The Leafs – Come Take My Hand (Flying Snake Brand)

Okay. Lets just get it out of the way at the beginning. The Leafs have sold out. After their first album (yes not EP) with 8 songs clocking in at a whopping 13 minutes they’ve gone and ruined everything by writing songs that go for (gasp) 4 minutes 30 and 3 minutes 50. Hell even 2 minutes 59 is disrespectful. So it’s pretty clear that success has gone to this Melbourne duos heads, and we’re entering self-indulgent prog pop territory here.

Just when you’ve got this duo pegged they go and do this to you. Their second EP (yes I admit it’s an EP this time) is not as immediate as its predecessor, less silly, perhaps a little darker yet still beneath this darkness you still can’t help but detect a certain self depreciating humour lolling around. They live in that kind’ve mid 90’s lofi indie pop/rock world and their heroes seem to come from there, but really with a floor tom and a snare as well as a guitar with all the strings tuned to the same note, alongside there’s only so much you can do. This kind of limitation serves to make them focus upon the important things. The best song on here, The Error of Your Ways is soft and gentle and could be a Posies hold your lighter in the air and clutch your lover song, but they wisely choose to stop at 1 minute 25, so we don’t have to sit through all the getting to bits. There’s I Wanna Be A Machine which with it’s wailing vocals and jagged infectious pop sounds like a Pixies off cut, and of course live favourite Let’s Get Fucked Up in which the vocals sound like getting on a roller coaster after too much beer.

They recorded these five tracks in 7 hours one night with Cornel Wilczek (Qua) producing, mixing and mastering and whilst the vocals can sound raw and ready, it only adds to the angst and charm. Whilst Come Take My Hand is a little excessive at over two minutes more than their debut Space Elevator, the fact is that these guys are pop machines, everything they do is totally infectious, delivering rough hewn melodic pop gems without wasting one minute of your time. And for that they should be rewarded.
Bob Baker Fish

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Pimmon – The Oansome Orbit (Room40)

Electronic experimental artist Pimmon has been renowned as one of Australia’s premier sonic adventurers over the last decade with releases on Kid606’s Tigerbeat6, Ritornell, Sirr, Cronica, Meme, Preservation and numerous other labels around the world. No two albums sound the same as Pimmon restlessly chases textures, harnessing his electronics and field recordings into new wholly immersive sound worlds.

2009’s Smudge another Yesterday was an abstracted journey through sonic terrain and the Oansome Orbit continues in a similar vein. He appears to be working with loops of differing lengths, allowing them to come in and out of sync, building a density of texture, yet also building these gentle melodic moments within the music.

There’s no easy fit narrative to place across this album, it can be gentle, whimsical, and melodic, yet it can also develop into a roaring, ferocious and aggressive noise. It’s complex, even the gentle moments are highly textural with multiple strange layers of sonics, bubbling around. It demonstrates the care Pimmon has taken to construct the music. Everything has a place; the sounds build and fall away. It’ s all carefully composed, carefully controlled.

There’s a real beauty here, not just in the timbre of the sounds, but also in the sheer joy the Pimmon has in manipulating these textures. It’s the kind of music that gives experimental music a good name, sound that’s complex, textural and strange enough to fire up the interest, yet warm and melodic enough to tap straight into the emotions.

Fragmented Frequencies Dec 11

The problem with MP3’s is that they are so amorphous and disposable. Traditionally when we’ve purchased or stolen music we’ve had something to put on the shelf and ogle while we listen to the sounds, an object to give value to the music. With the rise of digital music this object has been done away with, and thus the value of the music is similarly reduced or erased.

Which is probably why most people feel little to no guilt about downloading an artist’s entire discography off a torrent site for free. Yet deep down there’s some degree of conflict as most people believe that good music, the staple your face to your driveway and ask your neighbour to back his car over it a few times good music shouldn’t be free. The problem is that people just wont pay for computer files…yet.

Music used to be special, even mysterious, and the packaging said as much about the artist as the sounds. Which might explain the increasing popularity of vinyl. Then there’s a newly resurrected cassette culture, offering a long extinct crappy format that no one can play. But that’s not the point. It’s there to bolster the music. A useless object with a download link is much more palatable than just a download link.

But what if the object wasn’t so tokenistic? What if it was, (and I quote from their press release) “something useful like a mining product or a foodstuff?”

The foodstuff is an Anzac biscuit, and together with a download link it’s the latest release from Melbourne art ensemble The Hi God People. The biscuit is tasty, apparently gluten free, though a touch dry, perhaps overcooked. It tastes fresher though than the packeted biscuits you buy in supermarkets and it’s nice to know that you’re supporting local biscuit makers/musicians. The three tracks are experimental electronic digital psychedelia with two of the pieces featuring spoken word, saying things like ‘Some of the things close to us seem unexpectedly large.”

Of course once you eat the biscuit you’re left with computer files, yet if you think about it the HGP have provided so much more. Not only will there undoubtedly be a few crumbs left on you on your lap, but once they’re swept away, there’s still a nice taste in your mouth. If you ate the biscuit while you listened to the music then that’s where Pavlovian conditioning comes in and you’ll always associate HGP music with a full belly and a rush of sugar. It’s genius, a kind of internal cross promotion.

The HGP aren’t the only folks grappling with the object in a rapidly shrinking marketplace.

Sabbatical have gone all out with Knife Culture: Buried Melbourne, a classy double cd box set compiling artists they view as being under represented and under appreciated in Melbourne – even within the underground music and experimental music scene. With 29 artists over two cds, this is a bold, totally uncompromising collection. They refuse to shy away from the sonically challenging, featuring everything from extended cello techniques, a noise piece created solely from recordings of carpet, tracks recorded direct to Dictaphone, a live performance of a drum stool, spliced strands of tape forced through a walkman, and well, you get the picture. Artists include The Bleachboys, Justin Fuller (Zond), Sean Baxter, Rod Cooper, Ebola Disco and all manner of weird and wonderful characters. The fact that it’s in this simultaneously stately and sleazy black box makes the music seem more evil, more underground and the collection more definitive.

Lawrence English’s Room40 are another label offering experimental music in distinctive fetish object packaging. To be fair they’ve been doing this for years, creating distinctive cardboard cases for everything on their label. Their recent releases from Pimmon, and Minamo are both works of art, however Scott Morrison’s Ballad(s) For Quiet Horizons takes it another step entirely as an audio visual experience. The cd/dvd case itself features cardboard inserts of stills of his work, yet it’s the intertwining of the video footage and the sound that is nothing short of incredible. Images often begin abstracted, and slowly come into focus, and the sound tends to operate in a similar manner, glimpses of field recordings, of nearly discernable sounds gradually revealing themselves, often in concert with the images. It’s the kind of work that deserves the loving treatment it’s received, as it’s something quite special, his ability to dance around and alter your perception is really quite unique in Australian video/sound art. Yet the power is the full package. To download it or convert it just to mp3’ would only serve to dilute its power.

Fragmented Fish December 2011

George Clooney is boring. Brad Pitt has wasted all his opportunities, and Ben Affleck is an amateur. In fact the only Hollywood star that truly appears to be taking a bite sized chunk out of his privileged existence is Charlie Sheen. But whilst Charlie is more than happy to dip his wick into any female that moves, the crack addiction and spouse beating tend to tarnish the mythology somewhat.

It wasn’t always like this in Hollywood. The notches above Warren Beatty’s bed boast the likes of Joan Collins, Dianne Keaton, Jane Fonda, Cher, Madonna and approximately 12,770 others. He had a compulsive need to seduce and possess women. But he did it with class.

Beatty is also the only person since Orson Welles to be nominated for an Oscar in four categories (producer, writer, director, star), and that’s happened for both Heaven Can Wait and Reds. This is often what gets lost. Of course most people under the age of 30 have no idea who the hell he is. He hasn’t made a hit film since Dick Tracey in 1990, though he made Bullworth in the 1998. His last film was the forgettable Town and Country in 2001, then nothing.

Which begs the question why bother writing a biography about him now?

Salacious aggrandising author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind has been in Beatty’s orbit on and off for 20 years and always yearned to write his biography. Partially it seems to reflect and understand his own relationship with the man. Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America (Simon & Schuster) has Biskind charting Beatty’s involvement in the process, from hot to cold to hot to very cold. And it’s a perfect example of how he did business. He would never make a decision. Ever. And if he did, he’d often reflect on it and change his mind, days, weeks, months later. As new collaborators often found, you could battle with him, think you’d won, then the next day you’d be back where you started. For Beatty nothing is ever over.

Beatty’s work in films is possibly the least interesting thing about him. He used his star power to get good films made, yet he frequently pushed everyone to go above and beyond and then took credit for their achievements. Biskind suggests that he was like a “black hole, a maw of antimatter that swallowed everything and gave nothing in return, neither light nor heat.”

He was also a campaign strategist for Gary Hart and maintained a strong link to politics, even considering running for President at one point in the 90’s. At the peak of his powers, he could do no wrong, and Biskind delights in the games and strategies he used to not just survive, but also become one of the power players in Hollywood. He was a perfectionist. He would chew up and take over from all directors. Then he would think nothing of shooting 80 takes of someone walking through the door, causing huge budget blowouts and angering studios.

You can hear the frustration in Biskind’s words. Here’s a man who had the world at his feet but was more interested in shagging. Sure he made some good films, but he passed on numerous thanks to his indecisiveness. Biskind ends on a sombre note. At his age he’s no longer the leading man, and his reputation for going way over budget have made him virtually unemployable as a director. What a waste.

Various Artists – The Shape of Sound – Volume 2: Melbourne Australia (Iceage Productions)

If you are curious to discover some of the raw, noisy and experimental music currently being birthed in Melbourne, then you could do worse than track down this collection from Iceage Productions. The first volume shone a light into the warehouse spaces, galleries and sleazy pubs of Melbourne’s inner city backstreets, revealing a bunch of innovative artists, from lofi noise merchants to refined experimental guitarists, offering a platform for those who rarely receive airplay or attention.

Volume 2 follows a similar modus operandi, even down to the presence of a couple of well-respected artists who have been involved in the game for a long time. On the previous volume it was the Primitive Calculators, here it’s Arthur Cantrill offering an unreleased tape loop/ field recording. Cantrill is an innovator in experimental film, and has been since the 60’s, composing his own soundtracks to his work, developing his own unique approach to sound. His piece here, Island Fuse feels like a regular field recording of birds and nature before the birds start delaying followed by a few abrupt cuts. The treatment becomes very apparent, sending the recordings into almost electronic territory, yet it never loses that warm earthy organic feeling thanks to its ingredients. Ernie Althoff has been involved in the Melbourne improvised music and experimental music scene since the 70’s, often using turntables as the basis for amazing sound sculptures that often operate as machines. This piece, Jila 9 continues this theme, with the mechanics whirring around, objects brushed and struck, vibrated, scraped, it’s slightly incoherent with Althoff using multiple techniques, all of which sound like they would be quite visually interesting. In fact the mind boggles when you speculate as to what he’s actually got set up and working with.

Elsewhere Barnaby Oliver (Infinite Decimals) drops by with some gentle meditative piano, whilst Monolith also keep things low key though a little more drone orientated and there’s a certain sense of impending doom lurking within the sounds, there’s the immensely satisfying psych noise feedback jam of Bonnie Mercer (Grey Daturas), and Undecisive God provides an excerpt from Ularu, a shimmering solo guitar piece he recorded for a previously silent Arthur and Corinne Cantrill film.

Dark Passenger’s searing drone work feels like some kind of audio treatment prescribed by a health professional, simultaneously searing and hypnotic yet betraying an underlying power and strength. Oranj Punjabi offer up a demented fractured almost cartoonish take on what once may have been world music, and there are exclusive pieces from The Penguins, Galactagogue, Mad Nanna, Admin Blg, and the noisy Screwtape.

As a resident of Melbourne I only knew 7 of the 13 artists presented. Most compilations barely scratch the surface, what the Shape of Sound Vol.2 and its predecessor do is dive done beneath and extract some incredible sounds and artist that despite offering unique and progressive sounds are in danger of being ignored or overlooked.

Bob Baker Fish

THE SHAPE OF SOUND Vol.2 – Launch Part 1
Friday 9th December – doors open 8:30 – The Grace Darling Hotel – Collingwood
Entry: $10
Penguins (12:00 – 12:30pm)
Barnaby Oliver with Dark Passenger (11:15 – 11:45pm)
Oranj Punjabi (10:30 – 11:00 pm)
Ernie Althoff with Undecisive God (9:45 – 10:15pm)
Arthur Cantrill (9:00 – 9:30pm)
The first and only live performance/demonstration of tape manipulation using a Revox and Nagra by legendary experimental film and sound artist Arthur Cantrill.
100 limited edition, hand numbered CDs on sale for $10

Orchestra Peter Thomas – Orion 2000 (Omni)

Peter Thomas is a legendary film composer, known in some circles as Germany’s answer to John Barry, thanks to his desire to fuse go-go music with brooding noir horns in scores like the long running sci fi television series Rampatrouille. Yet he also scored the pretty adventurous Chariots of the Gods and Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss, in a career that spanned 50 odd years. He was incredibly versatile melding electronic and studio effects with brass, disco, strings, jazz, you name it.

Recorded in 1970, this is the lost Peter Thomas album, released in miniscule amounts on an obscure library music label in 1975. Some of the tunes would eventually find their way into future TV soundtracks of the period and even some of his profile scores such as The Big Boss. This album however was Thomas’ attempt to return to the space theme of Rampatrouille with bigger brass and a chugging rock beat and it really stands up in its entirety. With wah wah guitar and melodic at times stabbing horns, it possesses that ultra funky Lalo Schirffin 70’s cop show vibe, however Thomas also uses these incredible flanges and studio effects to create his own ‘out there’ space vibe.

The playing is of course incredible, yet it’s no surprise as his orchestra was made up of amongst others, Siegfried Schwab co composer of the overwhelming score for Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (as well as a bunch of other Franco films), Olaf Kubler who produced most of komische act Amon Duull II’s albums, and possibly even Euro disco legend Giorgio Moroder on Moog.

Whilst it’s great to unearth obscure or lost albums by renowned artists of yesteryear, more often than not they’re obscure for a reason. Orion 2000 is the exception, Peter Thomas was an incredible and highly creative composer and these tunes only enhance his reputation. It feels dated, wedded to the period in which it was made; yet that only enhances the enjoyment and feeling of discovery. They don’t make music like this anymore. But they should.