Invasion Day: Selections of Whitefella Music

26 Jan

Here in Australia, 26 January is Invasion Day – or in official parlance, “Australia Day”. It marks the day in 1788 when when the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove, illegally proclaimed British sovereignty over Aboriginal land, and proceeded to settle the continent under the lie of terra nullius. I would have liked to make an entry today that acknowledges and showcases how vibrant Aboriginal music is, but like many others who live in Australia, I am woefully ignorant in that regard. Sure, I know who Yothu Yindi are and I can name a couple of other Aboriginal musicians, but that won’t make for a terribly good entry. I’ll do something about this before the next Invasion Day.

Instead, I’d like to showcase some of the best music this country can offer that has been made by whitefellas such as myself. This country is a special place for us too, and some of Australian music culture is very rewarding, reflecting the sweeping diversity and intensity of the continent. This entry naturally cannot be truly comprehensive, and some legends of the local music scene are missing in the name of brevity – e.g. The Go-Betweens, Paul Kelly, Hunters & Collectors, and Nick Cave. I would also like to show people that Australian music is more than boorish pub rock and hard rock like Cold Chisel and AC/DC, or throwaway trash like Kylie Minogue and Savage Garden. So without any further ado …

Midnight Oil
Ax’s favourites: The Dead Heart, Warnakura, Bullroarer, Sometimes, Forgotten Years, Short Memory, Read About It, Hercules.

If any band can claim to be the Australian band, it is Midnight Oil – “the Oils” to fans. These Sydney lads became the face of political Australian rock, confronting just about every contemporary issue with power and passion (sorry) and occasionally a good bit of discontent, if not outright venom. Particularly concerned with the plight of Aboriginals, environmentalism, and Australian history, the Oils were also famous for the devastating intensity of their live shows, led by the tall, gangly, hairless, imposing Peter Garrett.

As it happens, Peter Garrett has now gone into politics and is a cabinet minister in the current Australian government. The band consequently are inactive, only reforming live for special occasions and charity events. Last year, I had the amusing pleasure of witnessing a sitting member of federal parliament front a stadium rock concert at Sound Relief.

I would consider this to be the most fitting song for Invasion Day:

Forty thousand years
It makes a difference to the state of things …

Crowded House
Ax’s favourites: Recurring Dream, Mean To Me, World Where You Live, Hole In The River, I Feel Possessed, When You Come, Chocolate Cake, There Goes God, Kare Kare, Fingers Of Love, Distant Sun, Anyone Can Tell, Isolation.

Crowded House – “the Crowdies” to fans – are on this list due to my own confused identity. Are they a Kiwi band? Are they an Aussie band? Well, frontman Neil Finn is the most famous musician New Zealand has ever produced, but the band formed in Melbourne and was originally 2/3rds Australian (then half Aussie, half Kiwi while Tim Finn was in the band, and nowadays 1/4 Kiwi, 1/4 Aussie, and 1/2 American!). Since I consider myself both a New Zealander and a Melburnian and maintain that contradiction is balance, I’ll happily include the Crowdies in lists of both Kiwi and Aussie bands.

ANYWAY. The Crowdies are one of my favourite bands of all time. Neil Finn is a masterful songwriter and has the voice of an angel. Undeniably my favourite singer, and always on form. None have been able to craft pop hooks and gorgeous melodies quite like Neil. The band’s live concerts are the thing of legend too, given the banter between the band members and their tendency to simply do whatever they feel like. In this entry, I would like to highlight what I think is their single finest moment, but bafflingly merely a b-side. RECURRING DREAM.

Ax’s favourites: I Will Write Peace On Your Wings And You Will Fly Over The World, One Day You Will Teach Me To Let Go Of My Fears, Keep Your Splendid Silent Sun, and some killer new song I’ve seen them perform live but that hasn’t been released yet and that I don’t know the name of.

Arguably Australia’s finest post-rock band, Sleepmakeswaves write songs with ridiculously long titles. They live up to the grand statements too, sweeping the listener through soundscapes rich with emotion and laden with texture. The band are yet to even put out an album, but their works thus far are nothing short of engrossing and they have one hell of a future ahead of them. The following is the exceptional opener to their 2008 EP, In Today Already Walks Tomorrow:

Ax’s favourites: Radio Swan Is Down Part I, Bobik Is In America, Every Light, Is There No Help For The Widow’s Son?, Levodopa, I Hope.

Sleepmakeswaves are only “arguably” Australia’s best post-rock band, because of course there is the sextet Laura from Melbourne who also have a very valid claim to that title. Distinguished by the presence of a cellist to flesh out their sound, Laura approach their music with different techniques and themes to Sleepmakeswaves but similarly create textured, rich soundscapes that utterly captivate the listener. They’re not bad at sensational album openers either:

The Church
Ax’s favourites: The Unguarded Moment, She Never Said, Fighter Pilot…Korean War, Almost With You, You Took, Fly, Disappear?, Electric Lash, It Doesn’t Change, Myrrh, Already Yesterday, Reptile [I am unjustifiably ignorant of their nineties output, for the record.]

Initially post punk, but then more a marriage of jangle pop with refined atmospheric rock, The Church are, fittingly, an institution of Australian music. Somehow they’ve stayed together for three decades and counting, putting out 23 albums in that time. The eighties are the decade that really matters for The Church, however. Everybody seems to remember them for Under The Milky Way, which I think is decent but unremarkable, and depending on where you’re from, The Unguarded Moment and/or Reptile, which deserve every accolade. There is something about the guitar tone of Reptile that to me is the quintessential sound of the Australian landmass – the vast, sweeping, awe-inspiring continent itself. Hence I’ll feature it today:

The Triffids
Ax’s favourites: Wide Open Road, Stolen Property, Tender Is The Night (The Long Fidelity)

OK, OK. I’m one of these silly people who has Born Sandy Devotional, knows a few songs from other releases, and that’s it. I really don’t know enough about The Triffids to do them justice. But an entry about Australian music is worthless without mentioning them. These Perth lads were led by David McComb, perhaps the finest lyricist Australia has ever produced – a man who wrote dark, complex, yet accessible and moving poetry that spoke on deeply personal notes and captured a sense of the Australian landscape. It’s cliche to say this, but the band’s finest creation was Wide Open Road. Anybody who has ever been into the Outback and driven along a red dirt road at high speed or sat in a train staring out the window at the unbelievably huge blue sky out there will know that Wide Open Road captures that sensation like nothing else. Even more than Reptile, it is the sound of Australia – not the people, not the history, but the natural environment itself.

Just make this the fucking anthem or something.

(No shonky quality YouTube audio is ever going to do Wide Open Road’s atmosphere justice. Sorry. YouTube has done none of these songs justice, really …)

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