Words: James Frostick
Gordon Koang image: Duncan Wright
Too many songs, not enough time. Australia’s underground music scene is as fertile as ever, with new releases spilling out into cyberspace at a rate that’s nearly impossible to track alone. Brief Breakdown is a semi-regular column that endeavours to quickly touch on some of the songs that have been released in recent weeks. The reviews may be brief, but the appreciation is enduring. For volume one, we’re listening to tracks from Gordon Koang, Introduction, Thibault, Geld, Elmo Aoyama, Syzygy, City Rose, HighSchool, Cool Sounds and more.
Gordon Koang (VIC) – ‘Tiel e Nei Nywal Ke Ran (We Don’t Have a Problem With Anyone)’
The world would be a better place if there were more people like prolific South Sudanese musician Gordon Koang in it. Few artists manage to imbue their music with as much love and joy as Gordon, who has endured enough adversity that’d you’d forgive him if his smile dropped a smidge (it never does). His new track ‘Tiel e Nei Nywal Ke Ran (We Don’t Have a Problem With Anyone)’ is plucked from Gordon’s forthcoming full-length album, his eleventh (!) and first after a period of six years living as an asylum seeker. Lush and vibrant, there’s an energy that crackles with every note. Gordon’s crystal-clear voice floats above the rhythm, carrying with it a message of unity. A suitably uplifting track in troubled times, this song might not be a tonic for all of society’s ailments, but imagine the positive impact it’d have if it was mandatory listening. If you’re reading this, consider ‘Tiel e Nei Nywal Ke Ran (We Don’t Have a Problem With Anyone)’ – and Gordon’s forthcoming album Unity (out August 15 via Music in Exile) an essential listen.
Cool Sounds (VIC) – ‘Sleepers’
Always enjoyable indie-pop crew Cool Sounds are back with a new EP on the horizon, out soon through Hotel Motel Records. Previous cut ‘Vice’ was a silky smooth synth-heavy yacht-rock-like jam, while second slice ‘Sleepers’ moves at a different pace. The track shuffles with an outwardly genial appeal – all acoustic strum, twinkling keys, dusty percussive patter and dual harmonies. Cool Sounds’ laid-back and sunny disposition on ‘Sleepers’ disguises a more serious lyrical discourse underpinning the song. Here, the titular sleepers are the folks who consciously avoid engaging with the issues of the day, preferring to doze in blissful ignorance as situations get progressively bleaker. These inactive laggards stymie positive change with their inactivity, believing that what’s taking place doesn’t affect them indirectly. They’re wrong, of course, and Cool Sounds know it. I think this is them either waking up to their own inactivity or politely calling the problematic set out on their bullshit. Either way, it’s way cool.
Introduction (SA) – ‘Red Light’
Minimalist synth-pop/skeletal post-punk from Adelaide featuring members of Workhorse, Fair Maiden and Rex Wonderful & The Silk Sheets. The core components include languid and slightly warped synths, slinky bass, delicate tambourine slaps, and sighing vocals. Like it’s namesake, ‘Red Light’ boasts a purposeful removal of urgency – a creation of space that allows the lyrical sentiments to marinate, as if crafted in the quiet aftermath of something significant. The track is an incredibly meditative listen, and although the sonic palette is intentionally sparse there are plenty of minute details worth lingering on. Introduction’s debut EP is already out via Tenth Court – hopefully more on that at a later date.
Thibault (VIC) – ‘Centrelink’
This is the debut single for Nicole Thibault of Minimum Chips fame. The song features a beautiful amalgam of electronic and organic sound – robust and dreamy in equal measure, offbeat but so perfectly on point, too. The track’s lyrical crux – our much-maligned social security service – is both a setting for despair and resilience. It’s fitting a track like this emerges when record numbers are turning toward JobSeeker for assistance in a post-COVID-19 world. Although a sad tale about the soul-destroying act of relying on the system, ‘Centrelink’ can also be interpreted as a story about continued perseverance. The track will feature on Thibault’s first full-length Or Not Thibault – released on Chapter Music via Inertia in September.
City Rose (NSW) – ‘Sexton’s Call’
City Rose is dead, and more’s the pity. Before they called it quits last year, the four-piece cranked out a caustic blend of rumbling post-punk and scum rock, indebted to spiritual ancestors The Birthday Party (with a splash of the thuggish skronk of Slug Guts in the mix) but pulled off with enough panache that if they told you they invented the sound you’d almost believe them. If you like bass that makes your guts quiver and writing guitars that cause your skin to itch, then the group’s debut EP (out now via Third Coming Records) might be something you’ll enjoy.
Mouche (VIC) – ‘Cosmic Twist’
Mouche is the solo outlet of Tim Karmouche (Crepes / The Murlocs /Swazi Gold / Dreamin’ Wild), who is releasing a full-length Live From The Bubble in the next fortnight through Research Records. The first slice from the album is ‘Cosmic Twist’ a spacey and psychedelic instrumental composition that invigorates the synapses. It’s a mix of swirling synthetic flourishes and swells of woozy ambient noise – sonic waves cresting and crashing in kaleidoscopic splendour. Listening with headphones almost gives the world around me a more vivid hue, like the colourful soundscapes permeating my brain are seeping out into reality. It’s groovy as all get-out and I think any fan of experimental/ambient/electronic composition will dig it, too.
Elmo Aoyama (NSW) – ‘Spells’
Elmo Aoyama – long-time synth-player, bassist and backing-vocalist for Big White – is currently snatching the limelight with her solo work. ‘Spells’ is the title track of Elmo’s forthcoming EP (but the second to be released from it, following the appearance of ‘Summertime’ on the Stay Inside: Songs from the Great Indoors compilation. With ‘Spells’, Elmo has measured out each sonic ingredient perfectly – from the delicate and ethereal top notes to the a squelchy modulated undercurrent and even her own own buttery smooth vocal delivery. It makes my skin hum like all emotion-driven synth-pop should. Lyrically, Elmo touches on past friendships/relationships and the unresolved conflicts that still weigh on her brain, even over time. This reflective context makes ‘Spells’ a relatable listen – one that stirs up a heavy-hearted feeling within.
Syzygy (VIC) – ‘The Pendulum’
This track comes from a new Melbourne/Naarm duo featuring Rebecca Maher (Spotting/Vampire) and Gus Kenny. It kicked off the phenomenal A Long Time Alone compilation that came out recently, but luckily for us it wasn’t an isolated appearance. Turns out Syzygy is quick to follow up with more – soon the tandem will drop a four-track EP, with throbbing synth-pop number ‘The Pendulum’ once again leading the charge. Syzygy’s synthetic notes pulse like vibrant neon, strips of electrified light illuminating a geometrically complex crystalline mass from within. I gather ‘The Pendulum’ in question refers to the swinging of moods, the oscillation between elation and misery, self-belief and self-hatred. I’m nodding my head out of knowing empathy and because the thumping beat is undeniable.
HighSchool (VIC) – ‘Frosting’
HighSchool is a new Melbourne/Naarm-based duo (siblings, I think) that have debuted with a this icy-cool post-punk number. The track boasts a lightly-fuzzed texture that helps soften the nimble guitars and synth swells, lending an almost-nostalgic filter to the whole thing. There’s a discernible element of wistful reflection and heart-on-sleeve youthfulness. Heartache’s at play here, too – a weary resignation regarding mistakes made and loss of what was once cherished. It’s a nice debut – looking forward to more.
Geld (VIC) – ‘Infrasound’ / ‘Forces at Work’
If you’re looking to be put through the ringer, look no further than the most-recent bruisers from vociferous hardcore crew Geld. The group have a new LP arriving soon via Iron Lung and Static Shock in early July, and are building hype with these two skin-flaying numbers. Think pulverising and unrelenting noise fuelled by despair, anger and a cocktail of substances. ‘Infrasound’ is a minute-long beatdown in the spirit of ‘90s hardcore from Cleveland, while ‘Forces at Work’ is a gnarly chugger that serves to grind the leftover fragments of your brain to dust. Important to note – 100% of digital sales made up until July 4 will be donated to WAR (Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance).
Floodlights (VIC)– ‘Thanks for Understanding’
On July 17 Floodlights will be officially releasing their forthcoming LP From A View via Spunk Records. Lead single ‘Thanks For Understanding’ is an ear-catching strummer that boasts familiar shades of contemporary Australian jangle and lashings of breezy New Zealand indie-pop, but scuffed up juuuust enough to remove a bit of the glossy sheen. There’s a snazzy textural interplay between the fuzzier riffing and intricate picking of the guitars. Back-and-forth dual vocals help position the track as one with two sides, which is fitting considering the song is about two people growing apart and moving in opposite directions. ‘Thanks for Understanding’ is one of those songs that has been executed well from concept to delivery – an example of things coalescing and hitting like it should.
Poppongene (VIC) – ‘Don’t Even Know’
On ‘Don’t Even Know’, Poppongene shifts gears from her familiar rich and dreamy soundscapes to something with a bit more oomph. It’s a track about the gradual dissolution of a relationship, and Poppongene has kneaded her pent-up frustration and confusion into the dough, working in these elements until it’s an integral part of the overall mixture. ‘Don’t Even Know’ oscillates between a poppy slink and robust driving groove, gradually building up in pressure and intensity – blood rushes to the brain and I’m left a little light-headed. Poppongene’s EP is out next week via Our Golden Friend.
Sow Discord (VIC) – ‘When It Has Finally Come To Pass’
David Coen (who performs in Whitehorse) also creates under the moniker of Sow Discord – a project that pairs doom and electronica in a foreboding mix. ‘When It Has Finally Come To Pass’ is one of the most imposing sonic monuments I’ve encountered in recent memory. As the mix of gut-rumbling bass, distorted utterances, blasted sample fragments and distant percussive thump envelops me, I get a sense of desolate landscapes, abyssal depths and a malignant presence tailing me just out of view. This is what happens when you look into the void and the void screams back. Sow Discord’s forthcoming album Quiet Earth is on its way, set to arrive on July 15. Proceeds from digital sales to be donated to Pay The Rent.