Record Reviews

Dead Man Has No 2nd Chance

The Holy Soul’s second album Damn You, Ra (2010) consolidated their reputation as one of Sydney’s most interesting and versatile rock bands, centred around the often dark muse of chief song-writer Trent Marden. Quite separately from this growing body of work, the band has also carved out a niche as local collaborators of choice for international musical mavericks and misfits. Last year they backed Pere Ubu’s formidably intimidating lead singer David Thomas during his solo tour, and three years ago they joined Damo Suzuki’s ever-expanding network of ?Sound Carriers? – a loose group of musicians on whom the Japanese singer draws for his improvised performances around the globe.

For this concert, recorded at Melbourne’s Toff In Town in February 2008, The Holy Soul were joined by The Drones? Dan Luscombe on keyboard and renowned electronic sound artist Peter Newman. The idea of sustaining a completely improvised performance for an hour can seem daunting to musicians and listeners alike, but right from the opening notes of ?A Stone Of Fortune?, it’s apparent this group is equal to the task.

Suzuki puts on his finest Beefheart growl before quickly establishing an understated vocal groove, which the band builds on for the next 35 minutes. His unceasing stream of semi-comprehensible language falls somewhere between the quasi-psychedelic repetition of Can, the German band he fronted in the early 1970s, and a blues-inflected shamanistic chanting. A master of phrasing, he plays with the sound and structure of verbal communication more than actual meaning. As the music slowly intensifies towards a Velvet Underground-ish see-saw rhythm, so his singing rises in urgency, in turns taking up the groove or providing a melodic counterpoint to the instruments.

The Holy Soul respond with utmost sensitivity and assuredness. They never over-play or dictate the direction of the music. Everyone on stage is completely in tune with each other, listening intently to every note created and considering their individual input. So sure-footed is this collaboration, that it’s easy to forget it’s all improvised. As the tension is released towards the end of the track, listeners become aware of their own deeply focused attention.

After such a gripping rollercoaster ride, the slightly shorter second track almost seems like an anti-climax. While employing essentially the same elements as its predecessor, it doesn’t possess the same kind of dynamic. Instead it unfolds in a more cyclical fashion, which doesn’t quite convey the same impression of forward momentum. This is deceptive of course, and in its own way ?Strangers In Blue? is every bit as successful a piece of spontaneously created rock music.