MOST OF US ARE LOCKED IN, all of us have lost the chance to socialise, to meet and drink and talk and eat and see music and work out and enjoy things outside the house. But music doesn’t have to stop and The Great Confinement has opened up a chance to explore at home, to dig up old favourites and find new pleasures.
In this series we ask: what music is making your life better? Today, author, junior footballer, documentary maker, label owner and chronicler of south-west Sydney, Max Easton.
WHAT ALBUMS OR ARTISTS HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING SINCE BEING CONFINED TO HOME?
I spent a lot of time with country music, probably because it felt like tourism: Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, and Kris Kristofferson have all come through on escapism. Listening back to Karen Dalton after the new doco was released was really rewarding. That sent me into weirder contemporary folk territory for a while, with Mark Feehan's M.F. II being a go-to, but it's all been a bit of a mess and it's hard to remember.
I had a good time with the soundtrack to Randy Newman's stage play adaptation of Faust, where he plays the devil and interrupts James Taylor (who plays God), with: "in all of my life I don't believe I've ever heard such bullshit, even from you: a master of bullshit."
WHICH HAVE BEEN GETTING MULTIPLE SPINS?
I started on a very deep David Allan Coe dive earlier this year in an attempt to get to the bottom of his discography, while trying to understand the many sides of a very complicated and often problematic artist of country lore. When DAC picked up COVID-19 a few weeks back it sent me back into rounds and rounds of listening to Requiem for a Harlequin, Penitentiary Blues and Longhaired Redneck. He seems to have fully recovered despite the comment threads full of “David Allan Covid” jokes that littered the internet.
HOW HAS LOCKDOWN CHANGED THE WAY YOU CONSUME MUSIC?
Working at the desk in front of spreadsheets with headphones on is the least enjoyable way to consume music, but it creates a plugged-in sci-fi aesthetic which at least creates a unique mood for lockdown. (I spent hours listening to Italian punks CCCP: Fedeli Alla Linea in this setting).
I suppose the other side of that coin is that at times I became so frazzled that I just wanted to garden without the sounds of neighbourhood conversations, kids playing, etc. So finding the right album to play on the Bluetooth speaker that is just grating enough to send everyone inside is probably more shameful than it is funny, but feel free to use the whiny voice on the Ron House solo albums and/or Flipper's Brainwash on repeat if you need it.
WHAT ALBUM FROM YOUR PAST HAVE YOU REDISCOVERED? WHAT DO YOU STILL LOVE ABOUT IT?
Repressed Records posted about a reissue of The Embarrassment LP, which sent me into a spiral of revisiting the 'just outside of college rock, just outside of the ‘80s punk underground' genre that I spent most of my early twenties listening to. That sent me back to the Replacements, Husker Du and Minutemen before eventually striking a (bass) chord with Mission Of Burma, which (and I don't know why) I'd reduced to some kind of nerdy side interest.
Signals, Calls and Marches is the album I returned to most, maybe because I've been wearing a flanno and cardigan all lockdown. I guess I loved listening back and remembering the slow evolutions in music listening habits that led me to this Venn diagram between punk, hardcore, experimental, folk, country and blues that I find myself in. Remembering that Mission of Burma was a key reason for that seemed important for a second. It's also just a very smart record and it's good to feel clever once in a while.
HAVE YOU FOUND NEW MUSIC – OR AN ARTIST OR GENRE - THAT WAS UNEXPECTED? WHAT’S EXCITED YOU ABOUT IT?
Desk work forced me back to the use of [monolothic streaming service], but rather than help me find new music, it reminded me of music I hadn't listened to enough. It was actually [monolithic streaming service] that reminded me that a new Cured Pink LP was released well over a year ago.
Current Climate is one of those albums that sit in the potentially alienating mould of experimental music, but it's crafted really carefully to have just enough of a groove in every track that it's unlikely that you'd be that turned off by the pseudo-ASMR vocal performances. Good Day On The Internet is a “good track title on that record”.
WHAT’S THE BEST MUSIC TO FLATTEN YOUR (ANXIETY) CURVE?
Some attempts to relax via many of the above artists have had some luck, but it's very hard to suppress anxiety in lockdown (less a curve, more a persistent hum). I feel like most days it's best to go with it and let your brain's energy dictate the listening habits (my partner and I planned to rearrange our records in order of “mood”, but never got around to it). In the interests of going with it, The Omega's Blasts of Lunacy was nice to return to, and more recent hardcore records like Runt's Positions of Power ("what do you meeeeeean you can't work?") and both 7" and LP by Sydney's Oily Boys have utility.
One day I got good results from watching a compilation video of emergency dam releases which was really satisfying. So my answer to your question is: I think it's best to push into the curve rather than try to repress it: release the dam!
Max Easton’s first novel, The Magpie Wing, is out now through Giramondo. His music documentary, Barely Human, can be found at https://anchor.fm/barelyhuman, and you will find his writing in Meanjin, Sydney Review Of Books and Tempered.