If Superstar’s 2013 LP A Toast To… made you sing Regurgitator’s ‘I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff’ under your breath, then The Fronds may appeal. It’s Kieran Hegarty, one half of Superstar, doing his own solo thing. It’s quite different to Superstar but the programmed beats and tangential guitar lines have the same narcoleptic effect, albeit a bit cheekier. It’s kinda like the Superstar live cassette which Night People released a while back, in the way the guitar lines press against the speakers with that lovely clipping effect. Hence the Regurgitator reference. Sorry about that one.
Not really sure what the future holds for Superstar, but Esther Edquist also has her own solo project in the form of Dead Calm, which we covered a few months back. Maybe if you listen to them at the same time you’ll have a new Superstar song. But I doubt it.
Out of the blue, here’s a new song from Dead Calm. I’ve never heard of Dead Calm before, but it’s obviously Esther Edquist from Superstar, a) because the vocals on this track sound like Esther, b) because the Soundcloud account attributes this to ‘Esther Etc.’ and c) because it’s bloody obvious.
While there’s a lot here that will be familiar to those who heard Superstar’s 2013 record A Toast To… , ‘Heavy Tackle’ is a lot more compact and focused than the longer, more passive / narcoleptic tracks on that record. Imagine a one woman performance in a strange backstreet restaurant in a cold Eastern European city. Play it on a loop.
It’s a little difficult to tell whether or not Superstar are poking fun. The title of this album and its tracklist almost read like a series of quietly apologetic in-jokes regarding the band’s sound – primitive drum machine; pristine 80s keys; illustrative guitar noodling; whispery, sensuous vocals. It brazenly parades the sonic signifiers of non-descript downtempo pop or TV movie soundtracks from that era, but it refuses to be taken at face value. Calling these exquisite tracks things like ‘Fine Wine’ or ‘Deep Heat’, and laughingly branding your band as ‘Adult Contemporary’, feels like a challenge to the listener to hear past the facade… or a middle finger to those too lazy or callous to bother.
Closer listens bring more concrete allusions to the fore. Parts of A Toast To… sound very much like transition-era Talk Talk unspooling their introspective anti-blues. The guitar sometimes brings to mind early Durutti Column or Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack to Local Hero. It’s worth noting that this record is pretty dark in places, too. ‘Deep Heat’ seems to touch on late-period Earth, then Brightblack Morning Light, and then Om doing their best ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ impression, all in the span of about a minute. It dapples the listener with an extraordinary array of moods and shades, evoking the patterns thrown by the shifting shadows of an ornate tree bough on a windy day.
But any associations that the music may bring up for you shouldn’t be lent too much weight. The album may look to the past, built, as it is, with tools that recall distantly familiar and incidental music, but valuing it solely on its appropriation of faded signifiers is a waste. This is a deceptively clever record that boasts three inventive and evocative instrumentals bookended by two sublimely forlorn pop songs. It’s music that’s more potent and simpler than most you’re likely to find on any of this year’s most fetishised Australian releases.
It’s perfectly valid to hear it as a retro-homage – as a record that does little more than conjure something indefinable lurking in the psyches of a generation of Australians that grew up watching TV and half-ignoring commercial radio in the 80s. But dismissing this music because of its surface aesthetic is unwise. If you like, use it as a bridge to the album’s understated and unassumingly dextrous songs. You can listen to it as a shiny nostalgic artefact if that works for you, but it’s much more rewarding considered as a unique, informed, and well-written piece of pop music that also poses as an aesthetic riddle.
A Toast To… effortlessly manages something that many bands aspire to – making potent art of past relics – and even transcends it as irrelevant. It almost hurts to think that most of those who should really hear this won’t even know it exists.
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 Wonderfuls‘ Salty 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.