Sunday, 23 October 2016

Small World Experience

One of this year's crucial vinyl reissues is Small World Experience's Shelf-Life, originally a CD from 1994. Jangling discord and ragged garage rock as miniature masterpieces. Its closest contemporary was possibly Neil Young's Sleeps With Angels.

There was a much smarter album, Side Projects, on Chapter in the late 90s - stoned melodic charm, controlled chaos, roughhouse bass riffs and frazzled noise. And then fuck all.

Small World Experience are back and unsurprisingly they're on Tenth Court, Australia's most exciting and interesting label of the past few years. There's one song now and an album in 2017. It sounds like they've picked up where Side Projects left off. So it sounds great.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Heavy Pockets - (Don't Wanna Be) One Of The Boys

(Don't Wanna Be) One Of The Boys is this year's Archie, Marry Me. A huge riff, crashing chords and a tune so big it will last as long as people are listening to pop music. If John Hughes were alive he'd be writing a screenplay just to have this song on the soundtrack.

Heavy Pockets are from New Hampshire but they sound like they're surfing the same wave as Philadelphia bands like Radiator Hospital and Little Big League.

There's an album due, Mopeless. Watch out if you buy this on bandcamp - you only get the one song (I thought I was getting the album). Yeah, it did cost a fiver. So does a pint of beer. I know which one makes me happier. And believe me, I fucking love beer.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Real Numbers - Wordless Wonder

You remember Real Numbers. In the US DIY garage rock scene which peaked around 5 years ago they were pretty much the only band doffing their caps to the Television Personalities. Yeah, most of those Brooklyn bands back then were paying the TVPs their dues, but the Real Numbers were in a different world.

A world of raw minimalism, Messthetics compilations, crash pop and chaos. I loved them and then forgot about them because they stopped making records and other things caught my eye. That's pop music.

What wasn't meant to happen is that Real Numbers are back and they've made their best record. Yes, score-keepers, better than the Tear It In Two/Pinckney St single.

Wordless Wonder isn't that different from Real Numbers' back catalogue, but it's that much better. There's hook-laden powerpop, chugging bass and new wave melodic smarts. There's slapdash pop-art pop. And there's a statement of intent in the first song, Frank Infatuation.

This is surely a celebration of the short-lived label that was home to the 14 Iced Bears and The McTells. The real influence - there's no escaping this, possibly because of the singer's adolescent adenoidal whine - is the Television Personalities.

How else do you explain a song called This Happy Sadness (surely a nod to the TVPs' This Angry Silence)? And Public Domain sounds like a close relative of the TVPs' King and Country.

I'm not complaining. The TVPs are one of my favourite ever bands. And Wordless Wonder has enough invention, vitality and immediate pop to be one of my favourite albums of 2016.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Unity Floors - Life Admin

This is more like it. Life Admin is Unity Floors getting closer to making an album that's end to end as strong, gutsy and brutally tuneful as their Womens Golf ep.

If their debut Exotic Goldfish Blues was too much too soon - they didn't quite have the songs for a whole album - then Life Admin is a band throwing everything they've got and daring you not to like it.

I love it. They open with Moving To Melbourne - we've always known that's these Sydneysiders' spiritual home - then they inject the slacker rock (are people still calling it dolewave?) with fresh pop and raw rock'n'roll.

This record is as much emphatic noise from the classic USA underground as it is Melbourne, though. Check the Sonic Youth style art rock in Cost Of Living and the furious Dinosaur Jr riff in Such A Star.

I can't let this post pass without mentioning that the title track has the year's worst lyrical pun in "I've been swimming in the river of denial". No small achievement if you've paid attention to The Goon Sax.

But this is Unity Floors freer and more confident. It suits them. They sound great.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Grant and I by Robert Forster

"I woke the morning after his death with him telling me two things. The first was that I must put to paper everything that had happened to us, write our adventures down, which was the moment this book was born."
The book's title is slightly misleading. It's as much a Robert Forster autobiography than it is a Go-Betweens biography.

This bias, though, isn't born of vanity. Yes, Forster has never projected any lack of self-confidence (exhibit A: I Love Myself and I Always Have from last year's Songs To Play) but in this book we learn that "Grant was emotionally constrained and had to be approached respectfully."

Forster approaches Grant's life respectfully, and with great admiration for his talents. If you're familiar with Forster's music journalism, you'll know how he measures his subjects with a musician's respect and a fan's heart. He does the same with his songwriting partner.

Forster was in a relationship with McLennan for almost 30 years: "We created the most romantic thing two heterosexual men can, a pop group." He makes many acute insights and observations about McLennan as a person - his music, relationships with women and his family, his lifestyle - with a gently wise understanding that only his closest friend can.

Grant and I is a much better Go-Betweens biography than David Nichols' book. Nichols, perhaps as an Australian or an author in Australia without the means in a pre-internet age to properly explore the band's time in London, devotes much of his book to The Go-Betweens' very early years.

This shortcoming left a 5-year hole, 1982-7, in the biography. Grant and I covers these years - all years, in fact - with a critic's eye and an insider's perspective. No matter the tumult, Forster is a steady hand on the tiller.

Even so, Forster offers a much more intriguing historical view than Nichols' sociological leanings. You want to know what 1984 was like? It was a "sunglasses-after-dark kinda scene...A time when you didn't consider one consequence of your deeds, a time so unusual Dylan was making bad albums."

There's - predictably, thrillingly - no modesty in declaring any Go-Betweens songs classics. Equally, he's candid about the band's studio failures and why they never crossed over to the big time.

Grant and I is an incredibly easy, enjoyable read. This is largely down to Forster's spry prose which can sparkle with luminous wit. After breaking up with Lindy he realises that he's 29, at his physical peak and single in London: "rock'n'roll ambitions had me thin, and swivel-hipped dangerous."

All that remains is the casting for the biopic.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Chook Race - Around the House

Four years ago Chook Race announced themselves with Pop Song, where pop song meant scrawny garage, trebly jangle and tribal tub thumping. I was hooked.

Around the House has more conventional pop songs than last year's About Time album, where conventional means brighter tunes, more harmonies and slightly higher production values. It's a better album for all that.

There's very little polish because this is is still a Melbourne album. So Sun in Eyes is luminous slacker rock with a sharp eye for detail, like Scott & Charlene's Wedding. And Lost the Ghost is a relative of Dick Diver's Interstate Forever, compulsive longing compressed into a pop song.

Around the House is on the always reliable Tenth Court in Australia and the USA's Trouble In Mind, who have also scooped the mighty Dick Diver and Beef Jerk for the Australian wing of their roster. Great company for an undeniably great record.

The Tyde - Darren 4

You know how a new record can trigger a connection that makes you dig out an old record by a different band you haven't thought about in years? Well, the last thing I expected to remind me about The Tyde was a new record by The Tyde themselves.

But here we are, 10 years after Three's Co., and time has barely changed The Tyde's footprint which starts with Dylan's Positively 4th Street and ends with Felt's Poem of the River. These songs are - predictably, comfortingly, brilliantly - romantically introvert and hauntingly melancholic.

Like their contemporaries the Pernice Brothers, The Tyde pretty much do one thing. Sometimes they do that thing better than other times. Darren 4 is absolutely one of the better times. They're wise enough to know that if it ain't broke there's no point trying to mix it.