DYSON STRINGER CLOHER
Dyson Stringer Cloher (Milk!/Remote Control)
AIR LAND SEA
Air Land Sea (Origin/MGM)
The “rule of three” holds that, to paraphrase the Latin omne trium perfectum, every set of three is complete or perfect. It’s a handy tool of journalists, authors and comedians; and because of that, sometimes the bane of readers, listeners and viewers.
But even if you don’t buy the idea that things are easier to remember in threes, or that it reflects one of those mystical Biblical (and Tolkien) numbers, or even that fans of Jimi Hendrix Experience/Cream/Police/Nirvana were onto something (and why fans of CS&N love/hated the inevitable mix of gems and despair when that became CSN&Y), you might see how the rhythm of the pattern can appeal.
It’s the balance of the universe, man … heavy. And just between you, me and the gatepost, right now, that universal balance is all the go in Australian music.
While Seeker Lover Keeper (the uniting of singer/songwriters Sarah Blasko, Holly Throsby and Sally Seltmann) tours the country with a second album that shows the beauty and flaws of three-as-one, the otherwise solo singer/songwriters Mia Dyson, Liz Stringer and Jen Cloher (Dyson Stringer Cloher) and Lior, Nadav Kahn and Tony Buchen (Air Land Sea) have taken a similar route. And each surprise in some way.
There is a temptation to say I wish DSC had stuck with the powered pop kicks of Falling Clouds, With My Hands and Be Alone, the first surprise of a record which might have leant into semi-acoustic, folkish, harmonising forms that cliché suggests is expected of such a lineup.
All three songs have that immediately appealing mix of tunes, hooks and swing, with gutsy guitar/bass/drums that enhanced the ‘90s for many of us via groups such as Falling Joys and Clouds (both of whom are namechecked as inspirations in Falling Clouds) and the likes of Breeders, Belly and Lemonheads.
I don’t doubt there’d be a fine album in a dozen songs from them in that style, their guitar playing subtly different enough – and the drumming of Wilco’s Glenn Kotche differently subtle enough – for variety. And there’s a space for music like that right now.
However, that would deprive us of the close-quarters shimmer-and-hurt of Can’t Take Back where the Nicks/Buckingham/McVie-style vocal arrangement (and the Nicks/Buckingham/McVie-style emotional frankness of lines such as “I’m so tired of the person I’ve become/I know I shouldn’t hold on” and “It’s easier for the one who leaves than the one who stays”) grips you from the opening moments.
And we’d be the poorer for not having the barroom country of Too Seriously, where Stringer’s piano puts some honky tonk into the mix, and the warm folk/country of Young Girls, which sets up on the back porch as the sun sets.
Both of those songs incidentally feature the kind of hard-earned wisdom you’d like to think you’d soak up as a young’un if you got lucky with one cool aunt.
The slowly layering, finger-picked, early Laura Marling-ish, Running For The Feeling is as pretty as anything you’ll hear this year while still packing a moral punch; the three-around-a-microphone Can I Borrow Your Eyes allows you to wallow in those voices; and Believer – assertive acoustic guitars duelling with electric; punchy political undertone; and a snapped beat that makes you do those limbs pumping individually dance moves - pulls up beside the Midnight Oil bus and says, don’t worry fellas, we’ve got it covered.
You won’t hear Oils inside Air Land Sea, an album which principally swings between being in thrall to the kind of dreamy harmonies, rural air and wistful melodies of Fleet Foxes, and donning some oddly-shaped shades and paisley shirts from the London psych scene of 1966-67, complete with upfront, cursive bass, and airy vocal diversions.
Actually, those two styles are in many ways close cousins, as is particularly obvious in Be The Sun, which is equal parts sun-kissed coastal optimism and stoned in the park floating, and Black Rainbow, which brings a psilocybin veneer to a hazy city view from the window.
(If you’ve ever come across Sufficiently Breathless by Captain Beyond you will be getting flashbacks around now. If you haven’t come across those little remembered Americans but find yourself liking this ALS album, I’d recommend investigating their post-hippie, very California-ness.)
The surprise? As much as I have enjoyed Tony Buchen’s production work for people like Montaigne, Courtney Barnett and Thelma Plum, and have never had strong feelings either way about Nadav Kahn’s Gelbison, I am generally quite Lior-averse. Consequently, I’d braced myself for something earnest and wispy and dull.
However, bar the drifting-away I’ll Find You, which would benefit from fully committing to the lushness it touches on, and the wan If You Stay Tonight, earnestness and dullness aren’t worries here.
Most of the time, there’s a nimbleness to slightly weaker tracks such as Leave You To Fight It and the Beatles-rich How We Gonna Get There, and intricacies in the best moments, such as the dappled splendours of Golden Child and Be The Sun, and the Small Faces-like shapes of Taking Me Down.
Maybe there is something in that rule of three.