melbourne - The I-94 Bar

45 Revelations Per Minute - Suzie Stapleton (self released)

45-revelationsSince, I was recently taken back by Suzie Stapleton’s compelling performance at the Bitter Sweet Kicks album launch Prince in St Kilda on Anzac Day, I did some searching. I found Suzie’s hypnotic and dark EP, “Obadi Diablo”, and it’s been on heavy airplay for more than two weeks. I contacted Ms Stapleton and requested a copy of her self-released debut EP of a few years back. Again, I was not to be disappointed.

Bite Your Tongue - Spacejunk (High Kick Records)

spacejunk biteyourtongueBrattish as fuck and more highly-strung than a cosmetically-enhanced girlfriend’s bra strap, “Bite Your Tongue” proves lightning strikes at least twice. This second offering from this Melbourne band is a case of “second album, just like the first”, sonically-speaking, and that’s no bad thing.

Spacejunk operates in that hard-to-pigeonhole musical space that’s vaguely described as “psychedelic punk rock”. It equates to loud, fuzzy guitars, left-field sonic touches and a barely-controlled energy. Mark E. Moon’s lerry, acid-flecked vocal is the crowning touch.

A Chance In Hell - Crystal Thomas (Off The Hip)

chance in hell coverMelbourne songstress Crystal Thomas has woken up in too many emergency ward beds for her own good. Next time you or I do the same, let this album be playing in the background.

Compilation, deluxe re-issues spotlight birth of Melbourne's underground scene

when-the-sun-setsFollowing acclaimed compilations like "Boogie!", "Dirty Jeans" and "Down Under Nuggets" and deluxe reissues of classic albums and material by Sunnyboys, Archie Roach, Frente! and the early Bee Gees, Warner Music’s hertitage imprint Festival Records continues its excavation of great Australian music with a number of releases focussing on Melbourne’s influential ‘70s scene, to be released on October 3.

“(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton: Melbourne’s Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene Of The ‘70s” is a deluxe 2CD set that documents the arts and politics-infused rock scene that gave Australia cultural icons like Paul Kelly, Joe Camilleri, Stephen Cummings, Jane Clifton, Peter Lillie, Ross Wilson, Ross Hannaford, Greg Macainsh, Red Symons and Shirley Strachan, as well as author Helen Garner.

Crazy Pussy - Grindhouse (Conquest of Noise)

crazy pussy coverSoaked in beer, sweat and sex, Melbourne’s Grindhouse delivers a loud ’n’ fast album dripping with guitar riffs. This is their second offering.

It sure sounds like Ricky “Pony Club” Audsley (lead guitar), Mick “Two Fingers’ Simpson (vocals-guitar), Adrian’”The Father” Cummings (bass) and Liam “Sticky Wicket” Chuffley are having a blast playing these tunes.

Kicking off this assault on the ears is “I Just Want To Drink At The Tote” (a song about a great little hotel in Melbourne’s Collingwood) is a good, old fashioned party song. “Throbbing Eye” and “Why” keep the album moving along. These are drinking songs…pub songs…fuck Facebook songs. “Old Ship” and “Casual Sex” are more flat-out rock ’n’ rollers - and they do rock, baby. LAMF!

Diamond In The Forehead - Garry Gray and The Sixth Circle (Off The Hip)

diamond foreheadNow I have to be upfront here. During the early '80s I was a huge Sacred Cowboys fan. I only saw them twice in Sydney but felt they were The Real Deal: a band in this territory of cool, alternative cowboy/Delta punk be that was coming from USA via people like The Gun Club and Wall of Voodoo, yet with a savage savage edge that was a nod to the "Blood River" period Scientists.

“Nothing Grows in Texas” simply was one best Australian singles of the '80s. Of courses Molly Meldrum slagged them off on TV on "Countdown". So we all knew they had so much going for them. At the centre was Garry Gray and his sneering vocals, somewhere between Alex Chilton and Jonathan Richman with a belly-full of hard, home brewed liquor.

Dumb-World - Negatives, Reals and Judas Iscariot & The Traitors = 1974-1978 (Loaded Skull Discs/Shock)

dumb worldThese are quite remarkable recordings. Yes, you've heard rehearsal tapes and demo recordings by garage bands before, but these are different. It's all about the timeframe, the intensity and the fact that they're Australian and were recorded in relative cultural isolation.

“Dumb-World” is a serious collection of raw demos and rehearsal tapes from future Sacred  Cowboys leader Garry Gray and his early bands between 1974-1978, featuring Judas and the Traitors, The Reals and The Negatives.

To place this in a historic context, the Australian musical landscape was fairly frigid. The local artists’ soundtrack was blaring from commercial AM radio, but it that was drab even though the live scene was flourishing and there were so many gigs for local musicians to play. 

Fifteen years and going strong: Off The Hip still burns bright

mickster at off the hipMickster Baty at home in his Off The Hip shop.

The music industry is a shallow trench full of sharks and transient imprints, to paraphrase Hunter S Thompson. Independent record labels come and go with the regularity of manufactured reality TV stars and only a few manage to find their niche and prosper. In Australia, only Citadel is still standing from the halycon days of the 1980s. A few rose in the '90s to fill the gaps left by the demise of Phantom and Waterfront. Since the 2000s, the most enduring has been Melbourne-based Off The Hip.

oth logoOff The Hip grew out co-founder Mick ("Mickster") Baty's love of all things garage rock, powerpop and psychedelia. A drummer and veteran of one of Sydney's finest garage-trash outfits, The Crusaders, he went on to killer powerpop bands The Pyramidiacs and The Finkers. Baty saw Off The Hip as an outlet for his own music. He had re-located to Melbourne by then and formed The Stoneage Hearts, a shifting cast of players who produced top-shelf garage rock with a pop bent.

A retail operaiton operating out of his house morphed into a bricks-and-mortar shop in Melbourne's CBD and a floodgate of releases via the fledgling label ensued. It's been an enduring success - on its own terms - since then. Off The Hip - the label and the shop - have inspired and contrinuted to the existence and growth of hundreds of bands. 

Last month, the Off The Hip label celebrated its 15th birthday. We decided it was high-time for Mickster to occupy the interview seat.

Johnny Collingwood b/w Baby No Good (Cobra Necktie Records)

johnny collingwoodWrong Turn is a duo-grown-into-a-trio from Melbourne that puts the primal back into rock and roll. Two albums in, this single is the first new recording to make it into the record racks since the band became a three-piece and it hits the bullseye, right in the fucking centre.

Wrong Turn is Ian Wettehall’s band and what his c.v. (The Philisteins, The Freeloaders, The Lords of Gravity, Seminal Rats, Stoneage Hearts) doesn’t tell you isn’t worth knowing.

Don’t let the jokey cover art fool you. The A side comes over like Chuck Berry on 11, telling a story about a man called Johnny Collingwood who never left home. It’s seriously raw and sounds like it was recorded in a toilet. There’s enough fuzz in the guitar to rattle your fillings loose, the vocals growl and the engine room of Myles Gallagher (drums) and Pip McMullan (bass) deliver appropriate crash-and-wallop with powerful fills. 

Flip it over and “Baby No Good” hits you in the solar plexus with equal effect. Vocally, there’s a touch of Hasil Adkins in the scream-and-stutter, reverb-soaked chorus (“B-b-b-b-b-b-baby no good!”) while the band sounds even trashier than pn the A. It's all recorded in glorious mono so you know it kicks like a mule. Score this gem at the band’s shows or hit them up on Facebook.

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Kill The Funk - Evil Twin (Twinsie Records)

evil-twinAnother day, another blues duo. Or so it seems. The economics of travelling light are obvious for a band playing ballsy blues-rock in these lean times, so it’s a relief when they actually sound good.

Mainline Honey - Babeez (Buttercup) & Rules No One - Broken Talent (Florida’s Dying)

babeez singleReissues of obscure 1970s and ‘80s worldwide punk rock are not uncommon.  It seems that not a week goes by that some little-known band from the era getting a reissue of their rare $600+ single.

Sadly, IMHFO, most of the bands were pretty ordinary at the best of times…lacking guts, originality, style or any other characteristics that can make olde time punk so great.  These two releases here are the minority. If you call yourself a punk grab these pronto.

broken talent

The Babeez 7” is brought to by Melbourne label Buttercup Records who have also issued titles by The Meanies, The Chosen Few and Deathwish. The Babeez were one of those great Melbourne punk bands from 1977 whose three-song single “Nobody Wants Me” is right up there with Razor, Rocks and The Leftovers in the Aussie ‘70s punk gold stakes.

This three-song single includes two early versions of songs from the first 45 and to hear them in this even more stripped down sound is a treat.  It sounds like a well-captured four-track recording. The guitars are not as prominent as the versions on the first 7” but it’s great to hear the vocals as clearly as this.

Mark Steiner brings "Saudade" Down Under

steiner-headshotNorwegian musical troubadour Mark Steiner has had a ongoing love affair with Australia since 2008 when he first visited our shores, fulfilling a self-promise after hearing the music of Rowland S. Howard when he was a teen growing up in New York in the ‘80s. He’s now making his fourth trip Down Under, playing songs from his latest album, “Saudade”, in and around Melbourne in January.

A purveyor of melancholic lounge-noir compositions, Steiner’s commanding voice and dark, sinewy rhythms of electric guitar have been described as “the epitome of a booze-soaked evening in a dirty clandestine bar and an ashtray full of pain”

Mythologies - Michael Plater (Evil Keys Music)

mythologiesThe first time I saw Melbourne guitarist Michael Plater I confess I didn’t get it. He was working on a style, which involves building up a mixture of tone and counter-tones, emotion in the strings lending timbre to the vocal.

I only saw a couple of songs, however; since then I’ve seen him on his last two trips to Adelaide, and can tell you that first, on his own he is a very different kettle of vermin, and second, with folk like Dean Richards or Cabin Inn, the stage is not a safe place.

Ooh La La Bastard - La Bastard (Beast Records)

oh la laReviewers still have a hard life, don’t they? All those free CDs and free gigs and backstage perks. Not this little black duck. The free CDs arrive and, as this ain’t the day job, they bank up a tad. Because I review music because I love it, if La Bastard were merely playing soft-core mimicry to a “classic” period, with that mushy, vacant intent, you wouldn’t be reading this.

I’ve listened to “Ooh La La Bastard” (“surf-rock party animals from Melbourne, Australia!” the back cover announces) several times now. Loved it more, each time. The front cover is a rather brilliant modern pastiche of ‘50s LP artwork which makes everyone look peculiar, French, and spectacularly jaded. Lluis Fuzzhound must be some sort of genius at large. Let’s just say La Bastard live a full life, and lay it down on the disc.

Ozone St - Los Dominados (Ejected Records)

ozone stThis record is so damned cool. So damned ultra-cool.

It’s sorta- like the late ’80s indie punk art of Sonic Youth with its rocky side exposed, combined with The Pixies and with the classic English rock pop of T-Rex thrown in. There’s even a nod to US ‘60s girl pop and urban country twang. It stayed in my CD player for a few weeks, and I keep hitting the the play again.

Los Dominados is essentially a band formed from the remnants of Moler, who mixed it up as a grungy, power pop band playing hip, street-level music with tough lyrics in the late ‘90s. Twenty years later, there’s been a vast development in song-writing - as shown in this, the band’s fourth album. We find a broader tapestry of influences and the band members have learned a lot about minimalism as well as using dark and light shade. And about sophistication.

Radio Birdman in Melbourne

emmy-manning-wide2Emmy Etie photo

The Corner Hotel in Melbourne oozes rock, and the idea of being part of Radio Birdman, HITS and Penny Ikinger shows over two nights was worth the flight from Sydney to Rock Mecca.

I choose to be in Sydney for the Rowland S Howard tribute show Pop Crimes on the Saturday before so I missed Birdman’s Manning Bar gig.

Sitting at the airport, fuelling my thirst of adventure and drinking my Coopers while reading social media, I noticed that my Facebook feed was inflamed with reports on how well Birdman played the night before in Brisbane. Comment was made that it was so powerful and melodic.

Unknown Compelling Force - Fortress of Narzod (Chief Designer Records)

UnknownCompellingForceNothing succeeds like excess and this trio from Melbourne has the concept truly nailed on this seven-track EP, their second release. Studio leakage, a seething fuzz attack and enough strange aural samples to keep it weird, Fortress of Narzod actually turns over new turf in a well-ploughed paddock.

Nailing their colours to the mast of a boat occupied by bands like Sabbath, MC5, Union Carbide Productions and Dead Meadow, Fortress of Narzod comes across as an Antipodean, suburban version of all of the above. No war pigs or bustles in hedgerows here, Fortress of Narzod draws as much inspiration from Michael Moorcock sci-fi novels and video games as doom-laden minor chords.

Won’t Give Up - Charlie Marshall and The Body Electric (Red Ted Entertainment)

charlie marshallIt seems every Australian city had its underground "punch-above-its-weight" scene in the ‘90s. Hell, all of Charlie Marshall’s Melbourne band members here had serious form. That said, just because there’s a track record doesn’t mean there’s always gonna be magic. There might be concrete. Or salad instead.

In Marshall’s case, it’s magic. If you recall Harem Scarem in the ‘80s, well alright. But this ain’t that, and now ain’t then. If you’re a Nick Cave or Kim Salmon completist, you’ll snaffle this anyway (the presence of Warren Ellis and Jim White of The Dirty Three should send warning bells, and surely Brian Henry Hooper needs no introduction.) Same applies if you’re investigating Hugo Race ditto (Bryan Colechin of The True Spirit) and Darren Seltmann of The Avalanches.

YaYa Brouha – Mesa Cosa (Off The Hip)

mesacosaThis is an album awash with snarling, fuzzy guitars that sting sweaty skin like summer dragonflies and leak their business all over the place. The vocals are shout-sung in Spanglish to a tattoo of primal tub thumping. It’s self-described as the Stooges convening in a tequila bar - and that’ll do me.

They came out of nowhere, got cold feet and went back there again but Eddy Current Supression Ring still casts a shadow over Melbourne’s bustling garage rock scene. Mesa Cosa mines the same rich vein of suburban humdrum for their lyrical themes, but it’s in the direction of Spanish madmen Wau Y Los Arrghs!!! that they most frequently nod their musical hat.