Try three new releases from Australia’s finest songwriters, hailing from mainstreet to way out there.
Great South Road
Being originally from New Zealand, modesty is such a driving force with Australian-based brothers Peter O’Doherty and Reg Mombassa that they rarely get their due.
It’s been some decades since Mental As Anything made their astonishing debut, quickly followed by a series of brilliant pop songs.
Dog Trumpet has continued the Mental’s tradition, but steadily improved and steadily further defined their identity. Which is to say that the Trumpet is beyond categorisation.
The love songs here, mostly by O’Doherty, are remarkable for the tenderness that comes through carefully nuanced melody lines.
How to Find My Way Home is a domestic epic. There’s a wistful quality that’s intensely romantic in ways that modern rock so rarely is.
Mombassa contributions, as one expects, are more esoteric. There’s musing on gravity – the concept that the world may be a tiny speck on the hand of a big, big man or a Japanese cleaning company which specialises in cleaning up the corpses and houses of people who have died alone and friendless.
If there is a track that sums the LP up it’s Overseas and Elsewhere. The song starts with an overview of human history and especially the major battles and moments of horror, but the he stops to consider the simple glories of life; to appreciate being human in the face of the long black train and to be thankful that you’re not in a war zone.
That’s what Dog Trumpet is really about; modesty, humility and love.
Birds of Tokyo
This Perth quintet has crossed that tricky bridge from alternative rock to smack dab in the middle of the mainstream, and they have done it with some skill.
An anthem such as Lanterns is just quirky enough not to sound like a cliché.
The whole of the album could have gone that way, given that most of the lyrics chart vocalist Ian Kenny’s tough breakup and the beginning of a new relationship.
It’s all very stirring stuff, the playing and the production are super-smooth and perhaps, given the super-trauma of Kenny’s love, life it would be a better record if it was completely raw and harrowing in one or two places.
But as modern rock goes Birds of Tokyo are definitely up there with the best of them.
‘Prog-psych-fuzz-metal-jazz-garage’, well King Gizzard have that genre all to themselves.
No one else dances through genres with the devil-may-care attitude that King Gizzard does. This Melbourne combo’s willfull breaking of rules is done with such a carefree attitude that only a hardcore music nerd could possibly complain.
Sometimes they jump from metal to folk music and post punk in the space of one verse but the joyfulness is infectious.
Shrapnel is the soundtrack to a movie of that name, which was shot mostly on the band’s 2019 European tour.
Most of the album is live but let’s not get picky. The closing number, A Brief History of Planet Earth is not so brief at 19 minutes. This was pieced together from four different gigs.
It starts out with some prog rock and then the flute comes out and we’re in English folk. There’s some spoken word, some boogie and some psychedelic shredding. Epic doesn’t come close to describing it.
Hearing one of their studio albums is one thing but Chunky Shrapnel is at best just a pure assault of energy and sweat and thrills.
Toby Creswell is a music journalist and pop-culture writer, as well as a former editor of Rolling Stone (Australia) and founding editor of Juice.