Words: James Frostick
In an effort to keep track of the year’s best recorded material, Weirdo Wasteland is releasing monthly round-ups of albums and EPs that we didn’t have enough time to cover at the time of release. Although these are shorter write-ups, review length shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of album quality – everything listed is good and should be given proper time of day to indulge appropriately. In no particular order, here is the best of what arrived in February …
Zak Olsen (known to many as a member of bands such as Hierophants, ORB and The Frowning Clouds) is a man of many musical talents. His knack for genre hopping is rivalled by perhaps only his Hierophants bandmate Jake Robertson (Alien Nosejob), though the latest album from Zak’s solo project Traffik Island is more of a conceptual album-wide outing than a compendium of disparate influences. Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam is a markedly different album than Traffik Island’s 2019 effort Nature Strip. Zak has done away with vocals entirely, choosing to weave together a cohesive collection of off-kilter electro-tinged bops instead of his usual cracking take on sunny retro-inspired psych-pop numbers. To do this Zak has expanded his sonic repertoire to include samples, flutes, horns and synth, dipping his brush into psychedelia, funk, lounge jazz, ambient music and guitar pop before splattering his canvas with a technicolour amalgam of all of it. The end result is very listenable – something that works its way into the brain without necessarily occupying it completely. The record is a testament to Zak’s wide-ranging tastes and creative nous that affords him the ability to blend styles with sharp panache.
The 148-year-old organ at Melbourne Town Hall has played a significant role in two albums released in as many years. The first was Sarah Mary Chadwick’s beautifully mournful 2019 effort The Queen Who Stole The Sky, the second is the unsettling and dissonant record from post-punk stalwarts New War. Trouble In The Air was commissioned by City of Melbourne’s curator of musical instruments Miles Brown, who tasked the four-piece with creating a set utilising the impressive organ. The results are about as stark and visceral as you’d expect from a group of this calibre – the organ colours New War’s brand of weighty and urgent noise in a bruised hue, where even the most ferocious of movements carry an extra burden thanks to the stately blare of the instrumental centrepiece. Trouble In The Air is an incredibly apt name for the seven-track release, precipitating a worldwide lockdown and soundtracking the ensuing months. New War have elected to push the organ to its limits, from the deafening storm on ‘Redbeard USA’ to the graceful glide on ‘Emerald Dream Eyes’ and the subtle minimalism on ‘Ochre’. New War have deftly pivoted their style to incorporate the organ seamlessly, allowing the robust notes the fill the gaps in their stripped-back set up. Although ominous lyrically and musically, Trouble in The Air is a successful experiment from one of the only bands out there capable of pulling off a project like this.
I’ve been waiting for a big horn resurgence to take the underground by force, and while it’s not something that’s likely to happen any time soon, I’m glad a band like Melbourne’s Dragoons aren’t afraid to incorporate baritone and alto saxophone heavily on its new experimental jazz-tinged punk record Horrorscope. In a nutshell, the band (which boasts members of CLAMM, Gamjee and Floodlights) has crafted a lively collection of wild-yet-contained freak-outs, an experimental amalgam of style and pace that isn’t commonly played on the airwaves. At their most unhinged, Dragoons indulge in elongated guitar break-downs and rapid-fire percussive snaps which are given a heightened sense of urgency thanks to the sax skronk. During the more subdued moments, there’s still a technical proficiency evident that reveals the purposeful tightness at the core of each chaotic segue. Although largely instrumental, certain tracks contain vocals that allude to astrological inspirations. I’m not one to believe in the ruling power of the stars when making my daily decisions (a typical headstrong Leo thing to say), but at one point Dragoon’s vocalist starts gifting pieces of wisdom that could almost be a self-fulfilling prophecy. On ‘Horroscope II’, we’re given one nugget of sage advice – “Take a risk, and you will be rewarded“. Dragoons have clearly indulged in their riskier desires here, but I’d say we’re the ones reaping the rewards.
Castlemaine’s The Great Divides craft a catchy kind of grounded jangle pop that is perfectly suited for whiling away sun-dappled afternoons. Despite its upbeat sonics, the band has weaved in subtle allusions to regional malaise – hesitance to participate in contemporary society, small-town living, mental isolation, feelings of boredom, suppressed adolescence and the xenophobic leanings of these conservative communities. It’s the kind of breezy-but-burdened pondering one might also discern in the music of Lower Plenty, Ciggie Witch and Dag (fittingly, Dusty Anastassiou of Dag recorded Face The World, Again). Sonically, the music of The Great Divides boasts a familiar languid guitar strine, plodding and purposefully off-step drums and a genuine sense of unhurried purpose. We now have time to take in music that hinges on subtlety, making this a great listen for our socially isolated times.
Any Whovians out there would be familiar with the Pting, an alien creature that subsists off energy and moves impossibly fast – a certifiable handful for Dr Who and his companions. With it’s snappy and effervescent take on guitar pop, it’s easy to draw some similarities between Melbourne’s pting and it sci-fi namesake. The band’s latest EP Boo kicks off with exuberance – a blast of energy that’s so immediate it took me by surprise. The tempo is relentless too – even when the band is talking up the benefits of napping in the sun and moving into a new house. Elsie Lange and Rhys Renwick’s guitars are pristine, crispy carving out complementary lanes in the mix while Ben Hall’s rolling drum lines and Yura Iwama’s steadying hand on bass keep momentum moving. Six tracks that showcase the infectious possibilities of shimmery guitar-led rock – an incredibly enjoyable outing from a group proving to be a handful in the best way.
LOC-TITE (WA) – Wilt (Self Release)
Perth post-punk project LOC-TITE sneakily dropped this tidy EP just before the world locked itself down, and it’s an appropriately sounding effort when factoring in the bleakness of everything that followed. The brainchild of Dave Eaton (Darling Rangers, Cleanheads), Wilt boasts some meaty chunks of droning, doom-laced downer punk and is a lo-fi tour de force of scuffed-up sonics that sound as if it’s being performed on the other side of a brick wall. Four tracks of intimidating post-punk squall, LOC-TITE’s brand of low-end crunch and tempest-like guitar screech creates an all-encompassing maelstrom, steadied by a firm and unyielding percussive beat and monophonic vocals that encourage the kind of meditative head nod you do subconsciously when you’re truly digging something.
Got an album you think should be included in this round-up? Shoot us an email!