SNEEZE WEED - Bonniwells (Z-Man Records)
Production? What production? It seems modern recording is all about a race to the bottom for today's young bands. Melbourne-Sydney trio Bonniwells just about get there first with their second long player. Even though I come to praise "Sneeze Weed", not to bury it, I have to be in the right mindset to listen to it. Let me explain…

Recording music is democratised. It's as easy as plugging in your laptop and setting up a microphone. Preferably just one. Easy peasy. Turn it up, tune down, bash away. While it means many bands will never know the soul-sucking burden of a massive studio bill that makes indentured slaves of them until middle age (or frightens mum and dad to death and delays the purchase of that second Landcruiser), anyone can now record. Wasn't putting the means of production/lowering the walls what punk was all about? If it makes you feel better, sure it was.

So we have a conundrum. Purity versus sounding good. What's good? It's subjective. Your good will differ from mine. Most people will have some mutual touchpoint. They'll recognise that a band from "thee garage" does not have to sound like Keisha. Actually, no-one should have to be Keisha. How a band sounds should match how it wants to be perceived. Sounding bad can be cool. At least we don't have to put up with that wet '80s snare sound.

As abrasive as its predecessor was, "Sneeze Weed" (the title's about snuff, not hooch) is something else. By most people's standard, it sounds like shit. Distortion and leakage bleed all over this. They fight for a place in the claustrophobic soundscape like parasites struggling for a prime place from which to attack a host. Discordant harmonies struggle to sound fully formed and the vocals are buried in sludge.

Bonniwells probably want you to think they don't give a flying fuck when the lumbering chords of "Everyone Say Hello" unravel over a feel that changes time like a Balinese timepiece. When I describe the breakdown in "Crack man" as a "breakdown" you'll know I mean what I type. I could postulate that these guys are just hipster-posers trying to be The Black Lips times 10 (I know Bob Short would) but that would be too easy. There are some good songs hiding in the aural carnage.

The stuttering "Elk Beat", "Mrs Anderson" (a song about a 105-year-old lady - the only "chick" tune here), the warped surf freakout "Suntan and Freckles" and the strained psych canter of "From The Sunn" have a lo-fi charm that would match anything at Gonerfest. "I Smiled Yesterday" sounds like an outtake from "Tonight's the Night" - which is a back-handed compliment if there ever was one. They didn't throw much away from that session apart from empty tequila bottles.

OK, this isn't as convincing as the debut but there's no shame in that. The first album was pretty great. There's that sneaking suspicion that it was recorded as badly as could be done without the tape/hard drive self-immolating or simply giving up. In the end, Bonniwells prove themselves to be lounge room musicians rather than bedroom ones - because that's where this album was recorded. How you'll take to "Sneeze Weed" will depend on how low you're prepared to go.
- The Barman


3/4

 

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UNPROFITABLE SERVANT - The Bonniwells (Z-Man Records)
If you're going to name your band after the mainman in The Music Machine you better shape up or ship the fuck out. With a lineage partly drawn from The Frowning Clouds (as well as Bleach and Last Gypsys - both new to me) you suspect it's going to be pretty good. Whatever positive preconceptions you have, they may be dwarfed when you hit that play button the first time.

Where The Frowning Clouds eschew the heavy fuzz that's a lifeblood to most '60s throwbacks (term used in the nicest way), The Bonniwells embrace it like a lush devours martinis. It's noisy and ragged and far removed from the muted grooves of the Clouds, for whom drummer Zac Olsen is principal songwriter and member. This is altogether more withering than lilting, and in your face like a debt collector.

Opener "I Don't Need You Know More" (sic) sounds like a bunch of chain being scraped across a bathroom floor, but that's only after guitarist Marck Dean drawls the song title (and main lyric) like he's crawled out of the depths of a five-day migraine. Stabbing guitar underlines his message just in case it didn't sink in from the outset. It's edgy stuff alright, but the abrasion ante is upped by a factor of five on "Bad Seeds". Now this is how Nick Cave's band of the similar name should sound - or did before Blixa took his discordant noise elsewhere. Anchored in the '60s but sounding like the band dreamt it last week, this is fearsomely good.

The gong for highest fuzz quotient (the envelope please) goes jointly to "Cracked Hands", a wailing two-minute crawl through a garden full of prickly pears that oddly grinds to a halt just as it's ramping up, and "Predictable Piece of Shit", the latter an angry wall of psych sludge.

You thought (wished) you'd heard your last version of "Louie Louie"? Meet The Bonniwells version ("Louie Lou-aah"), a fractured take on the traditional "can't play we're too drunk" frat song that descends into something more sinister than amore toga party around the keg. A trippy breakdown takes it out over the edge. This is what The Sonics would have sounded like if they took acid.

Just eight songs over 20 minutes but who cares, this stuff is often best administered in small but lethal doses. - The Barman


 

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