THE STRESS OF LEISURE
Faux Wave (Slack Action/MGM)
“Motion in the ocean … lots of trouble, lots of bubble. He was in a jam.” Why am I quoting B-52s in a review of Brisbane’s The Stress Of Leisure? Bear with me.
There’s some real agitation in Faux Wave: reasons to be tense and jumpy, reasons to fire up and revolt. If the early ‘80s had a nuclear winter hanging over it, with spiked, post-punk music to match, and the early 2000s had formless but deadly terrorism as the fear factor, making a revival of post-punk inevitable, is there anything that could be more of an existential crisis than now? Agitation is inevitable.
Lyrical agitation, definitely. From declaring that “Russian oligarchs won’t ever save you now/Way more disparity than ever to be found” and bemoaning that once more it’s “Another banker on TV/Another you recognise … No sign you were even there/No reason to actually care” to calling out that it’s “Time for a sociopath/Time for the faux romantic/Spreadsheet expert in jail/Burn all your so-called classics”.
Musical agitation, absolutely: Jessica Moore’s drums so tightly wound they feel like a spring-action device which on opening would take out an eye; Ian Powne’s guitars offering repeated stabs of pointy-end needles or sneering slashes; Jane Elliott’s basslines which are a heavy breathing second away from leering over your shoulder one second, eagerly ready to dance on your prostrate body the next; Pascalle Burton’s keyboards which carry disdain in their short runs and cool distance in their subtext.
And Powne’s voice doesn’t do calming: he tends to start at nervy and anxious and can work his way up to paranoid dissenter or that guy who corners you at a party demanding to know why you can’t see the absolute truth in this pattern of connections, lies and corruption.
You want 2020 in all its we’re going to die/you bastards are screwing us/I want my blanky/from Engadine Maccas to how good is government-via-Bunnings/we’re all in this together, except the cronies “glory”? You got it here in 34 hit-and-run minutes. “Don’t spend a minute ever being alone/Beat the tension/Please just stay on your phone/Beat the tension, feed the tension,” as Pownes sings (oddly enough in the album’s calmest, smoothest moment).
Here’s the bit you’re not supposed to say out loud when you get a package like this: yeah, there’s lots of trouble bubbling, but it’s heaps of fun.
A lot of lines crack funny as much as crack heads, offering the kind of observations that hover between sardonic and smart arse, and will bring to mind a certain Mr D Graney. Musically, more of it is sneakily seductive than you think at first (Spiralling is a pop song only partially disguised in its overcoat; Silent Partner Jam imagines Neil Young relocated to northern England) or actually slowed down to an inner-city march (No Win No Fee is like the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive strut with more paranoia than posture).
But as befitting a band that brazenly pulls off – on stage only; not on this disc – that Prince cover, when it cuts loose the motion in the ocean here is your body jerking about, your head snapping back from a momentary lull, your elbows pumping up and down.
Connect To Connected swirls up in the keys, scratches in the guitars and shakes its backside in the rhythm section, then is almost barrelled over by the Jonathan Richman-is-tense rumbling Numbers Man. The prickly Faux Romantic is all musical and vocal yelps that frees up some brain space, while Your Type Of Music gives early Roxy Music a New York disco update and then runs into the dense Talking Heads ’78 of Non-Expertise Is Killing Me, where the bass is the icebreaking prow of the song.
Right now we may not get the summer we envisaged, but this may be the sound of the summer we’re at. Pass the tanning butter.