Perks and the Thrills: Constant Mongrel’s Heavy Breathing reviewed

640x640-cTom Ridgewell and Hugh Young are the only two members of Constant Mongrel that also appeared on their 2010 split tape with Taco Leg, which was shithouse. School of Radiant Living’s Amy Hill was added on bass last year, and for this record Taco Leg vocalist Andrew Murray was added on second guitar to flesh out the low and high ends respectively. Hill’s bass is an unsteady and elusive throb, Murray’s guitar is creepy and treble-heavy and the two original members lay down a rabid spine that carries an oozing, low-torque density that is almost exhausting. If the split tape was irritatingly undercooked, this record is at least served at a point where the uncooked flesh carries a sense of hilarious revulsion. I think it’s hard to argue that it isn’t one of the better albums released this year.

Heavy Breathing is a wild-eyed, pill-fucked and perverted record that attacks the highs and lows, the colours and the comedowns, and ravages through moments of overwhelming hysteria before sucking it up and returning to the party. Like last year’s LP Everything Goes Wrong, Constant Mongrel spend time thrashing at the edge of control. There’s no triumph here, but there’s no defeat either; it builds and dies without reaching thematic conclusions, and it captures (possibly unintentionally or just by virtue of referencing the sounds of X, Wire and The Fall) a series of very intense sensations.

I hear humiliation, inconvenient arousal (the irritable throb of much of this record makes the band name feel disturbingly literal to me) and the exact dose of amphetamines or synthetic hallucinogens that makes you think maybe you over-did it a bit. It can be turgid and obscene, but it never feels especially confronting to me. If you have an eight hour trip ahead of you, you can appreciate that the odd bout of hysterical confusion is going to eventually make way for an endorphin hit. Still, it feels like trying to escape your first world agitation by replacing it with hours of paranoia and neuroticism instead. There’s a constant threat of the fun dying off alarmingly quickly.

Thematically, there’s a form of black humour that reveals itself when the threats are funny and the jokes aren’t. Ridgewell at one point chants ad nauseum, “you’re a little boy and you need a smack.” Any humour that lies in that line is quickly killed by its relentlessness, distorting its meaning towards the emasculation of being exposed and looked down upon. There’s humour in Constant Mongrel’s music for sure, but just like the laughter recorded at the end of ‘Reflex’ on last year’s LP, it’s forced and it’s menacing.

Heavy Breathing reminds me of all my favourite things that I never do from nine-to-five on weekdays (like sex and drugs) then it reminds me of the bad parts of those things (like coming down or unexpectedly tearing a muscle). Do you know what kind of person can have a constant mongrel? Perverts. Sex pests. Rapists and pedophiles. The idea of losing control is appealing at the onset of mundanity, but there are people in society who are incapable of gaining control. Constant Mongrel make guitar music that dangles you at the precipice of losing it without ever giving you the cathartic experience of finding out if you made it through or not.

I also spent six minutes waiting to find out if the deep recorded breathing that closes out the album ever finishes. On that, I wouldn’t waste your time.


Constant Mongrel’s Heavy Breathing is available now through Siltbreeze.


Growing Inside: Blank Realm Interviewed


Blank Realm formed in Brisbane circa 2005-06. The group features three siblings (Daniel, Sarah and Luke Spencer) as well as Luke Walsh on guitar. During the course of their eight year existence the band has evolved from strange and colourful free rock into a more streamlined and song-oriented affair, culminating in their latest record Go Easy, which released on Siltbreeze and Bedroom Suck late in 2012.

Go Easy has attracted the group more attention than any other release, but for anyone interested in improvised psychedelic rock music, their early recordings such as Free Time (Music Your Mind Will Love You) and Heatless Ark (Not Not Fun) are well worth tracking down, among many other cassette and CD-R missives. The group’s pop tendencies crystallised on 2010’s Deja What? and were further sharpened via a 2011 Negative Guest List single.

We caught up with Daniel Spencer on the eve of an extensive Australian tour to promote Go Easy. For tour details, scroll to the bottom.

Do you guys see yourselves more as a ‘band’, or as a family? Do you primarily spend time together hanging out or making music?
Definitely more of a family. I mean, I guess at some point we’ll stop doing Blank Realm, but we’ll always be family. Luke Walsh included. The band arose out of just hanging out, out of wanting to do something more than just hang out and listen to records together. Not that doing that is waste of time – I spend a lot of time doing that still.

There’s always been a bit of a spirit of mucking around to the band that I think will remain no matter how successful or unsuccessful the band manages to get. It will always mostly be just goofing off. For the most part, I think that’s how it should be. Bands who are really trying to make it, or bands who write a press release or an exegesis prior to their first jam have never really set my world on fire. These days, it’s probably 50/50 hanging out and making music. There’s actually a lot of work put into our music, even though it still sounds terribly sloppy.

The first time I saw you guys play it was more experimental and minimal. Now it seems like an extreme yet undefinable rock and roll band. How would you describe yourselves, and the various progressions you’ve made?
That’s sort of hard for me to say. I mean, I can see there has been a pretty radical shift in the sound from free noise, to almost straight up rock and roll, but being in the band it feels a lot more gradual than it may seem to those patient enough to have been listening all along. Part of it is just learning how to play. In the beginning we couldn’t play at all, we just turned everything up and tried to somehow control the waves of feedback. It was really fun, but maybe not so much fun for the audience.

I like that you said ‘extreme’ rock band, because that’s how I see it in a kind of ideal sense. I feel like all the noise and chaos of those early records and shows is still in these songs we do now. We like to keep things on the edge of collapse. Some people have said to me that we change every time they see us, which is cool. I mean, I don’t think we do, but it’s cool that people think that.


I’m really interested in the lyrics. Do they come before and after the jams, and are they based on reality, or are they spontaneous?
Well, I’ve written all the lyrics so far. In a way the lyrics and the music exist independently of each other, until we find a way to bring them together. I go for a walk pretty much every night and will turn over phrases or words in my head. I’ll think of words, almost slogans really, and I’ll just hang onto them until we play something they seem to fit with. That usually doesn’t take long. Whenever I have a lyric I think is good, the band usually play something that goes with it within a week or so, without me even telling them the lyric. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it continually mystifies me, the way that seems to work.

I definitely wouldn’t say the lyrics are based in reality, I think they are more symbolist. Sort of  transmissions from some warped quasi-religious rock and roll fantasy. I’m not too interested in writing about everyday life. There’s lots of people doing that better than I ever could these days.

I’ve always been obsessed with siblings – in films, books, literature etc – and the complex nature of these relationships. With the group comprising three siblings, have your relationships with each other always been creative?
Now that you mention it, I guess it has. Even when we were little kids we would make up fake bands with our toys and even record whole albums in stupid funny voices. I feel like going any further into that would destroy any chance we’ve ever had of being seen as cool.

Regarding lyrics, I like what you say about everyday life versus fantastical themes/ imagery, because I can relate to that with my own lyric writing [Angie writes with Circle Pit and Ruined Fortune – Ed]. Do you feel, however, that somehow they filter down and directly relate to real life events, your personal history etc, at a later date?
I feel like I definitely get the same feeling from your stuff, especially with Circle Pit. I believe rock and roll is a foundational myth in contemporary culture, and we, as a band, are true believers in its redemptive power as one of the true freedom musics. I feel like my real life is terribly boring a lot of the time, and the lyrics are sort of this parallel fantasy life. Everyone must have that to some extent, but I just get to make records about it with Blank Realm.

I wanted to ask about your artwork, as you guys usually get an artist to provide imagery for you. Was this the case with the new album?
Yep, for sure. The album art was done by Spencer Clark and his friend eggyolkeo. Spencer does a project called Monopoly Child Star Searchers, which is incredible, and he was in the Skaters, which was his band with James Ferraro. We were big fans of that band. Anyway, we visited Spencer on tour in Portland, and we were surprised to learn that he is obsessed with Australian rock from the ’70s and ’80s, like Dragon, Icehouse, Matt Finish and all that kind of thing.  He kind of saw our music in that tradition, which is really cool.

When it came time to do the art he was the logical person to ask. He initially wanted a photo of Luke [Walsh] standing alone outside a nightclub in a leather jacket to be the cover, but we could never quite get the shot. From what I understand the cover is stills from movies in Spencer’s enormous VHS collection. He explained that the cover is meant to capture the dichotomy in our sound between the nightclub and the beach. I’d never thought of it like that before, but that definitely makes a lotta sense.

Watching you play live, especially in the last year so, there is some kind of frenetic energy coming from all of you. There’s an equal excitement there, something that I interpret as coming from the fact you’re all so close. How do you feel about playing live? 
I’m not sure where the excitement comes from, but we love playing live. We are really comfortable on stage now, which we absolutely were not in the beginning.  I feel like we are a live band, meant to be seen live, that’s where we really exist. The records are just kind of representational.

Would you say it’s a kind of release for all of you?
It’s definitely a release. Being on stage is the only time my mind is empty of everyday bullshit. I don’t think about anything other than what we are playing and trying to get the audience into it. It’s the most liberating thing. I really love playing for people. I think we are pretty dependent on the crowd being into it. If there are five people in the room, and they are all hanging by the bar, we’re probably not going to play our best show. Some bands play really well with a nonexistent or indifferent audience, but we just don’t. I think there’s still part of us that’s really amazed and grateful that we are up on stage in front of people, and that keeps it this kind of joyous thing. I mean, when we started this band we never imagined we’d ever even play a show.

How can you relate the experience of singing and drumming at the same time? Are they the opposite to each other, or intertwined – something you have to balance?
Singing and drumming is definitely hard to balance. At the risk of drawing attention to it, the drumming becomes far simpler when I have to sing at the same time. I guess the way I sing is pretty influenced by my drumming, sometimes I think it’s not so much singing as much as it is rhythmic yelping.

What are your plans after this tour, will you return to America? What other projects are you all working on?
We’re going to America to play Chaos in Tejas and a bunch of other shows. Really need to try not to gobble so much intense junk food this time. We’ll have a new single really, really soon and we are finishing up a new record.


Blank Realm’s Go Easy is out now through Bedroom Suck and Siltbreeze. The band is currently touring Australia to launch the record. Full dates here.


Blank Realm – Go Easy (LP)

During the first track on Go Easy, vocalists Daniel and Sarah Spencer double-up in what could be an ode to their musical history. “Guess I’ve been acting kinda strange,” the two sing over a fiery backdrop. It’s apt, because Go Easy is the least strange Blank Realm record to date.

‘Acting Strange’ sounds like it could be all over in a minute, but in true Blank Realm fashion it’s a five minute affair. The song feels both urgent and dangerous, threatening to careen off the rails into an oncoming petrol tanker. The fast-forward guitar reminds me of a cut from Naked On The Vague’s Heaps Of Nothing.

Over the course of Go Easy, Brisbane’s Blank Realm have apparently dipped their fingers into the 21st century Australian alternative music canon – breezy lead single ‘Cleaning Up My Mess’ plays as if the band took a vacation to Melbourne’s inner suburbs (where the populace themselves had just returned from a vacation in New Zealand).

Out of the gate, bass guitar plays an integral role on Go Easy. Previously its part has felt like a mere accompaniment: stage dressing at best. Here though, it occupies space as a heavy fixation or a staggering melody. Meanwhile, memorable guitar riffs and distinguishable lyrics elevate the album to a point of accessibility previously untouched by the band. There’s a fidelity to Go Easy never afforded to their earlier releases.

Just as the strident ‘Acting Strange’ so smoothly slides into ‘Cleaning Up My Mess’, there’s a thread of complementary duality all through Go Easy. The dark throwback of ‘The Crackle’ is split into two parts: ‘Pt 1’ is incensed, ethereal punk rock, while ‘Pt 2’ shows an odd percussive listlessness, eschewing the directness of the first half for classic Blank Realm playfulness.

The nearly nine-minute ‘Pendulum Swing’ escalates into the kind of full-bodied psych-out the band are known for, before again switching down gears for the closing title track. ‘Go Easy’ appears to be where all the weight of previous incarnations have come to lay; they’re not heavy burdens, but they apply a gravity to what feels likes an already unsteady amble.

It’d be easy to give Go Easy a sticker that read “Blank Realm does pop!”, but that’d be an oversimplification. Since 2010’s standout ‘Full Moon Door’ (from Deja What?), we’ve known of the band’s romance with obscured pop, one that’s been peeling back the ambiguity by way of last year’s 7 inch Falling Down The Stairs. Finally on Go Easy, that trend reaches its logical conclusion in a variety of suits.

Still, Blank Realm haven’t fully done away with their psychedelic ways and nor have they turned into a guitar pop band. Paring back the psychedelic sleeves (or perhaps growing out of them), Blank Realm have offered an unexpected clarity with Go Easy. It’s less about evocation through obfuscation and more about bringing the developed songwriting to the fore. By their own standards, Go Easy isn’t much of a strange beast, but it’s hard to deny that it’s their best yet.

Label: Siltbreeze / Bedroom Suck
Release date: November 2012

New Music

Listen: Blank Realm – Cleaning Up My Mess

Blank Realm’s new record is coming soon. Initially scheduled for an October release, it’s been pushed back to November, so there’s probably a tonne of Diehard Fans scraping the nether-regions of the internet for answers. We have answers to nothing, but we do have a song from Go Easy – the forthcoming album through Bedroom Suck and Siltbreeze – that you probably haven’t heard before. It’s called ‘Cleaning Up My Mess’, and it’s yet another minor departure for a band that revels in never doing the same thing twice. If you’ve been following them since the ye olde Music Your Mind Will Love You days, you’ll know what I mean.

Most will take it for granted, but be forewarned/fore-tantalised that this track isn’t totally representative of what Go Easy will deliver. The Brisbane group like to take you on a journey. Just drink it in. If you want to buy the mp3s instead of wait for Physical Product, do it here.

New Music

Listen: Blank Realm – Growing Inside

‘Growing Inside’ is taken from Blank Realm’s forthcoming Siltbreeze LP, which is due late in October. This song has been kicking around for several years, but it sounds a lot darker on record than I remember it live: now it’s a foggy, chorus-laden drift, and a lot of the furious energy I remember from their show at Sound Summit a couple of years ago is tempered by the funereal pace of the main riff.

The lyrics are fairly unambiguous: Daniel Spencer seems to be tracing a familiar coming-of-age narrative, but the accompaniment indicates it’s not an optimistic tale, with drudgery and paranoia blocking the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. “Everybody’s living just to see how they die.” Whatever is growing inside appears to feed on endorphins. Miserablists take note.

After a little bit of digging (ie, a five second Google search) it turns out an Angela Bermuda directed clip for this track has been floating around the internet for… almost a year now!