10 Track, LP (2012, tenzenmen)
Related: Mere Women.
There's no romantic backstory to Mere Women's Old Life. They haven't locked themselves in a cabin in the woods or returned from a winter sojourn in Berlin. Instead, Mere Women wrote, lived and recorded this record among the rows of 100-year-old terraces and grimey shopfronts in the guts of Sydney's inner-west. In that sense, Old Life is life as usual for the band, who formed in the industrial heart of Marrickville and recorded in Eveleigh, where the former carriage works now stands as an art space.
On Old Life, Mere Women hang their pop sensibilities on the gloomy threat of their post-punk dirgery, refraining from ever giving in to either of these warring sides. They have this infuriating tendency to draw you in with a building hook, taking you to the cusp before defaulting on their promises with a shift. Grim opener 'Waiting Room' is the first sign of this unsettled dichotomy, groaning through a slow build that, just as you're waiting for that big promise, collapses into singer Amy Wilson’s sultry calls. "Leaning on the walls/It's not your time yet," she spits.
On 'TB', Mere Women continue with their perverse tease, this time beginning with a distracted meander before sinking into a hook. The swirling effects mingle with Wilson's hard-edge vocal before clawing the meanderings prior back from the void and into climax. Mere Women seem obsessed with manipulating your expectations of their songcraft, failing to deliver on one occasion and surprising you with an understated slice of beauty the next. It never allows you to settle into it, nor are you ever completely comfortable with where it has taken you; and it’s that which often makes this record such an unsettling listen.
Old Life may have been crafted somewhere quite familiar – a barely-lit Redfern alley – but the delivery is eerily foreign. 'Hoof Foot' appears innocent enough on paper, but there's something to Wilson's half-spat delivery that comes with a fearsome undercurrent. Meanwhile, tracks like 'Indians' and 'Blonde Kid' seem to dwell in pleasantries before shocking you with a strange and unexpectedly violent finish. Then after all the hidden ferocity, lies 'Faded,' a gorgeous reprise that almost acts to reward you for your patience. "Faded and undone/it's just a whisper of what it was," Wilson sings, in what could have been a perfect finish, but is left to another album highlight in the noise-laden swoon of 'Mister Memory'.
With Old Life, Mere Women have crafted a strange and noxious record that will polarise opinion, obscuring a pop record under straying sounds and dark asides. When Mere Women want you to dance, they quickly remind you of the consequences of having too good a time. When they want you to quake with fear, they're right there to reassure you afterwards. And once it's all said and done, whatever you feel, you're likely to go back for a second listen to figure out exactly what just happened.
by Max Easton