Share SUPERKANGS - The Holy Soul (Beast Records)
A vinyl-only look backwards on a very cool French label that also offers a glimpse of the here and now, "Superkangs" is essential listening for fans of the Drones and swampy blues. That's the simplistic story but it doesn't do the band justice, of course. The Holy Soul traverse a lot of ground in their live shows and so it is with this LP.
You could take a band to task for cramming 14 tracks onto a vinyl album, the rule of thumb being that the more songs per side, the less sonically pleasing a black platter will turn out, but there's no discernible issue here. The Holy Soul's made a good fist of reprising their back catalogue of two studio albums and an EP and have book-ended two new tracks into the deal.
"There Is A Place" is one of them and finds the Soul in rock mode, some stinging guitar wending its way through the song. "One More Ride" opens with a chunky bass-line as Trent Marden's imperious vocal creeps in over guitar accents. Throw in some spooky blues harp before the final build and you'll appreciate these guys (and girl) have a grasp of dynamics.
A lot of people liken The Holy Soul to the Scientists. With the benefit of hindsight, that's clearly not the right label. The Soul share a liking for the dark end of the canvas but have a lot more light poking through, plus they don't engage is as much drone.
If you haven't been into the Soul this collection is a good place to start. Then grab the last album. "Psychotic Notions (You, Baby)" resonates like a Velvets track circa "White Light, White Heat." Want psychosis? "Cheer Up, Charlie" fits the bill with rumbling bass and leaky guitars. "I'll Be Back For The Honey" mixes melody with a rolling feel while "This Geography Is Killing Me" captures the band's sense of edgy energy perfectly.
It's an older track, "Sign of The Triangle", that locks into a straight-ahead rock feel more than any other song, before a display of guitar sparks. Clever tracking nestles it next to the more expansive "Dream Last Night."
Required listening that will demand attention and reward.
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DAMN YOU, RA – The Holy Soul (Illustrious Artists/Shock)
Is it any coincidence that two of the best Australian releases of 2009 are from bands ploughing an ill-defined and dark field where swamp blues meets country and gospel? There’s a fine tradition of this stuff stretching back to the years when the Gun Club and the Cramps ruled the local roosts. Kill Devil Hills from Western Australia staked out their claim by embellishing straight-up rock on “Man, You Should Explode”, and now Sydney’s The Holy Soul have done likewise.
The Holy Soul have always been outriders well removed from the garage pack, ever since 2001 when Illustrious /Reverberation spotted them in a shack on the city’s urban fringe and stuck their ‘80s lo-fi sound on CD. This time out, it’s the eclecticism of “Damn You, Ra” that’s its strength.
It’s not that The Holy Soul don’t rock out; they just chose a more circuitous path to end up in the same intense place. “Damn You, Ra” has coherence but also boasts more variety than a bag of mutant licourice all-sorts. There’s a corrupted waltz (“Just Another Day”), an echo of surf (“Nine Pound Hammer”) and dirgey blues (“I’m Spent”) nestling between the rockers, and the album’s book-ended by wheezy accordion on “Working On My Soul” and “Rosetta”.
The Holy Curse don’t mind mingling at musical parties - they back Damo Suzuki on his occasional trips to Australia and a couple of them play behind actress/singer Loene Carmen - and in the same spirit they’re joined by plenty of guests. There’s the aforementioned Ms Carmen, Kym-Louise Barton (The Hazelwoods, Exiles) and Rui Pereira (The Drones .)
The most interesting presence is that of multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney on sax, formerly with Tin Huey and a longtime Tom Waits sideman. It’s a lazy presumption and he’s only on one track, but I can’t help thinking that a Waits influence might have been channeled via him. There’s also a large dose of Bad Seeds and Beefheart here.
Rangy ‘ranga guitarist-vocalist Trent Marden growls with more conviction than an identity parade of priests protesting innocence. Believe him, not them. There's probably no better vocal moment than on “The River”, a stormy, rise- and-fall guitar rumble with an ace piano line. There’s some nice guitar interplay between Marden and co-guitarist Jon Hunter that’s furious rather than fine-lined.
Marden’s songs are terrific and indicative of new confidence. His “I’ll Be Back For the Honey”, “The River” and bassist Sam Worrad’s “Nine Pound Hammer” are the picks. The latter has sea snake guitars crawling up the beach, underpinned by a slinky rhythm.
“That’s All” sounds uncannily like Spencer P Jones and The Cow Penalty – and that’s not a bad thing.
No matter the style, Worrad and drummer Kate Wilson and bassist Sam Worrad nail the songs to the floor like a workshop full of master cabinet-makers crafting coffins.
More dangerous than an early morning walk across the verge of Tiger Woods' driveway. - The Barman
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SIGN OF THE TRIANGLE – The Holy Soul (Reverberation)
Did country rock that’s a trifle unsteady on its feet ever really go away? It might be a mind trick, but it seems that a slightly mixed-up take on the genre has been a fixture in Australia since well before the shitty West Coast sound polluted radio airwaves in the ‘70s, and made people think it had to be clean to be good.
The cowpunk wave of the mid-‘80s married beer to hay bales, silly hats and a backbeat, with bands popping up all over Australia like goldtops in a Mullumbimby paddock. Nothing like a (pre-“Motorbikin’ “) Johnnys to get a fan’s drinkin’ arm working. Today, none do it better than the Dexateens on Estrus with their sometimes restrained but often electrified cowswamp-blues, (or if looking for a rockier/sleazier take, pump for The Hangmen out of L.A.) But I’ll take time here to dip the 10-gallon hat that sits on my two-gallon head in the general direction of Australian exponents like The Holy Soul.
With a liking for derivation but applying an electric blender to their recipe is The Holy Soul, a bunch of Sydney kids who laid down their first recordings in an outer-suburban shed. They cross ‘shambolic’ with ‘intense’ but avoid sounding forced or contrived.
It’s a sound that reels in or repels, with opinion sharply divided on the merits or otherwise of this band live. Can’t speak to that but in the studio there’s little concession to sounding contemporary – which is not a bad thing in these parts. Label honcho Russell Hopkinson reckons the aural impact is Citadel Records circa mid-‘80s. (That sounds like a cue for Reverberation to do a Bamboos retrospective – over to you, Rusty). The songs themselves run the gamut from Gun Club rave ups (“This Geography is Killing Me”, “Sign of the Triangle”) to mournful swamp outpourings (“Never Trust a Friend”, “Mainline”).
There’s an element of soul to The Holy Soul (yep - groan at that pun) and it’s all black or, at best, a murky shade of grey. “Cheer Up Charlie” sounds like the Scientists at the Trade Union Club in 1985 and might just be the best thing here. Until you hear the closer, “Road Master”, that rocks like an unregistered pick-up truck coming to grief on a dirt track riddled with chassis-deep potholes.
“Dead Town” has creeping, funereal rhythms that yield to scarifying slide guitar. “Ain’t Done That For a While” is Tex Deadly and the Dum Dums-styled clattering cowpunk, no more, no less. Poison Ivy’s (early and distinctive) guitar sound is summoned up to god effect on “Mary’s Tainted Lemonade”.
Very convincing, very dark and very alive. Got a feeling these guys will continue their descent into the bowels of hell for a whle yet. It shapes as an interesting journey.- The Barman
LOVE HAS LEFT THE CITY LIMITS - The Holy Soul (Reverberation)
It's an election year in lots of places. Who you'd give your vote as Best New Australian Band will obviously vary, according to what you're into and what you've heard lately, but consider casting it in the direction of The Holy Soul. Digging deep into the dark recesses of Blues, Rock and Country and coming up with a variation entirely their own, these Sydneysiders sound like something special.
It might be fashionable to evoke darkness in music: Pack in five parts angst to the pound, sprinkle on some minor chords, maybe some fucked-up rhythms, and off you go. Bent Blues is all the rage. It's a hell of a lot harder to be convincing in the telling of those tales. The Holy Soul pulled it off with "Jesus Caught the 5.19" on Illustrious Artists' stunning sampler "Playing Favourites", and none of the other four songs on this EP suggest it was a fluke.
That song, the opener, "Dream Last Night" and "Love Has Left These City Limits" are languid, bluesy tracks, just this side of maudlin. In many ways, they recall the Beasts of Bourbon in earlier days, but then again, they sound like something entirely fresh. "Psychotic Notions (You, Baby)" is a Bad Seeds-styled stomper that proves The Holy Souls are blessed with the ability to rock out and express barely-controlled rage. "Wrong End of Town" sounds like a clean Wreckery or The Drones with the white noise and the lights turned down.
Vocalist/guitarist Trent Marden has an arresting voice (and should be worth catching in his occasional shows around Sydney in solo mode). Drummer Owen Penglis is the son of Theo, a former member of The Atlantics (the bloodlines are mentioned only because dad was a lead guitarist). Tim Malfroy's occasional lapsteel gives The Holy Soul a dark country flavour.
The mail is that, for young blokes, The Holy Soul have unashamedly retro record collections that'd do most Bar patrons proud. That's most apparent with the production. Recorded in a shed in Sydney's north-western boondocks, it shares a raw and full sound with a host of the Citadel 1980s bands, in whose company it would sit comfortably.
Take a tip and vote with your heard-earned. This is pretty cool. - The Barman
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