Reviews

Just Your Average Bloke Next Door: Snake Cassette Reviewed

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At a recent Dick Diver show in Sydney, Al Montfort’s on-stage appearance felt like that of a sitcom character as received by a live studio audience. He would smile wryly, and before he had spoken, the crowd would meet him with whoops and hollers. I found it unsettling that an audience could so outwardly and unquestionably enjoy a moment that hadn’t happened yet, but I supposed that was the strength of his charm. If Al Montfort has the ability to turn a crowded room into a canned laugh track as part of Dick Diver, then he has let that slide for his solo tape. On the Snake cassette, there’s very little to laugh along with.

Snake was recorded by Montfort both on his travels in India and on his return home. On it, songs are written around any one of a saxophone, guitar, organ, drum machine or – more unexpectedly – Eastern instruments like the Sarangi and Assamese buffalo horn. The tape sounds very insular (as you’d expect from a bedroom/dorm-room recording), but that feels like a requirement. It explores ideas that would probably be rapidly vetoed by a group, and it’s those undesirable sounding concepts that are so deeply affecting.

Culturally and emotionally, this tape is flooded with loneliness, and Montfort drives at feelings of alienation via two approaches. One is to mindlessly wander over a foreign instrument as a backdrop; the other is to tunelessly narrate wayward thoughts over cheap, conventional instrumentation. There are also meditative moments subtly disguised as drawn out lyrics. It’s a travelers tape, and the feelings of culture shock, confusion and neurotic personal explorations won’t be lost on anyone who has ever walked down a foreign street as the lives of strangers played out unsettlingly.

In looking at these ideas, Snake doesn’t force the point. There are no over-literal stories or blatant musical moments of East-West fusion, just backdrops and vocal snippets left to be read into. He hums “I can’t help you” over the toy tones of a drum machine a few moments before a Sarangi takes over. He repeats the panicked line “What’s he laughing for?” as foreign sounds interject. Later, he mutters “The world is made for two, I don’t think that’s true, but hell I’m glad I found you,” through lazily filled silences. These feelings of re-filed personal philosophies and self-assessment permeate slowly, but always strongly.

Snake leaves me feeling insignificant and unsettled in the same way that I have felt when I’ve travelled and returned to social circles that carried on unaffected. It’s also surprisingly good company. When the tape ticks off abruptly at the end of each side, I find the ensuing silence as affecting as anything that has actually been recorded.

It takes the wind out of my sails when I listen to it in the morning and it leaves me restless when I listen to it at night.

***

Released by Hideotic, the Snake cassette is available through Distort and Repressed.

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Reviews

Primitive Calculators is a very funny band: ‘The World is Fucked’ reviewed

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1) Primitive Calculators do not sound like an angry band. It’s a matter of pure speculation whether they’re maybe angry in their intents or maybe angry in their personal lives, but their new record did not make me angry. It made me laugh. I smile when I listen to Primitive Calculators, and that’s why I enjoy listening to this band.

2) Faced with the prospect of potentially writing about a Primitive Calculators album, my immediate reaction was that I wouldn’t, because Primitive Calculators is a legendary band and their history has been told. Anyone interested in Primitive Calculators, I initially felt, has had decades to figure out why they are good or important or neither of these. But The World is Fucked does not sound like a strange old Melbourne band from the late ‘70s reforming for a laugh, because this record proves that their heritage is very unimportant. This Primitive Calculators record is not evocative of any past, present or future ‘condition’. The Melbourne from which they spawned is gone, and yet here they are. Who cares about that old Melbourne now, modern Primitive Calculators do not live there anymore. Primitive Calculators are just some band.

3) I’ve written that this Primitive Calculators record is not evocative of any past, present or future condition, and yet it is called The World is Fucked. Surely this is a topical punk rock record then. No, it is not topical. The world has always been fucked since the dawn of time, and fucked in different ways depending on your vantage point. You may feel like the world is especially fucked now – and it is – but never has there been a time when the world was not inhabited by people who believed that the world was more fucked than ever before. The world is permanently fucked, then and now.

4) As I’ve written above, Primitive Calculators is a funny band. It’s hard to explain because they are not taking the piss, and nor do you feel like they are very earnest. It’s the extremity of their music which is funny, and the way Stuart Grant enunciates his vocals as if they mean something. I’m not sure they do: none of his lines will strike you as worth hearing for the lessons they may teach or the outlooks they may propagate or the feelings they may evoke. Sometimes when I’m listening to The World Is Fucked I imagine a world where every rock, metal and hardcore vocalist painstakingly enunciates their words so that their lyrical sentiments gain primacy over the music. I feel like Primitive Calculators is a very good noise band because they reveal these lyrical soundbites for what they are. If there’s one thing someone who likes aggressive music might object to in Primitive Calculators, it’s that they can understand every word that Stuart Grant sings. It may annoy them to realise that these lyrics are not profoundly angry or moving, but instead profoundly dumb. Because Primitive Calculators is a strange noise band. They don’t allow you to paper over cracks with your imagination.

5) Why exactly do you listen to the new Primitive Calculators album. I don’t know why I do regularly, because it is not euphonic and nor is it very atmospheric. You don’t put it on in the background, you don’t put it on while you’re cooking tea. You pretty much have to just sit there and listen to it. But if you imagine a young man or woman sitting in their bedroom listening to Primitive Calculators, what kind of person do you imagine. I imagine no one.

6) I like The World is Fucked because it apparently aims for nothing less than an assault. Every part of Primitive Calculators’ music is there because it wants to be as obnoxious and confrontational as possible. Look at the song titles: ‘Dead’, ‘Cunt’, ‘Nothing’. Maybe Primitive Calculators find it hilarious that some people consider their lives meaningless. Maybe it’s funny that people must have meaning. Primitive Calculators feels, to me, like the meaningless of meaningless. They punch people in the face at their weakest. Why question your meaningless. Why not just deal with it, because it’s true and always will be. Your mild daily misery at the state of the world and your inability to solve its problems is either permanently debilitating or very funny. It’s like watching a cat repeatedly leap for a ledge it can never reach, or reading a Kafka novel, or planning for the future.

7)  “Why do I even fucking bother getting out of fucking bed in the morning.” When Stuart Grant sings this line during ‘Why’, it is very funny because it is a rhetorical question. Of course he knows why: because he needs to go to the toilet and he needs to eat, and maybe he needs to go to work too.

8) Why does this music even exist. Why do we submit to music so determined to push us away. Some kinds of difficult rock music require the listener to learn whole new ways of listening. Some music, like extreme forms of punk or metal or noise, are only accessible if you identify something inside that you would like to obtain. But to my ears, Primitive Calculators are ugly and unwelcoming on these terms, impenetrable from every angle, and that’s why they’re a very funny band. Primitive Calculators is a stone you might enjoy trying to bleed for a while, and those who stick around will enjoy the trick that there’s actually nothing inside. It’s just noise and sloganistic fury. That is all. It’s funny.

9) One of the best live shows I’ve ever seen was a Primitive Calculators show. It was gloriously stupid. Stuart Grant swore at someone in the audience. I remember no other specific details, but I went away laughing at the way I and others I know will often try to rationalise everything in our lives, because a friend said “why did you bring me here”, and “why do people listen to that”. “Why does it sound like that”. Why indeed.

10) Primitive Calculators is a very funny band. I’m not sure what they have to say about their music because I’ve never bothered reading any interviews. I actually don’t care what they think. I’m confident that all three are smart people – in fact I know, because they’re the Primitive Calculators – but above all else listening to The World is Fucked just feels like beholding the culmination of so many stupidities. Its bluntness and ugliness only serves to illuminate how empty of perfect logic it, and everything else, is. Yet listening to Primitive Calculators on record is not cathartic. I don’t know what it is.

***

Primitive Calculators’ The World is Fucked is available through Chapter Music.

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Reviews

On The Edge of Sleep: Heinz Riegler and Sleeper reviewed

Heinz 3Pictured: Heinz Riegler

Ambient drone music is usually fixed to a certain location. It focuses on a particular environment and through repeated study brings it to life. The quiet exploration of tones and slow recurring passages do not suggest a movement towards anywhere, and yet, there is limitless potential in what you can imagine when listening to a calm drone record. This music seems purely in service to these ends.

Sleeper’s debut cassette From Beyond is a recording I have used for purely functional purposes for many weeks now. I listen to it while I am reading books. I listen to it while I am sleeping. I listen to it while I am writing. It is not that I’ve missed any meaning or purpose behind this recording, but instead that I have selected to ignore it. Besides, I suspect the artist is on my wave length here.

The reason Sleeper’s cassette is unusual is because it offers a sense of both moving away, and moving towards. Each of the two tracks on this album are punctuated by traditionally structured music which slowly dissipates or ascends. The A Side opens with a sad orchestral passage both nostalgic and yearning, but it’s not long before it frays at its edges and transforms into tired ebbs of tortured sound. It then explores these tired ebbs for over ten minutes, and then fades away.

Sleeper’s songs feel like elongated versions of these opening and closing movements. They’re reminiscent of The Caretaker’s practice of slowing and manipulating old ballroom classics, except here the resulting ghosts are far more distant and far less capable of extending their narratives. Instead, it feels like Sleeper’s drones are a slow drift towards the song itself, and we become so close that we lose our perspective and size in relation to it. Sleeper’s fleeting use of structured song is like a phenomenon inviting an embrace, but when we move towards it it grows into something we can get lost in the arms of. It is beautiful and calming yet also alarming in this respect.

Heinz Riegler’s cassette, also released on A Guide To Saints, is called Sleep Health. Formerly of Brisbane group Not From There, Riegler has collaborated with Mike Cooper and David Toop and now works predominantly as a sound artist. Sleep Health was performed and recorded to encourage the listener to fall asleep. In Riegler’s words, if the listener has failed to fall asleep during the song’s 17 minute duration then he as the artist has failed.

It’s very encouraging when an artist permits you to nap during their ambient drone music, because this type of music always sounds best right at the edge of sleep. Unlike Sleeper, Riegler’s tape is familiar in the way it simply presents an environment of sound and explores its four corners, its heights and its depths for the duration of the piece. You are not encouraged to imagine this as a strange fringe world on the edge of something else, but instead as a new distinct setting. What you imagine then is up to you.

The interesting thing about both cassettes though, is that each encourages calm or rest in a manner which keeps the mind active. It is very difficult not to engage with these albums, like you can disengage from a rock record playing in the background. It may be possible to sleep during Riegler’s piece, but it is difficult not to get caught up in his chiming twilight world and fill it out with visions from your own imagination. And that, I think, is the central appeal of this type of slowly melodious ambient drone music: it invites you into your own interior, even if sometimes you may not notice.

**

Heinz Riegler’s Sleep Health and Sleeper’s From Beyond are available through Room 40 offshoot A Guide To Saints.

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Reviews

Terminal Longings: Primitive Motion’s Worlds Floating By reviewed

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Music is strange when it’s broadcast from a distance and misshapen along the way. Recent anecdotal example: the other day a North Sydney office building hosted a charity sausage sizzle on the sidewalk of one of the business precinct’s busiest streets. The stand had a huge set of speakers blasting chart pop, and from my perch ten stories above, behind heavy-duty plate glass and the dull ambiance of an office, it sounded totally different. Ke$ha’s brash rave arpeggios, blunted by the distance into chime-like celestial shapes, sounded immensely beautiful to me. I’ve no bone to pick with up-close Ke$ha, but far away Ke$ha was a true revelation. It seemed important to me.

Reared on barely listenable AM transmissions in the deepest Central West of New South Wales, this sense of music having travelled long distances is very appealing to me, especially when it sounds like it has picked up cosmic artefacts and refuse along the way. There’s a threshold between actual sonic phenomenon and your own imaginings which pleasingly blurs. Primitive Motion’s debut record sounds exactly like this threshold: it’s full bodied from a melodic and songwriterly point of view, but it makes a science of simulating the eerie pleasure of mishearing.

This is probably what people mean when they describe certain types of pop music as dreamy or heavenly. Both are reasonable enough descriptions, but they also connote shoegaze and all the dreary guitar-with-lite-electro dabblings that came in its wake. There’s also a case to be made for Primitive Motion as an evolutionary leap for hypnagogic pop, itself a reference to the half-dream state which blurs the lines between wakefulness and sleep. This is fine, but it’s important to note Primitive Motion’s uncomplicatedly pop approach. Like that Angel Eyes LP from earlier this year, Worlds Floating By initially sounds like an exercise in building ecstatic textures, but it eventually rewards you with the gratification of song: structures and movement, eventful landings, solid unchanging milestones within the illusory fog.

Primitive Motion’s half heard world seems unique, because it’s not tethered to a sense of remembering. The apparitional vocal samples in Burial sound like distant nightclub emanations from a specific era in UK dance music, and similarly, James Ferraro’s mid-2000s noise albums were like listening to ‘80s sci-fi action flicks from a bunk bed in the next room. These associations are sometimes central to the appeal of these artists, at least from a critical perspective, but with Primitive Motion no such references really exist. Instead, the distance implies an origin that neither time nor location can lay claim to, but nonetheless you see it. You visit there. There’s very distinctly a world inside, but it’s only fleetingly recognisable.

Strangely though, for a gorgeously smeared pop record with all the colours of the rainbow – Casio, flute, humungous vats of reverb and echo, vocals bellowed from the clouds – it’s this implied distance that renders the whole operation obliquely sad. Through conjuring a sense of somewhere else, Primitive Motion glazes your actual lived experience with a sense of lost opportunity. It’s so exceedingly… so preciously beautiful and treasurable (!), that you just about want to give it all in. Here’s an instance – a rare instance – of pop music as heavenly. It transmits from a distance and is immeasurably affecting, because its relationship with the grit and smoke of your lived experience is nil. And yet, you still find tiny traces of yourself in there, usually the parts you feel are fading away, or that you want to protect. The parts life persists in conditioning away. It’s a desire to actually visit some physical version of this world.

And it’s because Worlds Floating By gives you the space to imagine inside. As close as you may be, you need to prick your ears to hear its whole. It guides you calmly but lets you stray. If there’s any record that will compel you to close your laptop and stare into the middle distance for 40 consecutive minutes, this would be it. Seven songs only just coming into focus, beckoning you to peer.

***

Primitive Motion’s Worlds Floating By is available through Bedroom Suck.

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Reviews

I Had No Fun: Division Four’s 1983 Demo Cassette EP reviewed

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On this reissue of Division Four’s 1983 cassette demo, dual bass players, a synth and a flange pedal create murky backings to the sinister thoughts of a Perth band left forgotten for thirty years. It can sound alien to its time and place, but there are landmarks. The vocals are filtered through Perth’s freely-settled colonial voicing, and overtones of forced UK post-punk swagger are ever-present. Every well rounded lyric has a snarl leering around the back of it, and the effect of the record overall is much the same: this is immaculately butchered flesh that’s been minced joylessly and efficiently.

Division Four concern(ed) themselves with timeless aspects of modern society. Over six tracks, the characters who haven’t fled the dying city of Perth 1983 remain to poke fun at the tabloids, stalk ex’s and fuck strangers for smack money. Cops are horrified by the sights of their work; Azaria Chamberlain’s ghost is mocked three years after it was spirited in 1980; a girl closes her eyes and holds out her hand; a man relentlessly searches the streets for who he believes to be his runaway bride; and an underground civilisation clutches for converts from society’s warm touch. It’s perverse.

The record chokes under tailor-made affronts that, from dehumanised relationships to severed clitorises, are fucked up and discomforting. Down-trodden warbles soundtrack the line, “Open your wallet and I’ll open my legs / Fuck me ‘til you’re broke,” while a jaunty synth line dances over the stalker’s anthem ‘I Was Walking’ Elsewhere, jabbing synths and dirty-sink basslines round out a record that envelopes and attacks without ever resorting to something as simple as brutality to get its kicks.

As far as I know, this reissue is all that’s been preserved of Division Four. It’s satisfying in the same way that finding a 20-year old couch within dragging distance of your sharehouse is, but it’s not like it’s a vital or illuminating artifact. I like it because it doesn’t necessarily feel like it came from 1983 or from Perth specifically, and maybe it’s that (alongside its own inherent qualities as a truly disturbed and entertaining record) that justifies its existence as a document.

***

DIvision Four’s 12 inch is available through Smartguy Records. It’s available in Australia through Distort.

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