The New Melbourne Jangle
Jangly guitars are popping up all over Australia, but nowhere so much as in Melbourne – just don’t call it a scene, writes DOUG WALLEN.
Like any genre summation boiled down to a single word, “jangle” can cut both ways. But it needn’t be a device for pigeonholing; it’s more like a shared bit of DNA. And while every corner of the world has yielded jangly pop bands, Melbourne in particular has proved a prime breeding ground for that DNA. While the city can’t claim The Go-Betweens or The Cannanes, it can The Sugargliders, The Cat’s Miaow and The Lucksmiths. Within the past decade, many more kindred spirits have arrived in the form of The Crayon Fields, The Ancients, The Motifs, Woollen Kits and Scott & Charlene’s Wedding. And as Dick Diver and Twerps continue to gain traction at home and abroad, newer bands are chiming in with their own take on guitar-driven pop and classic underground nonchalance. It’s tempting to picture all of the below high-fiving during communal sleepovers, but there isn’t a set Melbourne jangle scene. Still, looking at these nine bands – plus honourable mentions – there’s clearly something happening here.
Last heard: All Gone (Vacant Valley, 2012)
Selling point: Album coming out on cassette via US label Night People.
In brief: Despite the mostly apt name, Pop Singles reveal a discursive streak on their debut album that’s more about chasing low-key whims than penning the perfect A-side. The Jack Farley-recorded All Gone is a solid step up in both songwriting and recording from their earlier work, while still sounding like musty classics unearthed from an aging pop fan’s attic. Fans of The Go-Betweens should especially take note. Check out bassist Peter Bramley’s Vacant Valley label, albeit generally home to much more intense stuff.
The Ocean Party
Next heard: Social Clubs, due in October on Birds Love Fighting.
Selling point: Did a recent four-week residency in the Tote front bar.
In brief: The kind of fresh-faced young band that seemed to materialise fully formed out of nowhere, complete with splinter factions (see below). Their subsequent single ‘In the Knot’ gives a better indication of just how good these guys are than even their very likable first album. Just as winning are their likeminded offshoots Velcro, Turvey Park and The Removalists.
Next heard: Debut album coming later this year on Knock Yr Socks Off/Lost & Lonesome.
Selling point: Just shared a split live cassette with US indie pop legends Saturday Looks Good to Me
In brief: The band’s been around longer than most of these, and their much-delayed album can’t come soon enough. It’s been ages since the ‘Going to Sri Lanka’ 7”, after all. When it does finally surface later this year, it should capture that signature mix of breathy pop purity and total ramshackle sprawl that’d be right at home on Flying Nun.
Last heard: Uralba (Dream Damage, 2011)
Selling point: Part of the Canberra-to-Melbourne diaspora.
In brief: Like many bands associated with the great Dream Damage label, the charmingly spindly yet disciplined Cat Cat formed in Canberra. But they’ve since set up shop in Melbourne and recently wrapped a winter tour from that base. They’ve released two EPs and the addictive self-recorded album Uralba so far. The latter has been out for a year, which makes it high time for the new material promised by that tour.
Last heard: The Stevens EP (Independent, 2012)
Selling point: On a new four-way split 7” with Full Ugly (see below), released by the Sub Pop-signed UK band Male Bonding on their Paradise Vendors Inc. label .
In brief: Super strummy and yet scuffed in all the right places, The Stevens are a rare underground pop band that dodge the twee vibe and could appeal as much to punk and garage fans. Their song on that split may only be 78 seconds, but it’s a valuable UK introduction to one of Melbourne’s most promising bands.
Last heard: That four-way split 7” with The Stevens (see above).
Selling point: Opened for Twerps recently in Melbourne.
In brief: Started as humble jams between Love Connection bandmates Nathan Burgess and Michael Caterer, Full Ugly became a more proper band a couple years ago. With Caterer newly relocated to the US, Burgess (also of Great Outdoors) has brought in guitarist Nathan McFarlane (brother to Twerps’ Julia McFarlane) as a replacement. They did record three new songs just before Caterer departed, and there’s a killer album’s worth of unreleased tunes on Full Ugly’s Soundcloud. In fact, that’s how Male Bonding stumbled onto the band.
Last heard: Big Time (Bedroom Suck, 2012)
Selling point: Releases on dependable labels Bedroom Suck and R.I.P. Society.
In brief: As with Cat Cat, this trio formed elsewhere (Adelaide) but are now based in Melbourne. Last year’s ‘Marilyn Monroe’/‘Holiday in America’ 7” confirmed a brazen catchiness, and their album is even better. On it, Bitch Prefect pen wobbly, smart-alecky, slacker guitar gems that are true to life and down to earth in a way that evokes the everyman ramble of Scott & Charlene’s Wedding. It doesn’t hurt that these guys also have ties to Old Mate, True Radical Miracle, Hit the Jackpot, Peak Twins, Lindsey Low Hand and, um, Silly Joel and the Candymen.
Last heard: 'Pink Earrings' 7” (Lost & Lonesome, 2011)
Selling point: Mark Monnone was bassist for the late Lucksmiths.
In brief: A longtime solo outlet for its namesake founder – also of Last Leaves and the global roster of Still Flyin’ – Monnone Alone has finally recorded a debut LP, Together At Last due early next year on Monnone’s Lost & Lonesome label. Apart from collaborations with friends all over the world, the band’s live version includes Connal Parsley (Francis Plagne) and Gus Franklin (Architecture in Helsinki, The Smallgoods). As for the music, it’s classic indie pop with groggy vocals worthy of Stephen Pastel.
Last heard: Won’t Let You Down (Independent, 2012)
Selling point: Album produced by the prolific Nick Huggins.
In brief: Won’t Let You Down is a crash course in breezy guitar-pop, with stops at Orange Juice and Sarah Records before (arguably) nodding to Vampire Weekend. Longer-running than other bands here, Francolin are a welcome addition to that continuum and a pleasantly self-aware one: ‘On Overseas Exchanges’ sees Swedish-born Staffan Guinane drop pop-culture references with a knowing wink.