Music, Publicity jobs

Christian Pyle, ‘Nothing Left to Burn’ album review

Christian Pyle, the North Coast’s most respected, irreverent and unconventional songwriter and producer, releases his new album, Nothing Left to Burn at the Buddha Bar on June 12th, supported by M Jack Bee and Sara Tindley.

It’s a vibrant, intelligent album bristling with verve, paranoia, anger and joy. Not for the faint-hearted, this oughta be the gig of the year.

Continue reading “Christian Pyle, ‘Nothing Left to Burn’ album review”

Northern Star Column

Vuvuzela vesuvius and a profound lack of sleep

With the World Cup dominating my cortexes and precluding any notions of sleep, it’s been a long, dreamlike procession of lurid guernseys, sneering vuvuzela, botched refereeing and the odd extraordinary goal to keep it interesting. These are precisely the right conditions for songwriting under ordinary circumstances – where the mind is locked onto an astounding circumstance and can run free, abetted by the free-associating chicanery of sleep deprivation, you can usually come up with some pretty radical nonsense.

But as James Morrison demonstrated on the Ed Sam and Santos programme, that jarring vuvuzela drone, the blaring idiocy of a million amplified blowflies, falling somewhere between ‘A’ and ‘B flat’, is guaranteed to cruel any looming lyric – if music soothes the savage beast, the vuvuzela bites it like a tsetse fly.

On the weekend I tried to distract myself with Ghost Mountain at the Buddha Bar, Birdbrain, the Tendons, Antibodies and Slug at the Great Northern, Kathryn Hartnett at Lennox Pub – to no avail. Every time I turn on the tele and try to concentrate on writing a less irritating World Cup jingle the vuvuzelas awake, it’s offside, handball, and my brain scores an own goal.

Bootless and Unhorsed

Fourth Re-Mains album, Inland Sea, finally complete

In cahoots with our producer and sometime guitar-slinger Christian ‘Scales are for Fish’ Pyle (aka C.P.), we’ve just mastered 13 tracks for the long-awaited, much-belated and very nearly evaporated new album, Inland Sea.

It’s been three years since Love’s Last Stand, also produced by CP, was released, and in the interim Leigh Ivin left the band, Dave Ramsey joined it and was promptly almost killed by an errant outback cow, Grant Bedford also retired, hurt, and a string of other great players had a crack at country rock and roll. We toured Canada twice, played over 200 shows in both countries and released an earlier, Canadian version of Inland Sea there. But here, finally, is a collection of songs, some old now, some written in Canada, Lismore and various other timeless states.

It’s got a different vibe to the other records, there are a lot of players’ signature sounds on it – from Phil Daniel’s keys and occasional banjo, Bryson Mullholland’s eerie throat and Hammond flourishes, Scotty Dog Bennett’s righteous drum pounding, CP’s menacing guitar lines, Grant Bedford’s pre-smash drumming and Tom Jones Junior’s post-Stax bass barrages to the unmistakeable imprint of original country rock and roll banjo pioneer Shaun ‘Uncle Burnin’ Love’ Butcher’s gittar and banjo ministrations.

Inland Sea refers to the mythical body of water deep in the interior to which our convict ancestors fled, convinced that there they’d find wealth, rum and happiness – not an entirely different set of delusions to the modern country rock and roll model.

As such the songs are mostly road narratives sweated out in semi-delerium – Othello’s P-76, a haunted dirge in the wake of John Howard’s ugly reign, or This Could Be Anywhere, a ballad for the lost, somewhere in the boundless depths of Canada, or is it Grafton, NSW? Pumulwuy is the story of Australia’s indigenous Che Guevara, concerning the black leader who successfully fought the British for 15 years before treachery and lesser men brought him down. 2nd Century plots a trans-continental love affair while Left on King laments the glory days of inner-city rock. Praise Be to the Rooster follows the fallen into hallucinatory hell in a wintry rural desolation. Copper City Motel is a rock and roll explosion in the grand tradition of Gold Wig and Bye Bye Byron Bay. The dark underbelly of Nimbin rolls, bloated, to the surface in Who Shot Johnny D? and finally, we cheer up in Darn Tootin’ in Saskatchewan. There’s more riotous carry-on in Tequila and Methadone, Lismore’s white-trash anthem, and a cheery litany of country-style loss and regret in Woke Up Sad, while Your Reward stomps on iridescent adolescents and Things I Remember, Things I Forget toasts the joy of selective amnesia.

I love it. CP’s knack for unique sounds and textures has separated it from previous recordings but kept it unmistakeably in country rock and roll territory. There’s enough banjo and bare-knuckle guitar here to soothe the savage beast, but more space and time.

The prodigious procession of players created some confusion and chaos in their wake but ultimately, contributed to a fecund and edgy record. It’s dark and spooky but often sublime.

We’re releasing it at a number of venues across the country, in a more leisurely and protracted series of tours than the usual Re-Mains road onslaughts. CP is coming on the road with us for extra grunt and cynicism.

The first of these is on May 22nd at The Grand Junction Hotel in Maitland, just about our favourite pub in Australia. Home to rock-pigs, cowgirls, bullshitters, serial twitters, ladies choirs, truckies, bikers and seldom-pikers, this is one of the last bastions of the old school, low maintenance, high fidelity country rock and roll lifestyle. Room 19 is a portal into another dimension and many have taken it.

Sunday May 23 we revisit a Sydney institution – the Botany View Hotel. Our shows here are always packed, stacked and never lacking incident.

June 18 is our North Coast launch at Federal Hall. A beautiful building across the road from my old house, this place was overflowing into the street and down the road last time we played here – mind you, Tex Perkins was also on the bill. CP’s band is playing with us, as well as Doug Lord with Till The Cops Come – probably a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the 19th we roll down to Yamba to play the footy club there. Our mate Dave always puts on an unholy bash.

Melbourne, Bourke, Cobar and Nymagee dates are in the offing, as well as a possible jaunt to Darwin, where we haven’t been since the Meat Tray incident of 2007.

Pretty soon Inland Sea is going to be available for order from the website or iTunes, just as soon as we get it set up. Meanwhile we hope you’ll turn up to shows and buy one offstage, where Tom Jones will be happy to sign it in exchange for beer.

Publicity jobs

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.

Publicity jobs

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.