Burnt Trees in The Snow – Fraudband and Donovan’s Brain (Kasumuen/Career)
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.
Who makes the calls in Fraudband is shrouded in mystery as the members like to keep a low profile, and their sound is idiosyncratic and immediate. The band cites Sonic Youth and there are some parallels in song structure, but to these ears they only operate in a vaguely similar de-tuned sonic space. There’s a distinct early Velvets or pre-commercially successful Triffids vibe about the LP songs, recorded live in a basic studio in an afternoon. Throw in a slight Television nuance – especially to the way Don’s drumming makes maximum use of the kit – and some Dirty Three spontaneity and you’ll get the idea.
The Fraudband guitar sound is drier than a footpath in outer-suburban Melbourne in a rain-less February and burns with similar intensity.
The Brain songs are, as always, diverse. The cast is drawn from all over, with Tom Stevens (Long Ryders), Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman), Scott Sutherland (Model Rockets) and Ric Parnell (Atomic Rooster, Spinal Tap), Bobby Sutcliff (Windbreakers), Kris Hughes (My Girl The River) and Kels Koch joining Ron Sanchez.
Stylistically speaking, the Brain really pushes the boat out there: “Gandy Dancer” sounds positively new wave – almost like a less highly-strung Devo - while “Kelp Whip” would give REM a run for their money. “Hear Me” is one of the warmest things they’ve put to tape, “Flash Containment” is a beefy rocker and “Two Old Cats” slips into a familiar Donovan’s Brain groove, a keyboard line plodding through its innards while vocalists duet in the ozone.
Instrumental bonus track “Snow Trem” is funkier than the soundtrack for a a stumble down 125th Street in a blaxploitation movie and is so removed from previous Brain templates that you might think it’s a different band.
Fraudband’s “You Never Said” sounds like an unreleased Television song (one of the new ones like "Swells" they play live that would be on an album if only they weren’t so lazy.) Some of the cuts run into each other like a film soundtrack - which is not a criticism. The rambunctious stormcloud of “Making Things Better By Making Them Worse” is a show of potential should Fraudband scope out a move into film scores. An enthralling live-in-Japan “Losing It” from a recent tour borders on the improvisational and suggests that Fraudband could follow the Dirty Three into that critical zone of complete acclaim, should they make it to Europe one day.