If you watched Twin Peaks: The Return and you also go to see live music, you may have felt it too. The sudden sensation youâre at the Bang Bang Bar. In venues with red curtains, particularly.
I had a jolt of it last Saturday night, seeing Lower Plenty at Sydneyâs Botany View hotel. Itâs a carpeted pub in Newtown with streetlights streaming in and TAB screens up the back, so kudos to the band.
Most of the 18 new Twin Peaks episodes feature an extended outro set in the Bang Bang Bar at the Roadhouse. A real band (Nine Inch Nails, Sharon Van Etten Rebekah Del Rio) play a real song in real time, thus blurring the boundary in each episode between the town of Twin Peaks and real life. The crowd are actors but we are not and it is us left watching the band. Weâre at the goddamn Roadhouse! âWe live inside a dream.â
Iâm grateful to David Lynch for these closing scenes. I try to see all the bands I write about play live; Iâve seen every act discussed below, bar the Orbweavers, because invariably, their performance is the key that unlocks an aspect Iâve overlooked, or it helps me understand where a band or musician is coming from.
I appreciate how Lynch has made a trope we know so well â a song, a stage, a darkened room and a swaying crowd â seem beautifully strange again. So frozen in artifice and transcendence. And Iâm pleased this Lynchian vision will continue to bleed into the gigs I go to.
Time for Dreams â In Time
In a couple of Melbourne front bars, Tom Carlyon and Amanda Roff are royalty. Carlyon (the Devastations and Standish/Carlyon) and Roff (Harmony and singer with the Drones) feel part of the cityâs fabric. The music they make as Time for Dreams doesnât. Which is the point.
Their debut is a sticky, gelatinous thatch of gloopy synths, ambient clangs and clipped 808 claps rattling like screws in an empty laundromat. Roff sings in an unusually fragile way, as if caught behind the scrim of the bandâs gauzy wash. The BPMs never push beyond a sway. Itâs meant to evoke specific noir stuff â melancholic ennui, pre-sex, cigarettes over a metropolis more nameless, steamy and sprawling than Melbourne.
It does. Though sometimes you wish they were more upfront about their reasons. Such is their commitment to sonic drama, real insight to their emotional turmoil goes missing. Operator and the glacial pine of Orders best promise it. But still, that mood: you can wade in and let it sink you if you want. â Marcus Teague
Liars â TFCF
When word came that Angus Andrew (who is Australian) of the US-based three-piece Liars was holed up in the bush north of Sydney writing a solo album, people in the know got excited. Each of Liarsâ seven art-rock records, released over 15 years, had been a chilling thrill. What would the bandâs core moving part cook up on his Jack Jones in the jungle?
Andrew rides out atop TFCF like an erstwhile king, a menagerie of screeching birds and insects in tow. Perhaps itâs the regal harpsichord on Cliche Suite or the ambient beam-up on Crying Fountain but I canât shake thoughts of Italo Calvinoâs novella, Baron in the Trees, where an 18th-century child baron decides to preside, alone, from an arboreal realm.
His squelching beats are hauled around and thunked down in songs that are bent, broken yet often quite heart-wrenching. Exhaustion saps the campfire strum of No Help Pamphlett, where he gears up from slur to J Mascis croak. Staring at Zero, meanwhile, features the kind of smacked-out funk loop only Andrews could mongrel up.
Narrow Lands â Everythingâs Fine
âVery rough, almost unusable,â is how Narrow Lands describe this recording, laid down over a single weekend in a jam room in Marrickville, Sydney. The resulting sound is furnace-blast unforgiving, full of stop-start frights that donât quite make a clean break, the detritus of distortion and decibels spilling into the silence in a way fellow noiseniks My Disco couldnât countenance.
Narrow Lands nod to the more punitive end of early-90s industrial acts such as Godflesh, Scorn and Big Black, sans groove and gratuitous riffing. These are less political songs than ejections of political frustration (Bring Them All Here is about Australiaâs refugee policy), mired in the self-flagellating muck between anger and apathy, and delivering little of the endorphin rush heavy music can.
The singing raises a limp fist only occasionally to the idea vocals can function as a rallying cry, not merely a muzzled bark. On Get Fat the guitars make a kamikaze dive as Ivan Lisyakâs drums pound, then terminate, like door knocks from the grim reaper.
Jasmine Guffond â Traced
News of a facial recognition database to âkeep Australia safeâ cast Jasmine Guffondâs record, Traced, into topicality because it presents an idea of how surveillance might sound.
Guffond âsonifiedâ the data generated by digital surveillance technology â facial recognition systems and global monitoring networks, specifically â by turning their algorithms into auditory shapes.
Though I was transfixed well before the news was announced. Guffond weaves sound art, ambience, disembodied voice and some pretty bracing use of bass into compositions in constant flux. Sounds shoal, then scatter, like fish. No texture or mood is graspable for long.
On Post Human, a voice pans, percussively, left and right, seeking but not finding an exit. On GPS Dreaming, multiple voices chafe against a droning thrum.
The album format is a sliver of this projectâs potential. It seems ripe for expansion into something such as the immersive multimedia project of Ryoji Ikedaâs Supersymmetry, where people are placed into a simulation of the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator. Because in a similar way to the TV series Black Mirror, in Guffondâs work, we are already stars of the show.
Alex Cameron â Forced Witness
The Killersâ frontman Brandon Flowers named Alex Cameronâs Jumping the Shark his favourite album of 2016, then backed it up by hiring the Sydney musician to co-write lyrics on the new Killersâ record. You can kind of stitch it together. Cameronâs great skill is animating characters gassed-up on hubris, then pricking them and seeing how they sag. The Killersâ songs are vast empty sets. Best hire a scriptwriter.
Forced Witness isnât as poisonous as Cameronâs seriously dank Jumping the Shark. His characters are still deadshits â theyâre just less torn up about it. Now, with âbusiness partnerâ Roy Molloy in tow on sax, heâs throwing them into cheeseball pop that sounds pulled from a cassette left on the dash too long.
True Lies is AM gold but for its love interest maybe being âsome Nigerian guyâ (and incessant rototoms). Country Figs is glammy strut, but for its heart-hurt dude threatening to drive into a wall (and incessant rototoms). Love powers Cameronâs songs but never wins. It just gets stripped to its silly, salty nub. Then Molloy plays a sax solo over it. â Marcus Teague
Omahara â Untitled
The Tasmanian instrumental act Omahara was a highlight of Mofo 2015. A crowd sat in bleachers by the Hobart river as they sailed by on a boat, the drummer inside a jungle gym-style cage, laying waste to a percussive rig that hung and swung like salamis in a deli.
These four meditations perfectly suit double vinyl: one for each side. Tag it as drone, doom, dark ambient or âimmense-sounding noisescapes depicting a wild and wretched beauty where the weather can really take a turnâ. It is defined by enormity and space â especially the drum sound â as though it were recorded at face-melting volume in a natural amphitheatre by three giant-sized men.The albumâs heart centre is tracks two and three. On Untitled 2 the percussion swirls into a whirlpool of circular tribal rhythms as a wild-eyed guitar wails â all of it ploughing through a miasma of feedback, distortion and the cymbalâs molten heat.
Untitled 3 is my track-of-the-year-so-far. For nine looping trance-inducing minutes it rocks on its haunches in the corner until the bass finds a line, the drummer locks in and it coheres into majestic post-rock. Then closes with a well-earned outro of super-sized stoner doom.
The Orbweavers â Deep Leads
You donât so much listen to the hushed noir folk of Marita Dyson and Stuart Flanagan as fall into step with it. These 10 songs present a poetic contemplation of history, geology, nature, mining and metals that is both bookish and sensual. âDeep leads are buried ancient river beds which sometimes contain alluvial gold,â writes Dyson. â[This album] is about buried and hidden things.â
Tasteful bossa nova touches and swirls of orchestral pop couch Dysonâs clear, close and reserved voice. The imagery is sometimes lush â flowers, gardens, purples and poisons â and sometimes harrowing, as on Radium Girls, about a group of female factory workers in the 1920s who ingested toxic quantities of radium while painting luminous dials for clocks.
Remembrance and respect emanates from these songs. Not only in the duoâs reanimation of human tragedy but in how tenderly they personify the natural environment too, as on the bygone Blue Lake. âBeneath bitumen, I heard they filled you in / Driven further away, concrete on clay.â