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.