Far Enough (Merge)
Thinking of Cable Ties as a punk band is easy but not really productive, even if you think of them merely as going fast and going hard.
That said punk is more an attitude than a style for the Melbourne trio: a refusal to bend the knee; a careful “balance” of grievance and anger; a preference for immediacy over proficiency, at least as defined by what is supposed to be the sonic standards of 2020.
Attitude aside, there’s the fact that they are far more liberal with their stylistic moves than the term would suggest with singer/guitarist Jenny McKechnie, drummer Shauna Boyle and bassist Nick Brown, capable of drone, garage rock, power pop and something which could best be described as contemplative, almost soulful, mainstream rock (Pillow is the kind of song that could work its way from The Jezabels and Ash to Jefferson Airplane and Smith Street Band – with a slice of an extremely agitated Cure in there too).
Sandcastles springs from a similar nervy, prickly, but never leaden, base as The Slits with the snub-nosed push of fellow Melbournians, The Peep Tempel: Brown, fast and nimble but unerring, leading the pack into a hailstorm with McKechnie zig-zagging around him and Boyle head down/bum up being the motor.
On the other side is the exploratory, long-distance Lani, which is one of two songs that reach or pass the seven-minute mark (and nothing undoes your punk credentials than not just exceeding three minutes but leaving it in the distance. So the fact that one other song only just falls short of seven minutes and the shortest track is 3.44 tells you plenty).
The roots for Lani are more noticeably ‘80s New York and its best known exponents, Sonic Youth, with simplicity and repetition, escalation in increments and mesmeric drones the focus, and the shortest and simplest lyrics of the album telling a story of building internal resistance, while McKechnie sings much more than shouts lines like “Cut fences, rough branches, climb higher, watch them all walk by/Sun has set, your feet step home slowly, you got through again”.
Of course, being capable of more doesn’t mean they can’t generally operate from first principles of tempo and aggression levels being set at pretty high starting points and staying there for the duration, or going higher within 30 seconds as drum and guitars slash, pummel and scorch.
Self-Made Man does spitting disdain stepping up to proper disgust brilliantly, even as its sustained lashing locks into place early and just stays right there in that ripped pocket.
Or in the case of the opening track, Hope, which is about wanting to believe in hope more than actually overflowing with it (“A loud noise is building, it’s a dissonant chaos of words but it’s better than/Silence is drowning, tell me which way’s the surface and I’ll swim for my life”), beginning with calm and a measure pace until two minutes in when the classic rock trio build begins, ready to ramp up progressively from about four minutes (“be a ruthless survivor itching to prove that violence is our nature and society was fleeting and futile”) to a sustained pitch of bodies thrown against a buckling wall.
Even when that isn’t the case, such as Tell Them Where To Go, the implication of high tension level/low tolerance for bullshit is driven from a bassline that redefines predatory in a manner that genuinely does echo the hot stinking breath of London ’77.
Cable Ties are still a work in progress, melodically underdone especially and their aspirations to stretching well beyond the hard/fast/harder premise for the moment something to reach for rather than consistently nail. However, one thing pretty much set as a strength, and getting better, are McKechnie’s lyrics, which can yowl as strongly as her singing, but are never without form and a point.
That Far Enough begins with Hope (“It might be hopeless but I’ve gotta try it It’s better than lying down and bringing on our fate”) and ends with Pillow (“And I know that I’m only 25 and my mother says that my future’s bright But I can’t stop thinking how I fucked it up and I can’t turn back now And I don’t know what to do”) tells you something about the mixed feelings McKechnie, Brown and Boyle have about being something more than passers-by right at the moment.
You can’t blame them. And this was before covid19! But the adventure of Far Enough tells us they lean more to hope, even doubtful hope, than despair.