Trying to catch up with releases from the past weeks, and past months, means grabbing a few that might have slipped by otherwise and kinda sorta speed dating with them. Here’s a bag from Switzerland, Texas and Victoria.
Sleeping Like A Maniac (self-released)
This is a guitar record. Full stop. Cat Canteri and Justin Ollson are here on drums occasionally, Ben Franz pops up on bass on a few tracks, cello and viola appear, and producer Jeff Lang contributes some additional instruments, while the man himself briefly offers some piano, but the star, second lead and supporting actors are Justin Bernasconi’s 1960s Harmony Sovereign guitar, Martin HD–28 seven string, and Dan Robinson 000 parlour guitar.
Pitching up somewhere between English folk guitarists like John Renbourn and, the more familiar to Bernasconi listeners, blues and bluegrass stylings, the album moves through tightly held ragas and quickly adaptive picking to the gently ruminative and occasionally angular moments, such as the title track.
There’s even room for the almost conventionally pretty, such as Dancing Elephant, which finds Bernasconi’s light and high voice offering tension in counterpoint.
And yet, is also more than a guitar record. It is a record of quite intense personal emotion, even if the references – relationship, political and more – are sometimes oblique for those of us outside. Mind you, “You look at me as if I’m being cruel, true/You seem to fight with no one else”, is broadly understandable, and the anger and regret of I’m Still Here – felt in lyrics but also the force of the playing – doesn’t need translation.
In some ways, Organ Mug, a one-man Swiss operation, treads similar territory to Justin Bernasconi, seemingly leaning into an organic folkiness that feels earthed. Certainly topic-wise that’s true, as a crumbing natural world becomes the focus. Further examination of it however, highlights the fact that it plays more on the border of natural and machine-made, offering washes of sound that quietly sparkle within dark skies (the delicately funereal You Fool Me), tread warily like Portishead with the paranoia dialled down half a notch (the smoking night time of Allies) or are lost in a kinetic urban environment that is half film score and half bad drug score (the synthetic title track).
Apart from the tension of Allies, the scattered rim shots and intersecting, off-kilter pianos of Eysins, are probably the only time Organ Mug play to unsettle. Forget Me Not lets the clouds blow by in a breeze of guitars, the woody timbre of A Tender Frog puts some weight into an otherwise light covering, and I’m Talking Quietly Not To Wake Myself Up balances fragility, oddness and an elegant nod to lush ‘50s orchestral backing.
Speaking of oddness and elegance, the pleasant silliness of Holy Crickets, with what seems to be both musical saw and Theremin offered as bait, ends the album with a cocked eyebrow. Make of this what you wish, we are told.
Velvet Fist (Nine Mile Records)
Austin-based Go Fever aren’t being equivocal about their elements: guitar, bass, drums, keys and a stance that says yeah, if you’re going to compare us to New Wave groups (a certain New York band for example, in the bounce-in-high-boots Amargosa, or the more northwest England-leaning Cull Yr Idols) we’re up for it. And maybe if you feel a hint of a looser, maybe more Stones-like feel in an otherwise very D. Harry track like Garden Variety or the barroom shuffle of TGIF, you wouldn’t be too far from their influences.
Then again, even thick music reviewers can get the reference in a cover of Boys In Town. Yes, the early Divinyls one-two punch, which may give you some clue if you weren’t already aware that main Fever bod, Acey Monaro, is first of all, Australian, and secondly, someone with an eye for just the right amount of attitude.
That said, this cover is probably the least essential track on the record for taking things too straight from the source – though I guess since Boys In Town is pre-American fame for the Divinyls not many of Monaro’s neighbours or American fans will be comparing notes with the 1981 original, rather just enjoying the pop pleasures of Chrissy Amphlett and Mark McEntee’s song.
What the approach to that song does reinforce, by the time we get to it as the penultimate track, is a feeling that Go Fever could have and should have gone a bit harder, gone a bit louder with this record. The elements are there but they could have done with being a little less politely presented. Getting into our faces more is something Chrissy would have approved of I’m sure.