Niscitam (Wing Sing Records)
There is a line – maybe fine; maybe so criss-crossed so much it ceased being visible – between showing real vulnerability and showing weakness, and most men stand well back from it. Showing up and saying I’m unsure, is one thing; being shown up as not really knowing is something that scares.
For the moment untethered from the vigorous, masculine but never boorish, politically-charged Peep Tempel with whom he’s recorded three increasingly essential rock-with-art-punk-roots albums, Blake Scott isn’t the slightest bit concerned. His album is a set of admissions and confessions, enquiries and acceptances, in songs that position its characters, which include but are not limited to Scott, on both sides of that line.
While Hammer, with its grunting bass and drums providing a despondent-to-angry underscore to match the cry of “Come down hammer/Hit the sweet spot between the eyes”, offers a white flag essentially, letting the rising guitar lift the weight, in Pressure, over a nervy, circular riff and persistent movement, the protagonist has a sense of his own failings but not necessarily the solution.
“I need to find a way to/Explore myself/Involve myself/In myself/Improve myself/Remove myself”, he says. What he knows is his reliance on work and visibility and projecting a presence to stand in for the harder work of really living, has worn him down. “I need to get it sorted/I just can’t get it done/I’m a redlined meter/Brain in eggbeater.”
But with a swinging bass line and what might almost pass as positive guitar passages, he makes some moves in what may be the right direction. “I don’t want to be defeatist/I don’t want to be defeated/I don’t want to be deleted/Every day repeated.” Considering the alternative, it’s a decent start, yes?
It’s what makes possible the open need and tenderness in the spoken word Love, with its central man self-described as “We fools fascinated/And beguiled, in the palsy of love”, or the literally and figuratively lost at sea man in Bone Heavy, as much as the pricking in the future-facing Magic, with its echoes of post-punk groove and massed-male voices suggesting earlyish Hunters & Collectors, and its ambiguous guide for life hovering between meaning and mockery.
All this while not ignoring the smell that rises up from the drain in the corner of this cracked society.
The inspection of manhood extends into the more diffused focus of songs such as Bullfloat Zen and The Plainsman. These are songs built on land between the poetic bluntness of Gareth Liddiard, the unforgiving eye of Patrick White and a tradition of Australian prose poetry going back more than 100 years, with Scott ever ready to explode the myths – good and bad - of male behaviour and attitude.
In this, Scott’s language can swerve from plain and direct to shimmering with imagery, often within a matter of lines, ready to find the heart in the machine (“I am giddied by her heavy leaded breath/And sticky on her seats” – Hillman Hunter) and the echo in the sands (“I drove out to the centre where the wet should be/And drank beer upon its bones/Did I dream the earth to dust?” – The Plainsman) or to lash the unashamed (“Catholics in politics/Racist, sexist swinging dicks/Vile old pile of misanthropes/Steer our little ship” – Kalashnikov)
The pace of Niscitam generally is slower than a Peep Tempel album, the frontal assault diverted down the side, snarky humour tempered too (though dropping in the throwaway line of “Anyway, how good’s the UFC?” after noting the incidence of violence against women is bitter but spot-on dark humour).
But that’s left even more room for the storytelling which has been ramped up through thickly deployed lyrics and defined through the clearest of observational eyes. You might well come away from this thinking, I feel seen. You will definitely come away thinking, I have seen.
Look out here next week for an interview with Blake Scott.