Hikikomori - HITS (Conquest of Noise)
HITS are an important band: for those who really care about Australia Rock, the history, the character and breathtaking urgency that some bands at certain times can produce.
HITS are from Brisbane and in it, this could not be significant; it is the fact when we name the most influential figures in shaping our music. Lobby Loyde and The Saints are always in that list. I am not sure that is as important in the overall scheme of things, except they carry that flag and make that city proud.
I found the band as a recommendation by Jim Dickson three years ago, hailing them as “the most exciting band to emerge in years”. Now it is three years later, and there are many, many gigs I have dragged my arse to. I have championed them. They have been, from the moment I saw those five songs live, passionate, raw, melodic, at times spontaneous, and all times urgent street level rock and roll with a bucket full of soul.
Yes, I hear the obvious post Birdman influences, I hear Ian Rilen. A nod to even to Alberts and the rawness of the Geelong sound. That will be obvious reference points.
There is so much more. In many ways, this is a band that should have emerged in the mid-‘90s. Underpinning the band - and it is immediately obvious - is the Riot Girl movement, The Breeders, Sonic Youth and Seattle. Sadly at that time, apart from Geelong, Australian rock mostly meandered in the dire lameness of Frenzal Rhomb and fuckin’ Bodyjar. They were as urgent as karaoke night at Penrith RSL. We have HITS 20 years later, so who is complaining?
“Hikikomori” is the long-awaited second album: The first, “Living With You Is Killing Me”, was a four-star affair and one of the strongest debut albums of the past decade in the genre of Australian music. It told me this band could really write songs.
“Bullet Train” is the opening track and straight away the band declares: “We mean business.” Confident. The rhythm is tradesman-like. Gregor Mulvey, as a drummer, never overplays and is pounding: he’s as solid as brick shithouse and Andy Buchanan’s bass lines roll along. They creates the engine room for the layers.
Then we have Stacey Coleman her classic power-chording on her Gibson SG, it is the classic rock delivery. It is Evil Dick’s sneering “Welcome ladies” sarcastically rolling intro a Mark E. Smith-like poignant rally of lyrics.
“Jesus F Christ” increases the intensity and high-powered MC 5 rock delivery - but that’s where the Detroit reference ends. We have emotion, intensity and interplay with the vocals of Evil, Tamara and Stacey. This is sex energy in highest order. Combined with fine fret work by Tamara.
“Bitter And Twisted” as a live song over the last year or so has been a much more shambolic and chaotic affair, sneering and self-deprecation. At times it stunned me the song was even completed live. With Rob Younger’s production: it is now even more brutal, hard and solid and builds and builds. “The Church Song” is a shift in direction and bodes well for a future path in the band’s songwriting. With keyboards by one of the guests on the album, Jed Walters, it is straight forward, melodic and a break away from the harder edge.
“Disappointed” is my highlight on the album. Lyrically, it’s the classic tale of alienation from parental expectations, the classic rock “loser” theme, and that you know one gets the path I am on. This could have been the Alice Cooper band with its sense of theatrical vocal characterization, and left us wondering is this biographical, or fiction about Evil Dick’s own reflection? A sense of sadness whether intentional or not. Tamara Dawn Bell’s disjointed guitar lines open and that cuts in: slicing and jagged. Andy delivers a very solid bass line: it is the space the breathing space and is cleverly arranged.
“G Banger” is a classic HITS signature tune: It struts and the guitars open: Evil Dick as a story teller who takes you on a ride, into his mind, as he declares what he rejects. “I don’t want to be hospitalised for my petty crimes” is an open wound. The harmonies are another highlight: here are three lead singers from previous bands and shows, layered as counter melodies in songs. Tamara again delivers another sonically perfect guitar solo
There are more live favourites in “Loose Canons” and Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”, the latter capturing the intensity of the original but with much grunt to the attack. “Lost in The Somme”is new song, a tale of a soldier long gone, and a respectful salute. It opens with the band’s classic strut, but we have a sudden change in tempo, at first becoming atonal and then switching yet again to the vocally sublime and beautiful. Another highlight.
It is the guitar interplay that has always been the talking point of HITS. Tamara is not technical, or on occasion she does hit the odd wrong note. That is perfect in itself. Pure punk, garage, passion and attitude. The lineage goes straight back to Ron Asheton, her playing is endlessly shredding. Soaring melodic hook lines abound with her experimenting and rediscovering a fresh attack. Stacey is no wallflower, yes as stated delivers almost a classic rock bed, power chording from the Ramones to hard rock strut of AC/DC, and then out of the blue, a very clever counter guitar line which harmonises with Tamara’s attack. Stacey offers some mighty fine playing.
Much has been made by Rob Younger’s production. Rob, as a producer, is different animal to the live rock legend. There’s always a sense of modesty in his production values. He’s talented, but is never pushing the envelopes. He has a classic sense of capturing guitars and highlighting the melody in the song, drawing on almost classic late ’60s British values . What HITS had behind the console was a music geek who knows more about rock songs than almost anyone else in this country, and whose experience of spending thousands of hours in the studio himself was invaluable. At times the bottom end is a little lacking - that is personal taste - but Rob was the right producer at this time. His talents should be used a lot more in this country.
This is a world class album, and locally the most significant underground street level rock album since “Blind Ear” by the Celibate Rifles. I was in two minds to give the album a five star review, compared to what is out there at the moment they deserve it: I won’t. I know the best is yet to come and this leaves me no room to give them the five stars in the future. - Edwin Garland
Real Rock and Roll is all about the disaffected, the despairing and the desperate. That the people behind the best Australian Real Rock and Roll Record you’ll hear in 2014 are nice people is immaterial. This is the music Bukowski would have played at his girlfriend’s funeral after a week-long bender had turned her poisoned liver to jelly.
You won’t hear “Hikikomori” on mainstream radio - unless you classifiy their hometown Brisbane radio station 4ZZZ as such. It’s terminally loud, abrasive and demands attention. The songs resonate with a nagging intensity that lingers after the last note has ended. The album title is a Japanese term for social withdrawal and HITS are happy to stay on the fringes. Outriders have more fun.
Rob Younger’s production has bypassed polish and simply focused on throwing the vital elements – especially the two-headed guitar assault of Tamara Dawn Bell and Stacey Coleman – into the sharpest of reliefs. Nothing is wasted - except the odd band member.
Like the best Real Rock, the HITS formula is simple. The first-class engine room surges and lurches (as it does live) and propels each song forward. Singer Evil Dick sits on top, somehow staying upright, lobbing lyrical hand grenades about torrid, tumultuous or otherwise dead-end and doomed relationships. Tamara and Stacey’s keening harmonies add a vaguely sugary layer to Richard’s bitter pills.
The HITS lineage includes bands like Gazoonga Attack, Strutter and Butcher Birds who variously dealt in riff-a-rama guitar pop, excess and garage chick rock. As good as those bands were, they pale in comparison. HITS delivered a spectacular debut album ("Living With You Is Killing Me") but this one's a step up.
There’s a burning potency to “Jesus F Christ” that defies containment lines. It’s a song wrapped up in those guitars, ground down to its base components and spat out. “Bitter And Twisted” switches the mood to brood in the blink of one bloodshot eye - and proceeds to drip self loathing all over the floor.
Not every song goes for the throat and there's a fair selection of mid-tempo smokers. Like “Disappointed”, a song about people talking behind backs that sounds like a blissfully fuzzy Died Pretty cruising some rainy Brisbane back-block on a humid night. "Church Song" has zilch to do with houses of worship (I'm guessing the title's a nod to the sort of dreamy chords Steve Kilbey and Co indulge in) that spears off into lyrics about resigned antipathy peppered with razor-wire guitar. "Shadowplay" kicks the steamroller's transmission into drive. Getting out of the way isn't an option.
After all this carnage, the second-to-last singalong, "Drink Too Much", is poppy in structure and delivery, and relative light relief.
"The Somme" is the closer and an ode to a lost grandfather ("We lost him in the Somme/But his spirit carries on/It's in me") featuring a nice break-down. Anyone with a remote interest in history will know The Somme was the site of a series of World War One's bloodiest battles, resulting in a million lost lives. It was a clusterfuck and an abject waste of time - unlike "Hikikomori."
Available on LP and limited-run CD. The link below will get you what you need. - The Barman