Words: James Frostick
Naretha Williams image: Christopher Sutherland

The year keeps on and so does the music. Volume two of Brief Breakdown charts some of the new song releases of the past month or so – everything from tooth-grinding synth-punk and dreamy scuzz to haunting organ-laced drone and unhurried, contemplative sax-laced pop.

Naretha Williams (VIC) – ‘Chaos Country’
On August 14 First Nations experimental interdisciplinary artist Naretha Williams will release BLAK MASS, an album of compositions crafted using live electronics and the Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ. The concept album – out through Heavy Machinery Records – is the second addition to Naretha’s CRYPTEX composition project and is the latest in a series of works that foreground the organ alongside new records from the likes of Sarah Mary Chadwick and New War. BLAK MASS’ first single ‘Chaos Country’ gives a glimpse at the intent behind the record – to transform and re-contextualise the organ (long a symbol of European domination) into a sonic force encouraging the destruction of colonial oppression. The organ’s notes (already a foreboding sonic centrepiece) are set to a thumping electronic rhythm, creating an aural mix that induces chest-tightening anxiety. There’s an eerie ritualistic element to the sound, an evocation of energies summoned and put to work bringing ruin to institutions of power and the destruction of cultural dominance. Without words, ‘Chaos Country’ digs deep into the ideas underpinning identity – it underlines the horrific realities of our history and challenges the gatekeepers of power. These haunting soundscapes should drive a chill into the hearts of those working to maintain systems of oppression. BLAK MASS will be released digitally and on vinyl on August 14.

Terrible Signal (WA) – ‘Half the Person’
Vincent Buchanan-Simpson (Hideous Sun Demon) has been busy lately putting the final pieces in place for The Window – the sophomore album made under the moniker Terrible Signal. A string of singles have slowly given audiences a grasp of the album’s sonic banquet, and ‘Half the Person’ is catchy as fuck addition to the track list. Direct and re-listenable, the song is an ode to the act of conscious uncoupling from bad people. ‘Half the Person’ finds Vincent recognising the abhorrent behaviour of unnamed friends and lovers – folks who abuse and belittle others without thought of consequence. You know – takers, never givers. The peppy garage-pop soundtrack belies the mounting frustration at play – Vincent can no longer excuse the abhorrent behaviours directed towards him and others, so he’s cleaning house and doing so with a restraint that perhaps these people don’t deserve. “I’m tired of living in this chamber / I’m tired of letting people like you in“. Puts it pretty plainly, I think. This might be a song a few of us need to hear. The Window is due to arrive in September through Heart of the Rat Records.

Wax Chattels (NZ) – ‘No Ties’
This latest track comes storming across the Tasman Sea courtesy of Auckland synth-punks Wax Chattels, who are gearing up to drop forthcoming LP Clot on our heads like a tonne of bricks in September. If you’re keen to make your brain quiver with something meaty, ‘No Ties’ – Clot’s first single – is weighty slab of noise that should do the trick. A thunderous and reverberating bass quake puts me on edge, while writhing high-pitched synthesised whines roil in the gut before being expelled in a venomous spray. There’s an acidic expulsion of sound that has me besieged – no outs to be seen, no quarter given. Amanda Cheng’s vocals heighten the song’s bite. Here she waves her personal experiences into the fabric of the song – tackling the realities being a first-generation immigrant, how her predominantly Anglo surroundings create a disconnect between her and her family’s culture, and the conscience-wracking impact of her parents sacrificing so much for the sake of a better future. All of the above gives the track a palpable sense of alienation – an internal rift that distances her from both heritage and home. If any sound can effectively convey the inner strife of such circumstances, this sonic whirlwind seems the most suited to the task. Clot will be released on September 25 via Flying Nun Records.

Erasers (WA) – ‘Corridor’
Perth/Boorloo duo Erasers have dropped a lush new slice of meditative ambient sound created as part of the Tura Adapts 2020 @TheRoots Commissions. ‘Corridor’ is a soothing piece that utilises field recordings (gathered across the wetlands and coastline of the Cockburn Community Wildlife Corridor), hypnotic vocal loops and synthesiser wooze to create a soundscape that bridges the natural world and the realm of synthetic instrumentation. There’s a stillness here. I sense elements of eerie solitude and grounding peace – the kind of tranquility that can only be afforded by pandemic-induced isolation. Erasers are sitting still, giving their ears to the wilderness as it stirs more intensely now that humanity is closeted inside.

Obscura Hail (VIC) – ‘Doomer’
There’s a tangible sense of powerlessness that comes with widespread strife. The world is crumbling around us, and though we’re all genuinely eager to help patch up the cracks, it’s becoming harder and harder to prevent positive and progressive attitudes without succumbing to fatalistic lethargy. There’s too much gloom and not enough sunlight – too many hands out, not enough support. This is the grim subtext at the heart of ‘Doomer’, Obscura Hail’s bleary and blasted 90s-inspired indie-fuzz jam. Obscura Haul’s Sean Conran plumbs the depths of the “overwhelming awareness of suffering” happening across the world – the rising tide of privileged guilt and the rage at the ineffectiveness/greed/apathy of governing bodies and power-laden institutions. There’s a tuneful peppiness to the whole thing that makes the sentiments within ‘Doomer’ a bit more palatable, but the messages shouldn’t be ignored – it’s hard to stay motivated, yet the choice to give up isn’t one we can allow ourselves to consider. ‘Doomer’ will feature on Obscura Hail’s forthcoming EP Siren, due to drop on Friday September 18 via Dot Dash / Remote Control.

Fritz (NSW) – ‘Arrow’
Cupid’s a pain in the arse. Sure, being pricked by one of his mythical arrows is great in the moment, but when the romance dies, the arrow is still there – an awkward reminder of heartache now painfully lodged in your skin. Tilly Murphy aka FRITZ has imbued new single ‘Arrow’ with elements of that sentiment, masking the irritation of lost love in clouds of fuzzy noise-pop. FRITZ revels in crafting oceans of dreamy scuzz – cresting waves of sound that crash and cast a spray of enlivening sonic mist that tingles the skin. It sounds like what love should feel like, but ‘Arrow’ isn’t a love song – it’s about how we feel stupid for continuously believing Cupid knows a damn thing about love at all.

Sleeper and Snake (VIC) – ‘Flats’
Al Montfort (Terry, Total Control, The UV Race) and Amy Hill (Terry, Primo!, Constant Mongrel) are Sleeper and Snake. The duo’s forthcoming LP Fresco Shed is the first in a brand-new series of albums being put out through Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (the in-house label of Thornbury-based record store Lulu’s). Showcasing the duo’s sublime low-intensity avant-pop is ‘Flats’ – a masterclass of making the most with less. Although sonically the track could be carelessly dismissed as an innocuous piece of aural whimsy (set it and forget it drum machines, delightfully robust dual saxophones), there are hard truths couched within the softness. I gather ‘Flats’ wrestles a bit with wealth disparity – the continual amassing of capital and the growing gap between the haves and have-nots, a juxtaposition shown most plainly in property. Ultra-luxe apartments soaring above housing commission clusters. The correlation between this divide and our colonial structure isn’t lost on me, either. This juxtaposition is analogous to the benefits of white privilege – penthouse apartments are akin to our heads being in the clouds, ignorant of the inequalities keeping multitudes on the ground level. Sleeper and Snake’s unhurried amble is great for these sorts of warts-and-all contemplations – music that’s pleasing to the ears carrying messages that are hard on the heart. Fresco Shed drops in full on September 25 – orders outside Australia can be placed via Upset the Rhythm.

Death Bells (NSW/USA) – ‘Heavenly Bodies’
Since I wrote about Death Bells last, the crew upped and moved from Sydney/Warrang to the United States, making themselves at home in California. Their brand of icy post-punk might seem incongruous with the perpetually hazy sunniness of Los Angeles, but seeing as America is the epicentre of the encroaching apocalypse perhaps Death Bell’s latest ode to the impermanence of life is fitting. ‘Heavenly Bodies’ blends a smooth mixture of sharp guitars and sombre baritone crooning with musings on mortality – the kind of unsettling rumination that’ll keep one up at night and spoil the ensuing sunrise. The track doesn’t feel mopey though – it’s more of a reminder to utilise the time you have wisely. ‘Heavenly Bodies’ features on Death Bells’ forthcoming album New Signs of Life, due to arrive on September 25 through Dais Records.

Heart Beach (VIC/TAS) – ‘Days’
Heart Beach continues to drip-feed us tracks recorded during a productive session at Head Gap Studios in 2019, following up previous songs ‘Cliffhanger’, ‘Together’, ‘Elastic‘ and ‘Other Side’ with ‘Days’ – perhaps the most sobering of the bunch. Here the group is trading in scuzzy fuzz for a sort of plodding clang – an inexorable march or a sombre stomp. Here the group look backwards, remarking on the passage of time and its gradual and imperceptible changes it brings. ‘Days’ reckons with lost youth, the notion of our best days passing us by, exchanging youthful ignorance for mounting adult anxiety and the permanent etching of worry on our faces. The song’s stamp does nothing to alleviate the weight on our minds – thankfully we have the unceasing drudgery of our full-time jobs, fear of climate change and greater amounts of social injustice to distract us.

Enclave (NSW) – ‘Gesture of Fear’
Not long ago I wrote about City Rose, which had disbanded before I’d even caught a single note of their music. Good news for fans of the band’s brand of high-stakes post-punk, member Pat McCarthy is now fronting Enclave (alongside members of COLD/HEAT, Black Drum and Lorelei ) – a crew that takes City Rose’s murky squall and injects it with a hearty dose of paranoia and fractured vigour. The band’s newie ‘Gesture of Fear’ claws its way out of the murk and then up the walls – shades of the artful bruising of early Iceage, Girl Band’s cask-strength grit, maybe Crack Cloud at its most dissonant. Here Pat is addressing his own white privilege, reckoning with the Anglo-centric lens he has viewed life through until now. He examines his own hurts and aches, realising they pale in comparison to the issues afflicting those born outside the sphere of privilege he inhabits. Heads are screwed on straight here, keen for more.

Full Power Happy Hour (QLD) – ‘Old Mind of Mine’
If there’s a discernible theme running throughout this list, it’s the notion that the world is in a state of serious disrepair, and the onus lies on us to fix it. Brisbane/Meanjin five-piece Full Power Happy Hour’s new track ‘Old Mind of Mine’ adds a bit of gentle pressure to the theme, needling those who complain about the state of things, but don’t do anything to, you know, help. The track is a sublime sample of sun-dappled indie-pop. There’s a spaciousness to it – a roomy vibe afforded to the languid strum, delicate pitter-patter of the percussion and smooth vocal delivery. When vocalist Alex Campbell sighs about getting away from the noise of the city in favour of a more serene setting, I empathise with all of my being. While it would be nice to pack up and reset with a country sojourn, this fanciful fantasy comes with the reminder that such natural spaces are one of the very things that we need to preserve, even if it means picking up the slack of the do-nothing dickheads.

Vintage Crop (VIC) – ‘The North’
In just under a week Geelong-based punk crew Vintage Crop will drop their forthcoming album Serve to Serve Again. ‘The North’ is the second slice of the album to be savoured so far. It moves at a bit of a slower pace compared to its agitated predecessor ‘Gridlock‘, but it’s still got the same cantankerous energy at its core. Showing the true depth of their sound, Vintage Crop’s signature plucky bass and taut strum is bolstered by keys adding a bit of warmth to the mix. Conceptually, warmth is the exact opposite of the topic at the heart of ‘The North’. From what I gather, the track is essentially a procession of gripes and grievances that go along with visits to the northern hemisphere. Cold weather, colder attitudes. Being far from home can be an alienating experience, plus the frigid temperatures (far chillier than anything recorded on this continent) have a habit of suppressing the sunniest of moods. No wonder this track plods at a more considered pace – my joints move slower in the cold, too. Track’s still a ripper, regardless. Serve to Serve Again drops on August 7 via Anti Fade Records in Australia and Upset the Rhythm in the UK.

Cutters (VIC) – ‘Chewed Up Fortune’
I’m not overly familiar with this Melbourne/Naarm crew, but I came across this recent 7″ release that came out through Legless Records and I reckon it rips. Skin-flaying hardcore – a blunt-force sonic blast that’ll knock lovers and haters on their arses in equal measure. Battered discontent – that’s what this is. Rage from the no-hope fringe – that’s also what this is. Gnarly grinders that lambast Centrelink’s inhuman Robodebt disaster and time’s knack for suffocating dreams and dealing shitty hands. I’ve linked lead track ‘Chewed Up Fortune’ here, but the 7″ has only got three songs and you’ve got time for it all.

Plebs (VIC) – ‘Fighter Jets’
Melbourne/Naarm crew Plebs released an EP earlier this year filled with gnashing gems that pushed back against everything from toxic masculinity and rote, day-by-day living. ‘Fighter Jets’ wasn’t on that EP – it’s a recent quarantine composition and from what I gather the band is turning its ire to the world’s military industrial complex / war mongering elite / Top Gun-influenced machismo. “Fighter jets, fighter jets, you can all suck my dick“. Yep, just as I thought. The group nails that careening punk agitation, the kind that boast hoarse vocals and lightly curdled guitar tone. Similar vein to the fried grunt of bands like Bad//Dreems, Stiff Richards and Mini Skirt but with a bit more snot in the nose.