This was the weekend that Hugo Race and Kim Salmon played separate shows in Adelaide on successive nights. At first glance, there might seem little to compare the two. But there’s plenty.
Both guitarists, both swimming against the stream writing songs which are, essentially, written as much for the ages as us. Both Hugo and Kim are touring professionals who love playing live, giving to a crowd.
Arguably, both also make the kind of music which seems to endlessly slip between the cracks in a modern world so devoted to novelty (rather than a trend) and the appearance of substance or significance, as opposed to any depth or meaning.
Kim Salmon - Mandy Tzaras photo
"All Bets.." is The Coolites’ first disc, a five-track EP, and "Caravan Park Summer" is their debut CD. Four-and-a-half bottles each. And I was reluctant to score so high, but … you’ll see.
Put simply, The Coolites have discovered a delightful, poppy rock niche. And it’s very well done indeed. They’ve got harmonies, tunes, structures, chord progressions and everything that goes into a good song.
And all their songs are very good, and if today were 1985 I reckon they’d be signed already and with at least two singles in the charts. Certainly this one. Watch it. There’s a couple more; find ‘em.
The Coolites' CDs are a cut above the usual cd package, evocative, somewhat nostalgic for an apparently more innocent time … yet there’s a layer of tinfoil or something in there which prevents them being a 'happy' band (but they're not unhappy, y'know). The Coolites’ celebration of Australia past (metaphorically Australia’s present, I spose) is first, dancing shoes time (and perfect driving through traffic music, tho the car will return with one or two minor dings and scrapes through trifling inattention) and second, a sort of nudge at what we are now as well as what we had then. In between, as I said, dancing.
(Just as a by the by, d’you remember the era when one job bought your house, a car, a telly, 2.5 kids and a bar-b-cue and/or roast on the weekend and kept your partner busy? And when bank managers were pillars of the community and teachers and salespeople obvious failures at life?)
The Coolites’ lyrics make sense, there’s an immediate pull of recognition and identification. I’d like to see what they’re like live, because a sweaty rock’n’roll night in Australia is a unique thing… Their Facebook site makes it clear where their souls lie, and there's a Sydney surfin thing going on there too.
Which is partly why I’ve scored it a reluctant 4.5. They make me grumpy. Maybe that’s just me, cos these CDs are the business.
Now look. I’m sure I’ll get letters about this, but it seems to me that people born overseas who then migrate either embrace their new country like disciples to the Chosen One, or long for the Auld Country to the point of stupidity (yet never leaving), or have their emotive feet stuck in two countries. So The Coolites’ warm but intelligent embrace of all things Australian is, for me, a rather dissonant thing.
No, I’d never, ever return to the country I was born in (the UK), by God they’ve made a shocking mess of the place. Vile. But this country, overall, is pretty fucking horrible too. And there are some fairly unpleasant individuals running the joint.
To take one example: almost everyone has had a whinge about the weather these last couple of weeks. Where I am, Adelaide, we’re fine, because it never really lasted more than a few days, and wasn’t surrounded by 35C days for months at a stretch - for us, this and the last few summers, have been pretty acceptable. Australia is great in winter. If you don’t get flooded. Winter is the only time eucalypts are acceptable to me. Can’t stand the bush. And the fucking flies and fucking mosquitos. Jesus. And how people leap out of bed in the morning of yet another 35C day, declare themselves ‘energised’ by the stifling, morbid, deadening heat I cannot imagine. Then there's this passion to hurl themselves beachwards at the slightest sign of real heat, even more so on 40C plus days … this is just weird. And it’s not as if we’ve never heard of melanoma; isn’t that a town just out of Darwin? If I go out on an overcast 24C day for more than 15 minutes I’ll change colour and just shrivel up. Patrick White said it best, ‘This country hates people’ (I’m paraphrasing).
I could go on but I won’t (looking back at Australia’s 20C history is often bleak and an exercise in wilful ignorance, bastardry and troughing. If one bloke rorts and gets found out, that’s permission for everyone to join in. Don’t get me started on those manly games involving balls. Thug gang culture.) but I really cannot abide the place.
Then again. Maybe The Coolites have a point.
After all, where is better? Certainly not the USA, a country whose ignorance and myopia we've been lionising since the 70s. Certainly not China, who we seem to be snuffling towards like gormless puppies.
Bah. The Coolites. Get ‘em, you’ll love ‘em. They’ve managed to annoy me on a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon, in between jigging around the room in a grouchy old swine sort of way. - Robert Brokenmouth
Looking back doesn’t have to be awkward as The Coolites demonstrate on their “Caravan Park Summers” album and “All Bets Are Off” EP. Their music is clever, winsome rock-pop and very Australian.
This Sydney band is the brainchild of drummer/multi-instrumentalist Simon Gibson who did the rounds with a slew of bands in the ’90s (Sneeze, Modern Giant, the Aerial Maps and Lazy Susan) and wrote these songs while teaching in an international school in Vietnam for seven years. So he was not just looking back but gazing from afar, with al the clarity that distance affords.
It takes a lot to entrust someone else to sing your songs and Gibson gives that role to part-time TV presenter Peter Colquhoun on “Caravan Park Summers”, and parts of “All Bets Are Off” where other bandmates like guitarist Mark Hyland and bassist Danny Yau chime in. Familiar names like Matt Galvin (guitar), Tim Byron (keys) and Stewart Cahn (guitar) are part of the collective.
These are pop songs with some obvious reference points - REM, the Sunnyboys, Go-Betweens, amped-down Midnight Oil and the Hummingbirds. The music carries a strong whiff of salty surf spray - which is very appropriate when the band’s name comes from the stuff they used to make kids surfboards from in Australia in the 1970s.
“Caravan Park Summers” starts strongly with “Growing Up In Australia” which name-checks a couple of dozen iconic Aussie cultural events in the space of its two-and-a-bit minutes. “When Strummer Was Alive” and “Just Kids” respectively draw on the late Clash frontman and Patti Smith’s book for lyrical inspiration.
“I Hope It’s Not Too Late” is a cool rocker with sobering twang and “Past Midnight” a darker surf tune. “Wingman” is as clever as all get-out with its reflection on an under-dressed and financially fraught night in a club full of models.
Peter Colquhoun’s weathered vocal is limited in its delivery but that’s not a game-breaker - the dichotomy of sometimes sunny songs paired with dour vocals is interesting in itself - but he needs a bit more light and shade in the arrangements over a whole album. Jade Tran's occasional spot on backing vocals bears this out.
Being an EP, “All Bets Are Off” brings the same elements together in one place and is slightly stronger for that. “That Is Punk” is a pop song imploring you to listen to what’s good, not what you’re told to. “Truth, Freedom and Rock ’n’ Roll” is uplifting, altruistic and a little cynical all in the space of three minutes.
The title track has Colquhon sounding like Peter Garrett singing a clever punk song. Mark Hyland takes the mic for the contrasting “Not Even Sure”, a a co-write with Gibson that sounds a little out of place while still making sense. Adam Yau’s nervy vocal and a keyboard wash sweeps “Thank God You’re An Atheist” along and it’s another song brimful of smarts.
This will be especially compelling if you spent your youth in places like Hotel Bondi, Cronulla Workers or Sydney Cove Tavern. Check it out on Bandcamp where you can listen, download or order physical product to your heart's content. - The Barman
1/2 - Caravan Park Summers
- All Bets Are Off
The Coolites on Facebook