10 Track, LP (2012, Army of Bad Luck)
Formerly known as Zsa Zsa, Bushwalking unite bassist Ela Stiles (Songs), drummer Nisa Venerosa (Fabulous Diamonds) and guitarist Karl Scullin (Kes). The trio opt for open, droning jams over tightly regimented songs, making their debut album – released on the US label Army of Bad Luck, run by Deerhunter’s Josh Faver – a loose-ended experience that also happens to be steeped in undefinable spookiness. Vocals by Stiles and Venerosa surface fairly often – sometimes just as wordless harmonies – but these songs would be convincing purely as instrumentals.
That’s especially true of the Krautrock-informed ‘Visual Jam Doughnut’, which wakes things up after the sleepy tambourine thuds and cymbal washes of the Mazzy Star-ish ‘Bath Sex’. Clarity is not a priority for this band, as you can tell from the smudged aesthetic of the romantic opener ‘Doona’, not to mention Stiles’ dragged-out words on ‘Dedication’ and the frayed guitar passages of ‘Natural Vagina’. The vocals can feel like instruments in themselves, while Scullin’s eagerly ranging guitar has an almost vocal personality to it. He leads the way on ‘Seventeen Once’ and on the title track, the sort of candlelit psych hymn Espers do so well. His lustrous picking makes ‘Hair’ the most melodic song here, and he gamely flirts with surf, as well as Mick Turner-style bleariness on ‘Depression (No Baby)’.
The deadpan quality to the singing (though Stiles’ is sweeter) enforces First Time’s vibe as an album to stare out the window and lose time to. Recorded half by Casey Rice (Dirty Three) and half by Jack Farley (Beaches, Twerps), it’s meditative in a way that’s sometimes lovely and sometimes vaguely disturbing. “We’re in our own world,” sings Stiles on the closing ‘Warmth’, summing up band and album both.
by Doug Wallen