Unmarked Tracks: August A monthly Australian music column

Text: Aaron Curran

“Out beyond the haze, seaside holiday houses lay quiet as a grave.
Tombs of dreams past, wealth gone to waste.
The Australian dream is fading, stolen anyway”.

– Jen Cloher, ‘Regional Echo’

10. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher, (2017, Milk! Records) & live at Oxford Arts Factory, 25 August

When Jen Cloher self-titled her fourth album and popped a naked portrait of herself on the front cover, there’s a fair chance she wanted listeners to understand that this music is personal and exposing. Yes, bouts of loneliness and introspection are shared – Exile in I-ville, so to speak – in forthright lyrics about Cloher’s childhood, career, and relationship (with wife Courtney Barnett, here on guitar), but her songs transcend self-analysis by remaining engaged with the state of the nation. “Hansonites” and “the feral right” are taken to task, but so are “privileged white” indie rock fans and “pussy” music critics, not so much with rancour as the same unflinching matter-of-factness she directs inward as well as out. The band’s music sounds deceptively simple – as assured with a Velvets-y rhythmic chug (‘Analysis Paralysis’) as swaggering rock (‘Strong Woman’) or wry lullaby (‘Dark Art’) – but surprises with appealing textures like slightly-wonky guitar solos or keyboard bursts from guests like Kurt Vile, Dan Luscombe and co-producer Greg Walker (Machine Translations). References to Jen’s musical inspirations abound, from Drones to Triffids to Dirty Three. Provocative, incisive and compulsively re-playable, this no-nonsense album earns every success it will no doubt garner.


9. The Allah Las, Reverberation Radio – Australian edition, mix # 273

It’s interesting to hear how music aficionados from overseas respond to Australian music, whether it’s Henry Rollins collecting new local independent bands or Paul Major from Endless Boogie celebrating Australian prog and psych. When LA garage-rockers The Allah Las visited us a couple of months back they compiled a mix of their favourite musical rarities from this neck of the woods and it’s still available to play or download from their Reverberation Radio website if you hurry (they make a lot of mixes, so scroll to find #273). Some of the band worked at famed LA record store, Amoeba, so they know their stuff, with choices that stray into expert territory like the impossibly-rare ‘Wordless Song’ by ’70s Sydney soul diva, Justine, or ‘Monster Planet’ from Steve Maxwell Von Broad, later of Aussie synth pioneers, Cybotron, alongside gems from CW Stoneking, Joe Geia, Blekbala Mujik, and the inimitable John Sangster. The sunlit mood of this mix will be a perfect companion as winter concedes to spring.

Blue-green album cover, with the word 'Justine' written at the top of the image, and a sketch of a woman below it


8. Australia Ensemble – The Sound of Pictures live at UNSW, 16 September

There’ll be two intriguing Australian works played at the Australia Ensemble’s The Sound of Pictures concert next month, alongside Nino Rota, Bernard Herrmann, and other famed international composers of film music: Andrew Ford, presenter of Radio National’s The Music Show, will offer Scherzo Perpetuo for string quartet, as well as host the event; and Felicity Wilcox sees the premiere of her new piece, Vivre Sa Vie-Composer’s Cut, for clarinet, piano, flute and percussion. This completely new score will be performed live to a screened adaptation of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 cinema classic, Vivre Sa Vie, starring Anna Karina in one of her most luminous yet tragic roles. Wilcox received special permission directly from Godard to adapt his work and create this live score, and she’ll give a free talk with Paul Stanhope about her composition and the film before the concert.

The words 'Vivre Sa Vie: Film En Douze Tableaux' appear over a close up, black and white image of a woman's face in profile.


7. The Playboys – 50th Anniversary of ‘Black Sheep RIP/Sad’ 7” (Immediate/Sunshine)

When Normie Rowe was called up for national service in 1967, it didn’t just call time on his pop career – a career that had seen him move to the UK to work with some of the best in the business, including producer Giorgio Gomelsky (Julie Driscoll) and session men Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones – but also that of his backing band, The Playboys, who had followed him to London and begun to make their own in-roads into the UK scene. Signed to Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label, The (Australian) Playboys, as they were known there, recorded just one single: A-Side ‘Black Sheep RIP’, a loping fuzz-tinged rewrite of the nursery rhyme, has its merits but it’s the flipside, ‘Sad’, a memorable original by bassist Colin Peacock with psychoactive guitar and commanding harmonies, that ensures this is one of the most in-demand artefacts of the freakbeat era. ‘Sad’ was also released in Australia, fifty years ago this month on the Sunshine label, and has been much compiled since, notably on the Nuggets 2 boxed set. Though The Playboys split in the wake of Normie’s news, they soon reformed as the ambitious but ultimately unlucky Procession, but that’s another story.


6. No Fixed Address & Coloured Stone – live at 107 Projects, Redfern, 31 August

Irrepressible reggae rebels, No Fixed Address join with their friends, ARIA award-winning Coloured Stone for a reunion concert that’ll have Redfern up and dancing. Both bands started in South Australia, forming at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music (CASM) in Adelaide, with No Fixed Address winning acclaim for their appearance in the quasi-documentary film classic, Wrong Side of the Road, and touring with acts like The Clash and Peter Tosh, while Coloured Stone recorded some of the catchiest local singles of the ’80, like ‘Black Boy’ and ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, and a handful of much-loved LPs. We’ve needed to hear these songs again, and they’ll be played by the lion’s share of the original line-ups of these landmark bands. You’ll kick yourself if you missed a ticket though as this show sold out very quickly.


5. Samuel McEwen’s comics – Paul Kelly, The Go-Betweens, Split and more

When Samuel McEwen’s not making music with bands like the S-Bends and the Soggy Ear Boys, he’s writing and drawing about it in his zine, Split, and in the number of mini-comics he creates to celebrate his favourite Australian musicians, like Paul Kelly, The Drones, The Go-Betweens, and Royal Headache. There’s something nobly low-key about his work; the histories or performances of the bands he loves are simply presented, with little drama or excessive adulation. His gig-going and band-admiring is captured in unassuming comic strips that reinforce the everyday nature of adoring and playing music. Sam’s comics are available for sale and you can follow him on Instagram, @samcewen95.

The Drones' comic strip excerpt


4. Fags in the Fast Lane – Sydney Underground Film Festival, Factory Theatre, 16 September

If your tastes veer to the oddball and the transgressive, tickets and day passes are on-sale now for the 2017 Sydney Underground Film Festival next month. There’s loads in the program to interest music-lovers, with documentaries about The Orb, L7, Sleaford Mods and The Melvins and a stomach-churning horror film from Flying Lotus, but one film stands out as a rock ‘n’ roll bacchanalia of hyperreal camp: Fags in the Fast Lane, a mondo-queero road movie directed by Melbourne’s Josh ‘Sinbad’ Collins, featuring cult icons like Kitten Natividad (ex-muse of Russ Meyer), The Mummies, El Vez (the Mexican Elvis), and King Khan. Tex Perkins provides the narration (“I needed to reclaim my gay icon status”, he says) and his pal Raul Sanchez, ex-Magic Dirt, wrote and compiled the riotous soundtrack.


3. Kellie Lloyd – Fragile States EP and Screamfeeder – Kitten Licks LP (Bandcamp)

The new release of the first solo material in five years from Brisbane’s Kellie Lloyd aligns with the anniversary of one of her best-loved records, Screamfeeder’s Kitten Licks album, which turns 21 this month. Fragile States is aptly-named, for the most part a pensive suite of meditative recordings, graced with piano, cello and guitar, but with a couple of moody Screamfeeder-esque rockers to remind you why her contribution to this underrated band was such a crucial one. Kitten Licks remains a superlative set of snarling pop gems like ‘Dart’ and ‘Static’, brimming with dynamism and melody. Kellie’s new EP and the entire Screamfeeder catalogue is available on Bandcamp, including many rarities and the odd freebie.

Album cover, with drooping pink flowers fading into a pink and orange background.


2. Cam Butler – Find Your Love (Bandcamp)

I first came across Cam Butler in his art-rock instrumental band Silver Ray, then later working alongside Ron Peno in The Superstitions. An exceptional guitarist, Butler has a passion for combining the nuanced subtleties of orchestration with the rawer qualities of electric guitar and a rock rhythm section. His 2008 album Dark Times (Symphony #3) has been a constant companion, perhaps the closest thing Australia’s produced to the lush but occasionally jagged soundscapes of later Talk Talk, and coincidentally that album has just reached the 10th anniversary of its recording, but it’s his new record Find Your Love that Butler considers his most successful attempt at realising the hybrid sound he’s aiming for. With a 14-piece string section alongside his band, Butler achieves an evocative blend here, sometimes cinematic, often jazzy. Songs like ‘Have Mercy’, ‘Together [Again]’ and the title-track are standouts but the LP achieves a cohesion that rewards repeated listening in full.

Album cover, showing Cam Butler in a white shirt and black suit, facing the camera.


1. Vale Simon Holmes & the 30th Anniversary of The Hummingbirds’ ‘Alimony’ 7” (Phantom)

July ended on a sour note with the passing of Simon Holmes and August kept right on sucking when esteemed producer and engineer Tony Cohen died too, both much too young. As guitarist and co-songwriter of The Hummingbirds, Holmes created many memorable records, never afraid of letting a little noise or grit into their perfect pop mix. That he died in the 30th anniversary month of the band’s debut release, ‘Alimony’, was a sad coincidence. But Holmes lived a fuller life and contributed to a lot more music than just The Hummingbirds: in bands like Fragile and The Aerial Maps; as producer of Custard, Died Pretty, and The Fauves; and working at shops/labels like Phantom, Half a Cow, and Enthusiasms. He loved to share his favourite records and songs, and to help his friends make their own music, and its’s that generosity of spirit that should be remembered and celebrated.


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