Melbourne duo Footy lend quiet experimentation to a poignant album of mostly instrumental electric piano pieces. Think of them as muted torch songs, suggests LUKE TELFORD.
Before you even start to listen, Footy seems a beguiling band. The name begs to be read as a satirical jab at the sport and its culture. The knowledge that Footy is two blokes with keyboards (Lewis Mulvey and Paddy Gordon) and the word ‘experimental’ in their press release lends to this impression. The music clearly isn't the type of stuff you might hear effervescing under AFL highlights. But it also doesn’t seem likely Footy will sound anything like Elton John and Billy Joel crooning at each other across metres of Steinway.
The cover for Mobile Cemetery heightens suspicions of subversion – an old photograph unceremoniously painted over in a kind of crude pointillism. It’s texturally evocative, lending the hope that the music it conceals will be similarly so; bending conventional song into new forms, or revelling in the sort of glorious chaos that pianos yield when briskly dismantled. What actually greets you when you when the stylus touches down is none of the above. If you’re previously unfamiliar with the band, it might take you by surprise.
“Its sound is simple and muted … nothing is needlessly showy.”
Mobile Cemetery is a clutch of half-drunk torch songs and ruminative sketches that draw the listener into an understated narrative. Its sound is simple and muted; a core of lush keyboard instruments is decorated with exotic percussion and some quietly dizzying production techniques, but nothing presented is needlessly showy. Most of the record is instrumental and meanders subliminally, in the same way a thread of childhood memory can unspool into bizarre tangents when your dozing mind lifts it out of the air and follows where it leads.
‘Realisation’ paces dramatic piano interjections with quiet, plaintive motifs before resolving into a resolute march. It functions as an opening suite – it piques your curiosity, invites you to join in reflection, then draws you resolutely into the album’s world with promise and stateliness. ‘Endless Selection of Channels’ follows, sounding like the maudlin soundtrack to a pensive moment in a made-for-TV drama. Its mopiness gently unfolds into inquisitive, optimistic shapes, almost as though a metaphorical weight has been lifted from a narrator’s shoulders. Closing track ‘Sea Home’ is unabashedly beautiful, revelling in the endless peace of the security of sleep.
The record’s underlying concept is thankfully left inexplicit, though the group’s label notes it was inspired by restless late-night drivers through Melbourne light-industrial areas. The two pieces with vocals certainly present images that resonate with that source of inspiration. The verse lyric on ‘Workin’’ plays out like a paean to forgotten working-class generations, while the quietly musing crowd on the title track relates experiences of walking through childhood neighbourhoods long gone to the dogs.
“It feels familiar; sometimes ingratiatingly affirming, sometimes painfully sad.”
For an experimental band, much of the music presented here is welcoming – there are no imposing freakouts, impalpable ambiences or dense chord clusters. It feels familiar; sometimes ingratiatingly affirming, sometimes painfully sad. In one sense, it feels manipulative. The album often sounds as though the duo is reaching for melodies that might resonate in seemingly profound ways with listeners brought up unconsciously absorbing cheap daytime TV soundtracks. But in a way it’s necessary, a means to an end.
Mobile Cemetery feels like an attempt to articulate the balance of hope and helplessness that reflection on one’s early past can bring. It evokes the disjointedness that arises from pairing imagined homelands with starkly unforgiving or disappointing realities. It’s experimental in concept and execution but oddly formulaic in practice. Cheesy but inexplicably poignant. A strange and beautiful record.