Features

2012 in review: artists and Crawlspace editors

CrawlspaceFinal

This is a collection of reflections and lists from Crawlspace editors, as well as a handful of the artists we’ve featured in 2012. Editor Shaun Prescott opens proceedings. Brace yourself.

At the beginning of the year I hated writing about music. I wanted to stop and work full time on a novel, which pretty much signals the end for any writer (unless they manage to complete that novel and it’s okay). The sentiment wasn’t born of dwindling interest in music, but more the brutal logistics of making a worthwhile outlet work. These are the logistics (pageviews / unique hits = revenue) that render a lot of the music we cover on Crawlspace virtually non-existent to outsiders.

For someone whose taste has always been driven by the written word (that’s old-fashioned at best and illogical at worst, I know) it felt like there wasn’t enough writing about Australian groups that would have made me dreamy as a teenager. Things that you read about that make you think, “wow, that sounds incredible and I must track it down,” or “why would anyone listen to that? Help me understand.” Stuff that opens up whole new avenues and ways of listening. If I hadn’t discovered groups like Castings, or Moonmilk, or Naked on the Vague, or Alps, purely by accident upon moving to Sydney in 2005 – where would I be? Crawlspace is largely a response to failed pitches.

The thing is, most of Australia’s best music is often only heard by the people who make it and by their peers. In Sydney, you see the same people at all the good shows. This is healthy enough: that’s a community. Music doesn’t always need to amount to more than that. But in other ways that’s just not good enough. As a believer that reading about music should be about discovery and, sometimes, re-aligning one’s understanding of what they already like, it just made sense to make this website. I also unapologetically believe that 99% of Australia’s music media is ignoring this country’s most important art, instead slavishly covering what the overseas market or the established local “industry” deems fit for consumption. This longstanding habit is an absolute fucking stain on a media that is meant to excite, educate and actually be there when something remarkable is happening just down the road.

Diplomatically speaking, there’s so much to discover, and there are heaps of bands that I wanted Crawlspace to cover in detail this year that never got a run: Collarbones released an incredible record that I greatly admire. Southern Comfort finally released a proper piece of wax. Newcastle’s Grog Pappy label sent us a package we haven’t covered yet (there is something in the works, though). Teen Ax released a great tape that I couldn’t quite articulate the appeal of.

Crawlspace has kinda defined 2012 for me, thus the tiring prologue. Sorry about that. Here’s the business:

  • 2012 has been a year of great songs. Circular Keys’ ‘Eurogrand’, Kitchen’s Floor’s ‘Bitter Defeat’, Nun’s ‘Solvents’, Lower Plenty’s ‘Nullabor’ are all favourites.
  • I feel like Breakdance the Dawn is the strongest LP-oriented label in Australia: their hastily packaged CD-Rs usually communicate one single idea incredibly well. Often they feel like transmissions from a world that is vaguely similar to mine, yet it’s somehow melted, fraught with illogical dream-state segues. Girls Girls Girls and Club Sound Witches both provided highlights.
  • My favourite LP this year was WonderfulsSalty Town, which I still haven’t reviewed, but will. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a record that captures small town loneliness and neurosis quite as effectively – and it’s not even (completely) about that. It’s a tough record to swallow. It’s emotionally challenging and confronting.  A close second is Mental Powers‘ LP.
  • Woollen Kits are a group I’ve maintained total ambivalence towards up until now. I’ve heard the 7s and bought the first LP, but found all astonishingly dull. They wouldn’t let me in. Magically, Four Girls did. Prosaically speaking I think they simply became better songwriters.
  • The best punk rock record of the year is Taco Leg‘s. Many thought my review suggested otherwise. Sorry about that.
  • Fatti Frances’ Sweaty EP is something I think about regularly when I’m not listening to it. It’s so strangely modern in its positioning of love and lust, and whether there should be a versus there.
  • If Australia celebrated new music as tirelessly as it did the old, than Midday Music: Brisbane 2012 is an essential a document as Lethal Weapons and… a bunch of other old compilations that people fawn over.
  • Melodie Nelson’s To The Dollhouse is objectively one of the best records in 2012, but I’m quarantined from all things MN because she’s one of my best friends. So don’t trust me. Listen for yourself. She also made the logo for Crawlspace. Thanks for that.

Anyway, without further ado, over the page is a series of reflections and lists from some of the groups and artists Crawlspace has covered since it launched in August this year, as well as our writers. We humbly thank everyone who participated.

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Reviews

Legendary Hearts – Music From The Elevator (Cassette)

Each song on Music From The Elevator is named after a floor in a three-storey building. There’s the ‘Basement’, the ‘Ground Floor’, and then two more floors before you reach the ‘Roof Top’, which offers a view of highways and car yards. In the interests of OH&S, there’s a ‘Fire Escape’ too. It’s a pretty low-scale operation overall, so it’s easy to imagine a building in some non-prestigious suburban grey zone; one of those squat brick buildings – a perfect cube – you pass on a busy highway on the way to somewhere else. The type you only notice because you’re scanning for a petrol station amid the boarded up shop fronts.

Legendary Hearts – the duo of Andrew Cowie (Angel Eyes) and Kieran Hegarty (Superstar) – do create elevator music, but its functionality is warped beyond usefulness. This music sounds priced out of its neighbourhood, a formerly immaculate texture now peeling at the edges, dying an undignified death.

It’s fundamentally ambient music. Cowie’s synths run on autopilot while Hegarty’s guitar lines whimper longingly and in a very orthodox manner, grappling with a kind of chintzy, calendar-photo beauty that is too saturated in bright blues and greens to be real. Canned beats tie the proceedings together, but they’re running at BPMs lower than intended: hi-hat hits lurch, snares lack clarity.

Overall,  it’s like the music is dying a slower death than the environments it’s meant to coordinate. It’s patently pleasant music losing its will to pleasure, a soup of texture that hints at something classy and upmarket but in its smudged low fidelity actually sounds frayed and obsolete. Listening to this can feel like gazing into a ruin.

Label: Dungeon Taxis
Release date: October 2012

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New Music

Listen: Angel Eyes – Final Fare

Angel Eyes will release his third album Final Fare in “early 2013” through Bedroom Suck Records. We already knew that, but the emergence yesterday of cover art and a new song makes it seem more real.

Of all the material I’ve heard from this record so far, this track rides closer to the gorgeous orange glow of Dire Dish, his first tape through Not Not Fun. Whatever the case, this record is one of the most anticipated events in my life at the moment, right next to getting a copy of UV Race’s Racism and beating the Sanctuary Guardian boss in Dark Souls.

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New Music

Listen: Angel Eyes – B/M/E

Angel Eyes’ third long-player and first non-cassette release comes out later this year on Bedroom Suck, and the track below is a taste of what’s to come. We’ve been lucky enough to hear some (accidentally watermarked) tracks from Final Fare, which we discuss with the artist here, and this is in keeping with those tracks’ general aesthetic but we can pretty confidently say that the best is yet to come. (Clarification: this track isn’t on the forthcoming LP, but may appear on future releases.)

There are no vocals on ‘B/M/E’ but it gives you an indication of where Angel Eyes is heading now that guitar has been severed from proceedings: foggy, celestial synth music for urban night time walking.

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Features

Final Fare: Angel Eyes Interviewed

When I got Andrew Cowie on the phone to discuss his Angel Eyes project, my first question was whether he’d ever seen the 1980s television series Highway to Heaven. The show’s opening credits filled me with a weird dread as a kid – something I can’t describe even now. They depict a pilot’s view through white clouds, followed by a long shot of a man approaching the camera on a hazy flat highway. The suggestion, I guess, is that the man flew down to earth. I don’t know – I never actually watched the program.

When I first listened to Angel Eyes’ first cassette, 2009’s Dire Dish, it immediately reminded me of those opening credits. I can’t rationalise the connection, but there’s definitely something searching and monumental and frighteningly beautiful about that cassette. Sonically, Angel Eyes is both airborne and barren: alarmingly spacious and eternal. That album conjures images of worlds, kingdoms and landscapes with totally foreign colour schemes and an abundance of space. The dread I mention isn’t one of imminent danger but instead a kind of Lovecraftian lack of comprehension – of having a tiny hint at something bigger than you, something you will never know. It’s one of my favourite records – four pop songs stretched to their very limit and layered with glistening synthesizer.

Unfortunately for me, Cowie has never seen the opening credits to Highway to Heaven. Later this year, he’s releasing his third album Final Fare – his first on vinyl – through Bedroom Suck, which follows Dire Dish and Vice to Vice, both cassette only albums released on Not Not Fun and Moon Glyph respectively.

The word dreamy is used to describe music a lot, but it seems especially appropriate for Angel Eyes. What draws you to this sound?
It’s a bit of a cliche to talk about where you grew up, but I grew up on a dairy farm in regional Victoria. It’s grassland desert – the kind of place no one wants to see on the road because they just get bored of it, but I dug it. I think for me a lot of the reverb and delay and the endlessness [is inspired by that]. Wherever you turn there’s a horizon.

I also used to really dig just listening to a fan in the summertime, just a regular fan blowing. That sort of constant tremolo and that phasing effect of the fan when it was on the rotation setting, moving back and forth, I liked that. Throughout the year I used to wait for that time when I could put a fan on at night and it was okay with my parents to do so. That definitely had a part and impacted on what I was listening to a lot. I grew up listening to a bit of grindcore as well, but then I discovered Godflesh who were a bit slower and minimal, and OLD who were a bit more cyclical or repetitive. Now I’m always searching for space, and I guess that’s the haziness that comes from dreams. I think that element plays some part.

What kind of circumstances compel you to write or record the material? What’s the right time?
There’s no right time, I just do it every day. Actually that’s a bit extreme – I do it most days. I just want to do it. I don’t know why, it’s kinda an unhealthy habit sometimes. I could be doing a tax return and I’ll just ignore that and continue to play my music. I just like writing, I don’t know why. I have no idea. I should know, everyone should know why they do things they do. I just need to create a new sonic universe for myself, or something like that.

You say the environment you grew up in plays a large part in the music. Does your current environment in Melbourne play a part also?
I think I’ve become a lot more… I think I was just trudging through the city before, but now I’m paying a lot more attention to the way streets are lit up or the way walls look, and noticing dilapidated or decrepit buildings. I realised that when I walk around I rarely looked up, so now I tend to look up a lot more. The suburban and industrial spaces has impacted a bit, because there is always space wherever you go. I live in North Melbourne, which is pretty close to the centre of the city so it’s pretty tall, but if you look up you can always find that space that I crave, and sometimes I forget about that. But I guess when you look at the ground you can find a lot of space as well.

Moments of silence have an impact. Not of total silence but of quiet, like driving at night. I don’t own a car so I don’t drive much, but being in a taxi late at night, there’s a sense of calm about it. I think maybe that impacts. We all search for things and that search for silence or space or whatever your thing is, that impacts on me. It’s a reflection more so than a direction I guess.

The keyboards, particularly on Dire Dish, have an almost spiritual sound to them, like wavering church organs. Is Angel Eyes meant to be a meditative listening experience?
I don’t think it’s meant to be anything to be honest, other than what I’m into at the time. Anything that happens, the result of listening to it is up to the listener. I think that’s just my aesthetic and what I like impacting on what people hear. Maybe it is though, maybe it’s a way for me to meditate, for me to find my place in the city or wherever. A retreat, maybe.

Your lyrics are often inaudible or indecipherable, is that intentional?
Yeah, I’d say yes. I do take care with them, but I don’t feel confident with them really. I think with what I’m producing at the moment I don’t know whether it’s that relevant, I think it might take away from the sonic space that I’m trying to build. I just think it could get in the way. Like I said I do take care with the lyrics but the voice is more of an instrument. I think taking care of it is more of a private thing for me, I just need to feel like I’ve put the effort in.

I often don’t give lyrics a second thought when I can hear them, but because yours are so obscured it makes me curious. Particularly during ‘Do Away With’ on Dire Dish.
I can’t remember what that song was, but generally it’s just a snapshot of something. For example ‘Dire Dish’ is literally about me serving myself dire dishes: at the end of the day after work, I’m staring down at the quick and easy monstrosity that I’ve created, and you can look to the past and look to the future in one really shitty dish.

That’s an interestingly mundane theme for music that sounds so monumental.
[Laughs] Well you can find anything in any moment, and looking at those mundane moments, they’re as pivotal in most people’s lives as anything else, if you actually assess it.

My impression is that Final Fare is a lot cleaner: there’s less guitar for instance. Why has your sound developed in this direction?
The less guitar thing is more a result of playing live, because I felt kind of restricted. When you’ve got a guitar and you’re trying to play keys it’s a difficult thing to grapple with physically. I found that if I played keyboards I could basically disarm the mic stand and just have a floating mic, so I had much more freedom to move about or give some sort of physicality to the way I perform live. As a result I want recordings to reflect what I do live. I’d like to play more guitar but it’s just me solo, and to be honest I’ve never done much keys in the past and I’ve been getting into it. In terms of chords it’s a lot more interesting medium to use than guitar I find. But also there’s the sonic physicality of a guitar that I like. I’m constantly thinking about going back to guitar, but at this point I’m just using keys. I’m finding new things in it.

I don’t mean this disparagingly, but the songs take on a more new age feel without the guitar. Do you recognise that?
Totally. For my work I have to deliver to this Qi place in Melbourne. They have amethyst stones and good luck charms, and they constantly have that music playing in the background. It’s incredibly synthetic and very still. I’m kinda interested in that at the moment, that stillness and synthetic-ness. It’s a very odd mixture, because I always equate technology with noise. But there’s a stillness that can come from it as well. The new age thing, I guess is a bit different, but I guess that harks to what you were saying about the meditative or dreamlike state. I also just like this soft music sometimes, and maybe it’s that playing a role.

Over the last two years new age has become less frowned upon. Elements of it pop up in a lot of modern music.
I actually frown upon it in some ways. When I go into this Qi place and hear the music I think I’d want to kill myself by the end of the day, it’s so saccharine and sweet. But most things are accepted now, it feels like anything can be hip. Is that kinda a hangover of the Vice culture, which has seeped into the norm? I’ve never been into that culture but it’s now okay to like new age panpipes, which is a wonderful thing. That’s okay now, for people to listen to what they want, I think that’s a good thing. I have no idea why, though. It’s just the age of the internet.

Your singing sounds a lot stronger on this record. You usually sing in a monotone, but during ‘A Light Distraction’ you lift out of it. Is that a portent of things to come?
I think so. I think Dire Dish is more melodic in a way, even if it doesn’t come across that way. I think there are some faux-soul bits that come through on the Final Fare stuff, where I break into a falsetto. There are things that I’m afraid of, and one of those is cheesiness. Sometimes deep inside I know that there’s cheesiness that I love, and I try it and I know I have to go with it. I have to break through the cheese factor.

Another thing I noticed is the new record is a lot more urban sounding, particularly with the lack of the guitar and the more modern sounding synths.
It’s way more modern. The Dire Dish stuff and Vice to Vice were all lo-fi. I took it upon myself with Final Fare to clean things up. I don’t know if this is a definite thing but I like the idea of cleaning things up, so I bought myself some recording gear. I recorded it myself and I just wanted to experiment with cleaner sounds because it’s something I haven’t really done before. It’s still not high fidelity, but I wanted to approach it more compositionally. The actual lines that were coming out were more audible. Maybe it’s as simple as that, maybe it’s just more audible and the melody is more present.

Finally, you’re also working on another project, Legendary Hearts. Can you tell me about that?
That’s with Kieran, who plays in Superstar. We discussed getting together and it took over a year before we actually had a rehearsal. It’s basically just him and I, looking for softer sounds. It’s more improvisational, and it’s a real noodling band. We’re releasing something soon on Dungeon Taxi. It’s as simple as two friends getting together and trying to create something we like. No two shows are the same, and we don’t know what is going to happen.

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Final Fare will be available through Bedroom Suck later this year. Dire Dish can be downloaded at Boomkat.

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