Melbourne is substantially larger than the Greater Manchester conurbation but there are comparative spreads of townships and settlements with their own disparate scenes across the geographies of both city regions, and both have dock land developments. There was mention when Dave was chatting to Marc Riley on Radio 6 the night before that the view was Sydney echoed London, in that it was more corporate, in music terms, whereas Melbourne was more like (Greater) Manchester. There is a real sense of that “underground” “diy” “screw the system” approach in both of the latter cities. It appears from a distance, as unfortunately I have never visited, that Melbourne has a greater variety of choice of venues and that the pub/club scene there is more geared towards breaking new and established musicians, compared to the increasingly worrying trend here of venues closing or “tribute” bands dominating. Maybe it’s the economy, or maybe we need a cultural kick up the backside, but Melbourne seems to be a model of music provision we need to aspire to up here in the North?
So where does this take us?
As I am always in search of new and interesting music, I thought I would explore some of the better releases that I have come across, and starting with Dave Graney, one can map a series of links across to some fascinating music indeed. Although they’ve had albums out for a while, I’ll begin with the band that Dave and Clare Moore play bass and drums in, that being Harry Howard and the NDE. Harry was notably in Crime and the City Solution with his brother the late Rowland S. Howard, and These Immortal Souls. Harry writes a mean tune and his two releases to date are highly recommended for lovers of post-punk styled garage rock. There are some certified bona fide ear worms on both albums and notably, on the 2012 released “Near Death Experience”, the epic closer ‘History is Linear’.
2013’s “Pretty” is jam packed full of great tunes, and builds on the first release to create a memorable listening experience. The music is delivered with a great swagger and deserved confidence. It makes me smile when I listen to it and it has that inspirational rock and roll feel. The unique sound of Edwina Preston’s Acetone Organ gives the music that extra edge which sets it apart from others in this genre. I wait with some anticipation for future recordings from Harry and Co.
Stu Thomas has occupied the bass seat in Dave Graney’s bands since the early 2000’s, as well as that he is a busy man with his own projects, notably The Stu Thomas Paradox which he describes as “voodoo surf”. Stu has formed and fronted many musical units, as well as The Stu Thomas Paradox there are Stu & The Celestials, The Brass Bed, Crumpet and Organism, all of which will need investigating at some point of course. Pending that, the 2010 album “Escape from Algebra”, which features Graney alumni Billy Miller (and I must get around to listening to his stuff) and amply demonstrates Thomas’s excellent song-writing prowess. There’s a joyful playfulness running through all of the music on this release.
Aside from the about Stu has, more recently, released a couple of Lee Hazelwood tribute albums which I haven’t got around to as yet, pending that I would point out his 2007 solo debut which is a more introspective affair than the Paradox work. It’s an acoustic focused set of songs with a series of duets from notable female vocalists – Charlotte Thomas, Clare Moore , Anna Burley (Killjoys), Barb Waters, Amanda Rochford (Gusset Rustlers), Emilie Martin (Luxedo). There are also some notable guest musicians featured Mike Noga (The Drones), Delaney Davidson (Dead Brothers), Chris Hughes (These Immortal Souls, Hugo Race), and Lemmi Schwarz (Neon Dorn). Another fine album which I strongly recommend, and a pile of other bands to look into due to the associations. The Gusset Rustlers are intriguing to say the least!
Following the continuity trail, Stu has also played bass with Kim Salmon, in the band The Surrealists. Salmon has been described as as one of the first Australians to “embrace wholeheartedly the emergent punk phenomenon of the mid-to-late 1970s” with The Scientists. He described a later band Beasts of Bourbon as “masters of uncompromising gutbucket blues and hard-edged rock’n’roll”. He has a massive back catalogue which will need some time to absorb, including the need for a retrospective on the excellent Scientists. Pending that notably, the 2010 album “Grand Unifying Theory” from the Surrealists, brings together Salmon’s love of Sun Ra, Miles Davis and Can, in a melange of music described as “polyrhythmic beats, its atonal keys, its heavy funk/punk grooves “. To keep the conceptual continuity of this piece alive, Kim’s vocals were tracked by Dave Graney at the Ponderosa (his home recording studio), and Clare Moore provides backing vocals. Stu Thomas plays bass, and Phil Collings, from the Paradox band, is the drummer. This is the least commercial of this selection of albums, and the most challenging, as Salmon merges free funk, jazz and scabrous rock improv workouts into a curates egg of a collection of material, with the stunning “Predate” standing out. It is sadly short at 23 minutes but packs enough into that time to keep the mind alive and the attention grabbed. On the basis of this album I shall be diving head first into Mr Salmon’s back catalogue with some vigour.
Material from the above will featured in Aural Delights Podcasts 178 and 179, and of course going forward as more emerges.