The Fantastic Sounds of Guitars…Unlimited! – The Hellmenn (Buttercup)

hellmen unlimitedThe 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.

Second Prize in a Beauty Contest - The Dunhill Blues (Outtaspace)

second prizeHow 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.

Stitched Up - Tokyo Beef (self released)

stitched up tokyo beefYou’ll know the sound if you had your head in the game in Sydney after Radio Birdman had left their lasting mark. Two guitars, stand-and-deliver vocals and a good dose of hard rockin’ energy. Tokyo Beef are true to the genre.

Many of us couldn’t get enough of this stuff back in the ‘80s but it’s thin on the ground in today’s Harbour City, which is now a place where the kids would rather get hyped up on hip hop or take a chance on trance. In other news, someone thought they heard some guitar on a mainstream Sydney radio station last week. We don’t need pill testing as much as dill testing, especially when it relates to musical choices. 

But it’s not about the kids. Tokyo Beef are anything but. They’re Dad Rock but they’d be too raw to jag a place on a Day On The Green bill - if they were famous as well as superannuated. Beer gardens are their natural habitat. Or small, grimy stages in dark pub rooms where popular interior decorating trends or good old OH&S concerns have done away with the sticky carpet of days gone by. 

Elysian Fields - The Stinkbugs (Swashbuckling Hobo)

elysian fieldsA tip for young players: If you want to be popular in the mainstream, don’t name your band The Stinkbugs. Call yourselves The Beetles. Or Beatles, even. Putting it bluntly, stinkbugs stink. Even after you’ve squashed them. No good can come from a pungent odour, even if posthumous. 

Don’t ask how this  Brisbane band took on the moniker The Stinkbugs or why they named their third long-player “Elysian Fields”. Of course, they'll never be written up in The Courier Mail or asked onto 4BK for a polite chat. And that album title is a reference to the place in classic Greek mythology where heroes went to die. Is this a case of being overly self-referential or just some high-spirited lads getting getting revenge for being kept in after their Ancient History class? You be the judge.

“Elysian Fields” is 12 tracks of typical Stinkbug goodness: Fuzz guitar, sludge bass, plodding drums and ethereal vocals. A little loose, for sure, but unmistakably the work of a psychedelic power trio from the back-blocks of deepest, darkest Brisbane. If you liked their earlier records, you won’t fall out of love on the strength of this one. 

This is... TROATT and We Want Beer - Troatt (EC Productions)

this is troattA few weeks back, The Barman used the term “avant-garde” to describe a rather unpleasant band from Adelaide.

Got me thinking. Twattypedia reckons “avant-garde” means "people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It may be characterised by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer”.

Which I think is kind of bollocks. This is what the Tate (that's an art museum) (in London) (England) has to say;

The Last Great Ride – Dark Carnival (Bang! Records)

last great ride coverMore like The Lost Great Ride because it's been hard to find in any format, this vinyl re-issue of Dark Carnival’s 1997 studio swansong tells you all you need to know about this Detroit ensemble. Bang! Records have given it a re-master job and restored two tracks that were found on the CD version but omitted from an earlier LP edition.

Dark Carnival was built around vocalist Niagara and guitar god Ron Asheton with a floating cast of players, who were a Who’s Who of the denuded but defiant Michigan punk underground. A direct descendent of Destroy All Monsters, Dark Carnival thanklessly played in and around Detroit for years, even making it to Australia for a lengthy 1991 tour.

Of course, they never got their due accolades. There’s one universal truth that’s harsher than the menu at a homeless shelter in the Cass Corridor in winter and it’s this: Being a Best Kept Secret is great for your cool kid cred but doesn’t buy you more than a cup of shitty Starbucks coffee. Ron (R.I.P.) had to wait for the Stooges revival, and Niagara for her painting career to take off, to make it onto the broader cultural radar. As the Carnies make clear, life really is for sissies but it’s infinitely easier when you can pay the rent.

Tenterhooks – Lost Talk (Spooky/ Lost Talk)

tenterhooksVinyl only. Not just brilliant, “Tenterhooks” has no right to be this fucking good, this exciting, and (granted) if you're anything like me it’s going to be thrashed beyond recognition, and god have mercy upon your neighbours. Such raw gentle, blaring fucking power and construction.

There are very few times when I wish I had a shitload more money than I do have, and this week is one of them, when I wish I could've gone to Portland, Oregon to see off the very talented, wayward but rather lovely Mike Pitts (of Neptune Skyline and the Kent 3), and to Melbourne this Friday to see off Lost Talk. 

After (I believe) 3 years Lost Talk are splitting up, and releasing this vinyl LP as a farewell at their last gig - this Friday night (July 19) at the Cactus Room, Thornbury. (Uh, that's in Victoria. Squidneysiders, book your flights) 

Shake and Bake - Left Lane Cruiser (Alive Natural Sounds)

shake and bakeFort Wayne, Indiana’s favourite blues duo is back and while they’re not making any seismic shifts in their music, it sure sounds good on “Shake and Bake”.

What's here? Ten songs. No fat. Mostly foot stomping punk blues. That giant-sized space cake on the cover sure ain’t gluten-free. Is it studio album 10 or 11? Who cares. The formula works. 

Left Lane Cruiser remains Freddy “Joe” Evans IV (guitar and vocals) and Pete Dio (drums and percussion), the latter on his third straight record, and opening track “Two Dollar Elvis” makes an immediate impact. Dio lays down the time to signal Evans’ stuttering guitar and trademark hoarse ’n’ gritty vocal. 

ZIPPA DEEDOO WHAT IS/WAS THAT/THIS? - Dave Graney & The MistLY (Cockaigne)

ZIPPAThere are more musical and cultural references in the latest Dave Graney album than a shelf-full of fourth year undergraduate sociology theses. Over a baker’s dozen songs, “ZIPPA DEEDOO WHAT IS/WAS THAT/THIS?” - we’ll call it “ZIPPA” for short - is a wander through the backblocks of Graney’s singular musical mind.

It’s self-described “classic rock” but don’t expect Journey or Van Halen to spring out of the speakers. “ZIPPA” is in-the-pocket, pop-rock played by a well-drilled ensemble. Drumming national treasure Clare Moore, consummate bassist Stu Thomas and jazzy guitarist Stuart Perera have been in more trenches together than the cast of “Hogan’s Heroes” and Graney’s respect for stylistic boundaries is on a par with Nancy Pelosi’s affection for Donald’s pipe-dream Wall. 

Opener “Baby I Wish I Could Have been a Better Pop Star” is classic Graney: There’s more piss being taken here than in the bathroom of a highly-paid Macquarie Street urologist, and you don’t have to wait for the results from the lab to know who Dave’s talking about.