ANTIPODEAN SCREAMS VOLUME 2 – Various Artists (Off the Hip)
There’s little doubt that the Baty brothers’ Off the Hip imprint is the most active and vital label mining the garage rock pasture today, and they just set a new high-water mark for this sort of contemporary collection.

Four years after the first volume, the follow-up is bigger, brighter and better: Thirty-seven tracks over two CDs, and enough variety to please the most demanding punter. Most of the cuts are unreleased – a few of them are pretty well near essential – and there’s no better way of getting a solid grounding in what’s going on under the mainstream level of Australasian rock and roll than this.

Some folks struggle with the term “garage rock”, thinking it infers a level of retrospectivity or amateurism that’s demeaning. Not so, but in lieu of something better, the label will do. There’s nothing wrong with taking rock and roll back to its basics and - allow for some bias here - Aussie bands do it pretty well. Our best bands do somehow sound “aggressively loose”, if that makes sense. They also tend to take considerable amounts of piss out of themselves and any other targets within line-of-sight.

Self-deprecation doesn’t get much better than The Unfuckable, a scruffy sub-Saints accident par excellence, whose “Turkish Delight” is right out of the (chocolate) box. In another place (the doghouse) is the Tash Mints' "Dog Tired", whose howling hootenanny baying at the moon has its arse sitting squarely in the '50s. Great bassline and light guitar touch make this.

Sharing a vocalist with The Unfuckable as well as the same trash ethos are The Mess Makers. "Discomfort" sounds like the Modern Lovers on Coopers Pale Ale.

"Sick Of You" might be re-issued but it's an excuse to go back and re-listen to this particular line-up of the Stoneage Hearts, with Dom Mariani behind the mic.

If I'm not on the record as saying Mink Jaguar are one of the best bands in Sydney before this then I am now. "You've Got The Answer" is a stand-out on their second album with an arresting melody and irresistible bassline. You've been told.

I've obviously been living under a rock in that same city not to have crossed paths with The Elephant Gods, whose soulful "Take Me Away" comes over as a cross between the Flaming Sideburns and Baby Woodrose.

Life's short and at 58-seconds so is "Cave Girl" by Voodoo Savage and His Savages. It's a Mummies-like race to the back of the cave but not as unhinged as New Zealanders, The Damned Evangelist, whose "Damn You" takes a leaf from the bible of Reverend Beat-Man from Switzerland. Music to burn a church to.

Duos are the New Black in Aussie garages and there are a heap of worthy ones here. Wrong Turn (half of which is Ian Wettehnhall on guitar) and Digger & The Pussycats (their steamy "I Want You" is a personal highlight) hold up the Melbourne end of the deal with The White Swallows (Perth) and Sydney's promisingly anarchic Ripping Dylans ("Kids") spreading the garage love.

Completists will need "St James Infirmary" from The Persian Rugs (aka three-quarters of the Hoodoo Gurus.) I'd have to dig through a box of records as high as the house to verify if this wasn't released on a limited edition 7" but it's a veritable nugget either way.

The best thing about a collection done well is that new and interesting bands pop up. Mark Adelaide's Molting Vultures whose frenetic, stop-start "Hang Up" is a rough gem. So too "Dirty Girl" from Geelong's The Frowning Clouds, who nail the sound of The Thanes and the early Stones.

The Sailors go all surf-space rock on us with "Bury Your Problems". It's an instro so at least they're not burying problems in other people's body cavities.

Boss Christ come from New Zealand and play country shockabilly. Dig it: "Party at Boss Christs house...Cunts will come from miles around...Drinkin' lots of beer". Now these strike me as essential elements of an inspired lyrical couplet. But I drink too much.

Meritorious mentions to The Shimmys, Johnny Casino & The Secrets, The New Invincibles and The Pink Fits whose songs are previously released but deserve showcasing anyway. "What a Guy Can't Do" may pre-date The Booby Traps' Off the Hip album, but is a corker regardless (and a match for anything the Detroit Cobras can throw up.)

"Move Me 07" is a re-recorded Stems classic that deserves your undivided attention for no other reason that it's always been one of their best songs and sounds wonderful here.

Hopefully "She's So Good" won't be the last thing we hear from the apparently aborted Crusaders album because it sounds like the long-player would have been up to the mark.

The Beach Chromers' brand of Beach Boys pastiche ("Surfin' UFO") sounds out of place in this company where the surf quotient is well down, but theremin had to get a look-in somewhere. Nicely done.

Compilations can be dodgy when the quality's spread thin on the ground but there's no risk of that here. The sole criticism is that there could have been more background information on each of the participants. That's a quibble, really, because your good friends Google and Myspace can set you straight on most of them, in quick time. - The Barman



 

ANTIPODEAN SCREAMS. RIGHT NOW! THE AUSTRALIAN UNDERGROUND 2003 - Various Artists (Off the Hip)
What? Did you think we weren't gonna gush about this one? The fact that The Barman (that'd be me) contributed liner notes is a dead giveaway. Even if our contribution hadn't been sought, the verdict would have been that this is another winner from a label that's doing as much as any to push contemporary Australian underground Rock Action to the masses.

There's one more than two dozen tracks here, most of them previously unheard and, although it's too early to genuflect in the direction of the Noughties as an Australian musical era to rank with the '80s, "Antipodean Screams" ain't a bad place to start. It can be said, firstly, that there's not a dud track on this here disc. Secondly, this set proves that there's a healthy underground scene alive and well Down Under.

Of course, Australian rock and roll is a constant tale of building on what went before. In the '70s, the Saints, especially, built on formidable local precursors (the Missing Links for one) while Birdman did what every significant local band of the '60s did and brought in some distinctive overseas influences. The late '70s begat the 1980s (Citadel-led) explosion that echoed in Europe and pockets of the USA, while something altogether different and dark sprang out of Melbourne, and in turn infected other parts of the globe. The whole game of musical reinvention dissipated in the 1990s as Australia's isolation faded. A new range of entertainment choices presented themselves as the local pub scene faded. "Fragmentation" and "Convergence" are the buzzwords scholars use to describe current culture and communication - the tribal groupings are more diverse while the lines between ways of disseminating information become more blurred. Without going further into all that theoretical crap, this manifests itself in a less identifiably Australian sound. Techno blends with blues and blends with rock that blends with _______ (fill in the blank), and you might be hard pressed to put your finger on what you're hearing.

No such problem with "Antipodean Screams". The sound is - and I'm growing to hate the tag - Capital G "Garage", with '60s Nuggets influences worn proudly on the (paisley shirt) sleeve. There's a more straight-ahead rock edge to a few cuts, but most draw a line from "Ugly Things" (our very own "Nuggets", if you're reading this from offshore). Two things that haven't changed in Australian music in the last 30 years is the power of electric guitars and the fact that 97 percent of everything you'll hear will be unadulterated crap. You've always had to look hard for the best stuff, but it's always been there if you've searched hard enough. This collection points you in the right direction.

So first to the '60s garage-influenced sounds. "12 O'clock Shadow" (led by Dom Mariani, in full-blooded garage mode), Stoneage Hearts, the wonderfully off-kilter Hekawis, Shutdown 66, the Unheard, Hands of Time and ex-Seminal Rat Ian Wettenhall (in solo mode) lead the harder edge of the garage contingent. Roll Cage, Sheek the Shayk and The Intercontinental Playboys trash it up, each in inimitable and distinctive style. The Frantics and The Uptight fall back on their Farfisas in the best Nuggets traditions.

The M16s from Perth and Asteroid B612 from Sydney probably deliver the Rock in its most straightforward, riff-driven form while the Naked Eye go the hard pop route. Surf gets a look in courtesy of the Alohas, and the very groovy "Kooksville". The Drones indulge in an amalgam of Birthday Party-frolicking-in-a-swamp (without the angst levels pushed to overdrive) on "The Scrap Iron Sky" and Perth's Capital City compare very favourably to the Scientists with "Little Town Blues".

It's the lesser-heard bands that make my ears prick up. I never heard Melbourne band the Psycho Delematics' first album but the Crampsian reverb fun of "The Whoopee-Do" makes me think I should have and harks back to a brief period in Sydney when every second singer wanted to be Lux Interior. Speaking of the Cramps, The Head Set are the most obscure act on this set and "Action Man" sounds very much like a song the Lord taught them. Driveway Service are an occasional Melbourne grouping of Breadmakers, Shutdown 66 and Puritans members and spin the wildest Purple Hearts sounds on the fuzz-and-harp-driven "Have You Checked Your Breaks". The fractured country drone of "Train Wreck Blues" would make Brisbane's Mexico City a seemingly good match with the Drones. "Killing Me Down" is OK but not the best song I've heard from Shutdown 66's formidable set list. The Unheard are a Wollongong combo that lives up to its name but "I Don't Believe" (another organ-fuzz "Ugly Things" cop) makes me want to correct that oversight and track down their hard-to-find album.

Is this a truly representative sampling of the Oz underground circa 2003. I dunno and I'm not going to spend much time wondering. Neither should you. Buy it and go deaf. - The Barman



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