swashbuckling hobo - The I-94 Bar
UK-born, American-based Dan Melchoir is a longtime Holly Golightly and Billy Childish collaborator and his old band, The Broke Revue, had a string of albums out on Sympathy for The Record Industry and In The Red.
He’s not as prolific as Childish but he’s not far off. How he got to record in Queensland with two members of Australia’s Ooga Boogas (Richard Stanley and Perl Bystrom) is unclear. I'm willing to bet it came of paths crossing at one of those underground gatherings in the US like Gonerfest.
Flat Till Death – Robodebt (Swashbuckling Hobo)
So a band you’ve probably never heard of, let alone heard, releases its debut 45 and The Barman says it shakes more shit that a dunny carter’s truck on a cobblestone street and therefore you should own it? Best believe it. Four punk rock songs on this baby outta Brisbane, and they’re uniformly raw and energetic.
“Uber To The Penthouse” is perhaps the least developed in that it’s a handful of lyrics wrapped around a riff and the briefest of lead breaks, but it kicks like a motherfucker. Nicko (guitar) is a paint-peeler vocalist and the engine room of Dr Rock (bass) and Tom keep it simple, stupid, and economy is the watchword.
Double Meaning – The Stinkbugs (Swashbuckling Hobo)
Drop the needle in the groove. Ready? The pedigree tells you a lot: Hekawisand Shutdown66among prior convictions. So does the opening track, “Atom Bomb”: Extreme fuzz guitar and basic, almost primal production. But don’t lay a bet, just yet...
Just as you have The Stinkbugs pegged and, suddenly, the sound’s stripped right back for two songs, “Don’t Want Me Around” and “Fly”. It’s like someone sucked out all the mid-range with a straw.
A tip for young players: If you want to be popular in the mainstream, don’t name your band The Stinkbugs. Call yourselves The Beetles. Or Beatles, even. Putting it bluntly, stinkbugs stink. Even after you’ve squashed them. No good can come from a pungent odour, even if posthumous.
Don’t ask how this Brisbane band took on the moniker The Stinkbugs or why they named their third long-player “Elysian Fields”. Of course, they'll never be written up in The Courier Mail or asked onto 4BK for a polite chat. And that album title is a reference to the place in classic Greek mythology where heroes went to die. Is this a case of being overly self-referential or just some high-spirited lads getting getting revenge for being kept in after their Ancient History class? You be the judge.
“Elysian Fields” is 12 tracks of typical Stinkbug goodness: Fuzz guitar, sludge bass, plodding drums and ethereal vocals. A little loose, for sure, but unmistakably the work of a psychedelic power trio from the back-blocks of deepest, darkest Brisbane. If you liked their earlier records, you won’t fall out of love on the strength of this one.
Old heads from Brisbane’s Chinese Burns (not to be confused with Sydney band Chinese Burns Unit) and The Standing 8 Count populate this band, which has been kicking around the River City (does anyone even call it that?) for four years. The eponymous record (vinyl and download) is its first output and came out in 2015.
If you know the members’ previous bands you know the postcode in which “Eyes Ninety” resides. There are elements of its predecessors but its music stands alone. Wanna label it? Let’s call it “swampy punk rock”.
There’s no chance of mistaking this for a prog rock epic or a pompous concept album. None of its songe figire on the "Bohemian Rhapsody" soundtrack. Eyes Ninety play unadorned, garage rock and roll. Two guitars, bass and drums. Tight when it has to be, looser and ragged when they feel like it. Which is quite a bit.
Music is so often a product of its geography and Eyes Ninety are from Brisbane. Now, lots of people talk about the Brisbane underground scene - and most of them are from Brisbane. If you don’t come from there, you should visit more often.
For all the constraints of being an Australian capital city, Brisbane rock and roll doesn’t do too badly with its music. There’s a supportive local radio station (4ZZZ), functioning record labels (Swashbuckling Hobo being one) and a reasonable range of venues. What’s more, the bands in Brisbane don’t feel obliged to stick to any formula.
Cue, Eyes Ninety. For a so-called garage band, they sure mix it up. They get all broody and (dare say) post-punk on “Iceberg Syndrome” while “Laminated Beams” is hooky, edgy and fast. “Another Dimension” hangs off a meandering lead guitar line. “Spinning” is discordant, unnerving and equally catchy. “Lost Sunnies” packs a wallop. And that’s just side one.
Stuck firmly in a time warp of their own making, Brisbane’s The Stinkbugs make music that bears no relation to anything you’ll hear on mainstream radio or oh-so-limp reality TV shows. Fuzzy ’n’ frothy, psychedelic garage rock is their stock in trade.
With a lineage that includes membership of Shutdown66 and the Hekawis, The Stinkbugs mix their ’60s acid punk with their ‘70s hard rifferama to come up with their own distinctive, odd sound. This is their second album (with a couple of fine singles in-between) and veers between trashy lo-fi ragers and cloudy, acid-washed trips.
Being a punk rock institution in Brisbane and six bucks might buy you a banana thickshake in Brunswick Street Mall. Reality is that you’re as likely to lock ears with the harsh blare of techno as dirty rock ’n’ roll in today’s Fortitude Valley.
That’s why you have to admire the underground rock and roll scene in the capital of Australia’s sub-tropical north, for its quality as much as its resilience.
Which nicely segues to The Dangermen, whose 17-year existence must qualify them for rock and roll’s version of seniors cards. Which, along with their Brisbane Institution status, should at least get them that thickshake at a discount.
ManArays - ManArays (Swashbuckling Hobo)
Considering they've been around since the start of last decade, Brisbane’s Manarays have a minuscule online footprint. Consider this a Public Service Announcement to alert you to their presence, as well as an album review.
The ManArays - vocalist Chris Fletcher, guitarist Adrian Carroll (aka Killer Guitar Carroll) and drummer Micky Scott - come from turn-of-the’80s Sydneysiders The Splatterheads, so it’s no surprise to hear them tackle these 13 songs with a similar attack.
Wrong Train Home b/w Quicksand – DangerMen (Swashbuckling Hobo)
Lovely and raw. You do know those two words go together? This return 45 by Brisbane’s DangerMen after a five-year absence is as ragged as Grandpa’s undies after an unfortunate late night accident on the way home from the pub, with a sound that’s more than a little Stooge-efied, thanks to some single-note piano and Dr Rock and Dover’s“Raw Power” guitars.
“Wrong Train Home” is about an ill-fated train trip while tripping, and sounds like what health professionals these days call “a lived experience”. Zoltane the Maniac’swail is both wrong and just right. Flip him, Danno, and you’ll sing along to “Quicksand” which, it must be said, is more of the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Buy it as a download if you must but drop some cash on the seven-inch here and you’ll get something that’ll last almost as long as herpes.
Taking a Ride - The Chordites (Swashbuckling Hobo)
This ride’s got a lot of everything. Pop-punk, power pop and grimy garage rock spring from the 10-song vinyl LP like water from a leaky radiator.
It’s a self-assured effort from a crew of Brisbane players who - to milk the travelling metaphor - have a bit of mileage on their clocks, doing duty in bands such as the Dolls-meet-the-Groovies Subsonic Barflies,Half a Cow popsters Daisygrinder and '80s punks Death of a Nun.
That’s a diverse background, so It may have been tempting to make a record with a side of pop and another of the rougher stuff. I have a feeling that such a contrived approach would have been too predictable for The Chordites.
Party of Shine - Party of Shine (Swashbuckling Hobo)
If this passed you by when it landed on Brisbane label Swashbuckling Hobo in January, you’re not alone. It’s the debut album for former Jason and the Scorchers bassist Jeff Johnson and his band, and follows a single for the same label.
Ignore the shiny cover art. Party of Shine plays dense, mid-tempo punk rock. Their sound is thicker than treacle with abrasive guitars a rumbling bottom end. Johnson plays guitar. The other guitarist David Harvard's gruff growl imparts an undertone of sullen menace. There aren't any uplifting gospel songs here.
Mad Macka's history should need no recounting but, fuck it, let's assume you're entirely clueless or you live outside his native Brisbane.
From the slamming punk of The Onyas to the fast and loose jams of The Egos and back to his recruitment into Cosmic Psychos, he's been a fixture on various levels of the Australian underground for years.
"Seminal Robots" finds him and his Brisbane band Panh Andler in gutter blues territory but don't slip it on and think you're going to hear "Fuckwit City". It's mostly music stripped back to its basic elements. The Big Fella is naked, more or less.
But "Panh Andler"? Mad Macka's far from uneducated - the man's been a lawyer as well as a pizza deliverer - so you can assume the name is an ironic reference to bluesmen. One of those many online dictionaries describes a "panhandler" as "an urban beggar who typically stands on a street with an outstretched container in hand, begging for loose change". "Buddy can you spare me a recording session?"
It’s been more than a few years between releases, if not drinks, for this long-established Brisbane outfit and the good news is that they haven’t polished their sound one iota.
The Busymen live in a world where the clock stopped working in 1965. They’re paying homage to the original bluesmen - with electricity and volume - and think the term “rhythm and blues” hasn’t been stolen. They’re the early Pretty Things with a hankering for cold Fourex instead of black bombers and warm pints. Guttural grunts and delay guitar speak louder than any words.
And then there’s Boston Bob on organ and voice. The secret weapon. His vocal stylisations are unique - never more than on the slightly out-of-phase yet hypnotic title track. A job offer from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a long way off.
“American Hardcore” b/w “The Deal” (Swashbuckling Hobo)
That these reformed second-wave, southside Brisbane punks actually manage to sound dangerous on new recordings made four decades later comes down to the fact they were more of a Flipper-meets-latter-day-Black-Flag-styled grind than a cheap Pistolstake-off, before - in the words of their label - “drugs, death and depression took over”, and they dissolved.
They reformed, more or less intact, a few years ago to play live and promote some re-issues, and these songs are the fruit of a studio session.
Nearly six years after it came out on vinyl, French label Pitshark has re-issued this unpolished gem from deepest, darkest Brisbane on CD in a fold-out seven-inch single pack.
Back then we opined that "Why?" was "equal parts wrecking ball guitar, sledgehammer bass and drums and can't-give-a-fuck punk slop" and there's no reason to resile from that.
We also said that "Ich Bin Ein Esel ("I Am An Ass") will sit you on your arse quicker than a six-pack of Coopers Pale Ale drunk through a straw on a stinking hot day", so if the rest of this lazy review reads like you've heard it all before, then you have...