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Review of Ghost Mountain’s 2010 album Art Without Audience

Being a musician is about considerably more than playing an instrument. It’s about a life moved by artistic vision and emotion – a fraught word in the modern era. Like that other, highly nuanced casualty of the lexicon, ‘gay’, it’s been forced into an entirely other set of pants. Emotion in its truncated, graffitoed form has been circumscribed to those youth who feel that shanghiing the Goth credo is not enough, that as sole inheritors of genuine sorrow the emos need to annex it for their own private kingdom. But Ghost Mountain ain’t letting go of it.

This band’s lives are a subterranean mine of emotion, roiling and tectonically shifting beneath the amaranthine hills of the Byron hinterland. And where it breaks the surface, that’s where you’ll find Art Without Audience.

Engineered, produced and finessed in his usual inimitable style by co-founding member Christian Pyle (CP), this record is then broken down by Sal Yates, the other half of the equation. Sal’s voice, enormous, vulnerable, glorying in power and range, is as laden with the E word as was Johnny Cash’s in another realm entirely, so tightly woven with tantalising promise, searing passion and aching despair that every phrase sounds like a psalm from the Old Testament.

Arm that voice with CP’s masterful, deft and unrestrained knowledge of an electric guitars possibilities, and you indeed have high art, albeit aloof and oblique, grounded in high misty hills and constant, tropical rain. It’s my contention in fact that the mountain is question is music itself, and the ghost is the ephemeral, shifting emotion that haunts it.

Drummer Nick Edin and bassist Eben McCrimmon are adept interpreters of the raging and temperamental songs on this, the second album from the band. Two years in the making, it’s a potent mix of their signal slant on rock and roll with a determined and steady artistic vision. Envenomed at turns with Bryson Mulholland’s coruscating keys and CP’s own bristling voice, the result is a glittering treasury of blazing ardour and wilful collapse.

From the stately timbre of Government Arms to the Crazy Horse guitar tirade of I’m Gonna Face You, there’s a ruthless spectrum of styles lurching through the eleven songs. Delving into electro-pop with Everythings OK, the Mountaineers also tackle brooding alt-rock in Started a Fire, while Capsized Moon is as lilting and yearnful as Don’t Make Me Wait is majestic.

Easy Does It is a standout, not because I have an undeserved credit, but because of its simple melody and poised, sanguine lyric. The lover who sings ‘You swine, I’m coming to get you’, is the same who on Animal declares, “I’m not your animal, you’re not worth dying for”, and hexes exes when In Spite of Me shudders in full spate with “I’m getting over the game … taking time to write the lies that you breathe …”. She’s also the temptress who promises “If you really wanted this could be your song”, in Capsized Moon.

Like Ghost Mountain’s previous work, this album is more about subtle and dark than user-friendly. There’s few concessions to idiocy and the banal will slope away, unmoved. But if you like to tap into raw emotion and the elliptical truth of unfettered art, you’ll find closer The Whole compelling and its hot-tempered jealousy a door slamming on a volatile, irresistible album. Like a spurned lover, you’ll be hanging at the back windows, peering into that murky light.

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Christian Pyle, solo album review, published on Vitamin website

Christian Pyle is an anomaly in the modern world – eschewing glamour, fads and celebrity he’s pioneered all three in his own inimitable style as founding member of the great ACRE, a Brisbane band that nearly tipped over into the hyperstream – and would surely have if not for CP’s refusal to kowtow to the flippant demands of passing fame.

Instead he chose the life of the reclusive eccentric, buying acreage in the Byron hinterland before it was trendy and carving out a niche as a cranky, obsessive producer – much in demand from the hippest jazz practitioners in the land, among others, and renowned for crafting straightforward, evocative music with the unmistakeable stamp of sonic genius.

As gentleman farmer and bona fide eccentric he specialises in chicken coops on an Escheresque scale – on the sonic plane he contends with obscure, etheric sounds, tinkering with odd devices and inventions. His use of spastic rhythms and counter-melodies, ghostly voices and antiquated instrumentation ranging from toy pianos to homemade theremins is local legend.

Sometimes these quirks threaten to place him in the dadaist realms of John Cale, Sonic Youth or even Kraftwerk, but his love of a simple melody and primal pop structure are always underpinned by the guitar foundations that keep him entrenched in rock’n’roll.

Those familiar with his work – Ghost Mountain, the Re-mains, Jesse Younan, Billy, et al, will recognise the subtle but layered vocals and reverbs, the obsessive, warped melodies, the cunning arrangements that recycle simple progressions and beats into seemingly complex symphonies. In fact some of the songs carry the epic melodic momentum of Muse or Radiohead, a statement he’d probably take issue with.

In ‘Nothing Left to Burn’ he’s crafted a gentle but deceptively savage record that hacks and stabs at several of his private bete noires while maintaining an even lope, like an experienced lantana cutter excising his quarry with efficient, but deadly swipes of the brush-hook.

CP plays all the instruments, displaying virtuoso talents that are almost impossible to repeat live.

‘Trees and Stone’ is the balladry of an artisan and farmer as adept and familiar with natural elements as songs and sound, inviting a visitor to witness the ‘ ….? play with the trees and stone, built my home, on innocent dreams,”  ??’

Never specific, enigmatic lyrics annotate a love affair with his bittersweet life, as much a part of the landscape as the materials he builds chook pens with. The romantic sentiment of the chorus belies his jaded frown; “Someone’s heart I’m sure you’ll take up, someone’s love to sweep your feet,

“If only words could say what they mean, if only ears could hear them sweet …”

‘Wait Son’ is a primer for Nemo, his eldest, who displays all the urgent restlessness of his dad’s relentless creativity – ‘Wait son don’t you understand, our road’s been walked upon since time began,

We’re just a viral coat tryin’ to fill a stranger’s shoulders, we’re just the branches of a family …’

Already playing guitar at age 5, Nemo’s familiar precociousness stirs instinctive paternal caution;

‘ … there is broke, there is broken, there are toys that you can’t play with …’

The grim admonition of ‘Get Used To It’ uses a spare piano melody staked out on a bleak narrative that delves into the murk of a lantana farmer’s consciousness – Goonengerry’s ‘Diary of a Madman’.

Meanwhile subliminal trumpets and voices carry on a submerged dialogue that gives the song an entirely more vulnerable edge in the refrain;

‘I know I sound weak, I know I sound crazy that’s the way it is, get used to it …’

‘Ray of Your Sunshine’ is the perfect pop song, leaping out of an addled drum solo with laconic sauciness, tempered by bitter experience.

“Don’t take much to make me regret, just the thought of you and my heart comes out second best … for far too long I wore an idiot smile, what I’d pay for a ray of your sunshine … “

Meanwhile ‘Sometime in June’ shops all CP’s melancholy themes, the haunting sense of loss and decayed beauty that informs much of his work, a junkie carousel spindling a lost love’s lament.

‘At A Loss’ is another desolate piano ballad whose brevity underpins its mournful musings on the world’s oldest theme;

“Love never fades, it just changes shape, it just changes faces …”, while

Ryuichi is a spare, short instrumental that takes you into the final turn for ‘School Without Dogs’;

A breezy reminiscence of childhood innocence and preoccupations whose central canine underpins the premise that times were better then … Rambling lyrics also grant a glimpse into some of the musical obsessions that drive CP’s muse.

Country music how it ought to be is demonstrated in ‘Sun Comes Up’, a lazy acoustic yearning for the same essence of past potential that haunts its predecessors; “ … You had a fire deep inside, you had a friend in the flame, now you’re suffering from some emptiness within … Wish you were still around … “

You get the feeling that these memos are aimed not at individuals as much as phases of life, of which people are just different facets. The wry observer sees his own fate in them;

‘ … now we’re waterlogged and sinking, the ghost of all before

take your time, take it quickly, push me from the shore … “

‘Give It Some Choke’ is a defiant challenge to the musical powerbrokers of our digital age, a war-cry urging compatriots not to bend before their apparent omniscience.

‘Fuck the powers take control, come on baby give it some choke …

They’ll hear us one day …’ and as if in response, ‘Spaceman’s Funeral’

is a strange techno dirge that could well take its place as an X-Box anthem – or indeed a wry funeral march for these very music moguls.

‘Green Goblin’ is musical haiku, another strange composition whose mysterious undertones seem to be narrating a whole other world underneath a brief melodic meditation.

Finally, ‘Great White Hope’ is a broad and scathing denunciation of a recalcitrant former client which revels in gallows imagery and a gleeful piano and banjo stomp.

“If I only know one thing; puppets don’t like it when you don’t provide the strings …”

Not for committed dance-obsessives or those prone to lyric-triggered depressions, ‘Nothing Left To Burn’ is a wilfully difficult album that demands a certain amount of work from the listener.  It features the kind of dedication to dense and detailed soundscapes as the prog-rock of a bygone age – much as CP would loathe such a comparison.

Lyrically caustic and sonically exquisite, it’s an artistic and oddly elegant exercise that rewards diligent engagement – and then just try and get the songs out of your head.

Bootless and Unhorsed

Incident Report – latest Re-Mains mailout newsletter

Greetings from Tuckombil. The Re-mains are on hiatus at the moment after Nymagee and our second tour of Canada. We’re playing a handful of shows for the rest of the year and taking it easy while we hunker down in meatspace to try and get outta debt and regroup. Tom Jones has relocated to Darwin with his lovely beau Flanno, UBL is in training for the Ironman races at Bentley, Frisky has gone into timber milling and I’m driving cabs. We’re playing three shows at Tamworth CMF in January and hopefully will have the new album by then. More below on that. Last year we played 132 shows – a record for the band. It was a tumultuous year – our first tour of Canada, 64 shows across seven provinces taking on 16,000 kilometres of Rocky Mountains, the great prairies and the enormous metropolises of this fabled continent. We made a lot of friends there, the Bush Pilots, The Secretaries, Joey Only and the Outlaw Band, Colin Farnan, Peter Brush, The Deep Dark Woods, Li’l Miss Higgins (the Kansas version) and Foy, all the crew at Ness Creek Festival, who broke their golden rule by having us back for a second time, Wil and Caroline, Mayor Matt Allen and family, The Smokin’ 45s and our Calgary sponsor Brad Simm, the Weber Bros and the D-Rangers … We also did a heap of touring at home, from Melbourne to Nundle via Goologong and Tamworth, Nymagee, Bourke, Cobar … business as usual. Uncle Burnin’ Love came back to the fold after a grave illness that had put him temporarily out of action. As soon as he was pronounced fit the Recruiting Sergeant whisked him out of Bentley and back on the road. Recording for the next album continued in fits and starts. We’d actually commenced just prior to the fateful national tour that ended before it began, in the back of a steer north of Tennant Creek. Grant Bedford and Dave Ramsey are still recovering from their injuries there, and fighting off the insurance vultures trying to deprive them of compensation. Sessions went on throughout last year and this and we were able to release nine new songs on the ‘Inland Sea’ album – a Canada-only cd that garnered heaps of radio play over there, punters particularly taken with ‘Darn Tootin’ in Saskatchewan’, a bawdy tale of depravity and bears in that blessed province. The female anchor of City TV in Calgary, Alberta was so taken with it that she had us play it live to air on Breakfast TV during our long sojourn there, courtesy of expatriate Peter Brush, a generous bon vivant and lover of late nights and Gary’s antics. We still have another 11 songs in the bag to be polished, have guitar, harmonica and vocal parts added for release hopefully before this year is out. It’s all down to the patience and dedication of Christian Pyle, genius producer at Prawn and Spanner that we got this far, un-monetized, haphazard and harried. The album is to be called ‘Courage … and shuffle the cards’, a valiant quote attributed to Lola Montez. This year we played a mere 52 shows in Canada, including two TV appearances, marking new territory in Montreal and beyond and criss-crossing the Rockies with Joey Only and Zinger to play some extraordinary venues that we would surely never have had the privilege of without these two spirit guides. Once again we were treated to amazing hospitality, mind-bending conviviality, and Shaun saw a wolf. So he reckons. We managed 35 shows in Australia, about ten of those being in disguise as The Postmortemists, our covers band whose residency at the sadly missed Winsome Hotel was responsible for some highly liberal interpretations of tunes by the likes of You Am I, The Beasts of Bourbon, Divinyls, Midnight Oil, The Stems, The Church etc etc. Last weekend we joined the rest of the Australian country rock and roll coalface community in commuting out to our very own Mecca, the birthplace of crnr, where Beefweek first split the atom and GOLD!!!! tumbled out, where the Trippin’ Shearer was sacrificed to the angry god of the coalface, where the burrs are bigger ‘n landmines, NYMAGEE. Yeah that’s right, The Re-mains were born out on this slag heap in the Mallee, and we returned along with a plethora of other bona fide coalface roots acts to carouse, cavort and disport with all those brave enough to venture out to the middle of New South Wales. There are a heap of pics on myspace and facebook to tell the true story, suffice to say that it probably was the best ever festival in terms of music, camaraderie, weather and hilarity. Directors Mcintosh and Hull did a magnificent job and have well and truly hooked Nymagee into the broader Australian psyche. Next shows for us are Nov 21 at a private party in Yamba and Sunday 22nd at Billinudgel Pub in the afternoon. Traditionally a great gig. After that, the Grand Junction in Maitland on December 4 and maybe something else with Crossy on the Saturday night. Meanwhile I’m playing solo at the Nimbin Pub on Thursday night, November 19. Till you hear the banjo roar, au revoir.