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Feral (Fire/Universal)

In some imagined universe, one where cretins don’t become leaders of the National Party let alone British PM or US president, Pete Shelley formed the Buzzcocks in New Zealand’s South Island and made tense but melodic, surprisingly expansive and even more surprisingly modern rock-like music for Flying Nun Records.

Make that Pete Shelley a Romy Vager, turn Christchurch into Melbourne, but keep the Verlaines and Verlaine (Tom) in the mix and you’ve got that alternate universe. And it’s a damn fine part of space.

RVG, or Romy Vager Group, play guitar rock of a form familiar to people who have tuned into the edges of the mainstream for decades – whether it’s from Glasgow, downtown New York, Brisbane or the suburbs of Manchester.

Dying On The Vine, the non-album “b-side” to last year’s charged-with-righteous-feeling single, Alexandra, was a song which opened up like it was going to be Midnight Oil’s Wedding Cake Island, threw in William Burroughs and ended up with Television. And that could serve as a teaser/taster for the songs which did end up on Feral.

As made flesh here, it’s got tunes, like a pop band but in slight disguise; it jangles and prances rather than puncturing or playing to guitar hero ego – guitarist Reuben Bloxham a man enjoying rather than wrestling with his instrument, as you can see in the whirring prettiness and slight edge of Help Somebody. Sometimes you get the whiff of surf on the air and other times it feels like it’s permanently a late afternoon in autumn and the music room is a refuge in fourth period; melancholia doesn’t live here but it’s a neighbour who drops in occasion; and there’s just enough bitterness in the mix to make things a bit sharp and adult.

Through Feral’s ten songs there’s a nervous energy to it all but it’s never jerky in the approved post-punk manner, the rhythm section of Angus Bell (now replaced by Isabele Wallace) Marc Nolte more fluid than that. And while songs such as That’s All in the past have shown RVG prepared to strain at the leash, bar the slow gradations of the album’s closing mini-epic, Photography, it doesn’t stay still to weigh heavily.

Instead at what is full tilt it manoeuvres its way around songs you might dance to (without throwing too many shapes like the – pah! – disco kids) and spins you round on a fairground riff, like Little Sharkie & The White Pointer Sisters does. Or might have you nodding your head and swinging arms both ways (oh yeah babyI) in the whirring top of the pointed commentary, Christian Neurosurgeon, which should catch the ear of those already hooked by the similarly inclined Melbournians Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.

And taking up centre position is songwriter and singer Vager, whose manner is that of a woman with no interest in being sardonic but not interested in being diffident either.

Her songs deal with the perplexing nature of caring but not wanting to, of being called out by friends and being prepared to wear it, of letting the past slide away because it’s done and you’re not that person anymore, or because you know history has a long tail and can say “it’s easier to let you have your way/And it’s easier to let you leave this way/I’ll have mine tomorrow”.

But Vager also casts a net wider than personal flare-ups, and casts a few subtle witticisms in there as well, whether in the beat group shape of Asteroid (“I spent 45 years thinking/Got proved wrong in a day/By a gesture my friend made on the train”) or the Marr-chime of Prima Donna (“Your class reunion isn’t worth the money/I’d be lying if I said the show was funny/Rebecca called to call me a prima donna/Well I’d rather starve than talk to her again”).

Two albums in, RVG feel good to go. Guitar pop still has places to go.


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