I was pondering the nature of what genuinely constitutes the avant garde. Encountered live on a good night (they weren't always good) outfits like Joy Division or the New York Dolls, would have had a considerable impact. But they still operated within the confines - sort of - of the rock'n'roll structure.
One wonders what the ordinary punter (ie, not a seeker of bonkers enlightenment) would have made of that extraordinary masterpiece, "Trout Mask Replica" much less "Sketches of Spain". However, here we have two recordings which well and truly fit the term avant garde.
First, to Eric Mingus, a man of considerable talent, who rarely seems to give interviews - probably because he keeps getting asked about his dad, Charlie (if you don't know who I mean, do some digging), which would miss the point: Eric is well and truly an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist and composer.
In case you haven't noticed, trans-global duo Fast Cars kissed their mod past goodbye a long time ago. moving into dreamy shoegaze and pop-psych. On their second full-length album, “Soft – Songs of Love. Distance & Destinations”, the core of Di Levi and Fabian Byrne has staked its claim on folk-pop.
“Soft” leads with the A and B side of the seven-inch single that preceded it. “Real Love?” and the slightly acerbic “Stainless” grow with each listen, reverberating with echoes of Britpop and the faintest strains of the Church. It’s Di Levi’s elegant vocal that’s the distinctive take-out here and that rings true for all 13 songs.
Expect no in-your-face rockers on “Soft”. Fast Cars are aided and abetted by an array of guests in Australia and the UK and there's some quality playing. Melody lines and musical textures abound. On this one, Fast Cars seek to beguile rather than badger.
An unlikely pairing or a reckless act of inspiration? The contrasts on this split LP couldn’t be more obvious, but somehow the partnership works brilliantly.
Fraudband is an Australian duo (drums and guitar) that plays stark and evocative instrumentals, while Donovan’s Brain is a long-running American collective with roots in psychedelic West Coast and paisley pop. This LP, which you can buy on either side of the Pacific, gives each a toehold in the other’s musical market. As is often the way in these digital times, the vinyl comes with a download code for six extra tracks, all of them as good as the 10 LP cuts.
Half the Fraudband contribution comes from a CD release called “Blinkered vision and blurred horizons”, the rest of which ended up on a Bevis Frond split album. The Donovan’s Brain stuff is drawn from a seemingly bottomless well of material, pieced together by leader Ron Sanchez.
It's been three years since Chris Masuak released his “Brujita” album with his rip-roaring rock combo The Viveiro Wave Riders. A bitter-sweet record that was full of melody, hooks and razor-sharp lyrical daggers. Subtle, Chris was not.
With the new album “Address to the Nation”, there's the sense that he and his band have many gigs under their belt since then The Spanish-based Wave Riders are developing into a very tough, street-level rock monster The rhythm section of drummer Juan Martinz El Kara and bassist Abe Coreujo is as tight as a bloke with middle-aged spread putting on his stovepipe jeans for the first time in 30 years.
Opening track “1776” takes no prisoners with its blistering attack and soaring guitars telling you that the valves of the Marshalls are truly lit. That rhythm section is sounding like a semi-trailer on the Hume Expressway. Masuak’s cynical, anarchic approach to a topic like the Trumpian world in which we are living would surely have the Founding Fathers rolling in their graves. In just over three minutes, Masuak and his band nail the mess that the 'Murican empire has become.
The quick version? Fourteen tracks. The cover doesn’t lie. Wall-to-wall guitars. Rocks harder than a Manly ferry on a cross-Sydney Harbour run in a 40-knot gale. The long version? Read on…
“The Fantastic Sounds of” has the blessing of Dave “Spliff” Hopkins, their mercurial guitarist, and frontman Ben Brown, whose stellar “surfing dead” artwork has not only adorned their past and present releases but those of Massappeal, Red Kross and Bored! They were the core of the band. Hopkins now lives in WEstern Australia and plays in Purple Urchin, while Brown is still a stellar artist.
The Hellmenn sprang from the loins of the Sydney musical underground in the halcyon late ‘80s, rolling out a long-player and numerous EPs and singles until grunge, random breath testing, poker machines and venue licensing red tape sucked the marrow out of the local live scene in the early ‘90s. The Hellmenn were proud products of the city’s Northern Beaches - the place that spawned Midnight Oil, Asteroid B612, the Celibate Rifles, to name some notables. There were many more.
How great are back-stories? Music on a record should always be able to stand up for itself, but the yarns behind it give context and (occasionally) help understand what lies beneath.
The tale behind "Second Prize in a Beauty Contest" is fraught with life. In the band's words, it encompasses "three divorces, one marriage, one baby, one European tour, countless Australian east coast tours, line-up changes (and) a 7” single". The Dunnies' last album (their third) was "Hulacide" in 2012. This one was recorded in two days in Sydney in 2017 and left to sit on the shelf while everybody got on with their lives.
The evidence of its difficult birth is in the music - some of it bitter and forthright. A song title like "That's a Fucking Lie!" doesn't reek of subtlety.