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Journal of Peter Greenwell

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Honours critical review – gothic literature

An essay I did for uni


Review of Danielle Carr’s (2013) Master of Arts thesis Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature

The nature of my research is to place the traditional forms of Gothic and dark romantic literature in a contemporary Australian setting, taking the genres away from their archetypal settings of castles, mansions and inserting them into the everyday, workaday world of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. Danielle Carr’s thesis is titled Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature and her research parallels mine as she explored the psychological themes behind Gothic and dark romantic fiction, and separated them from their settings, thus enabling Gothic and dark romantic fiction to be effectively placed in any location. Additionally, Carr’s research includes creative components integrated into the thesis, which is a strategy I will use in my own research.

In spite of the title of Carr’s thesis including postmodernism, there is actual little emphasis devoted to this artistic movement. On the contrary, in form and shape, Carr adheres to traditional narrative structures in her creative works, with clear beginnings and endings, and no unreliable narrator techniques are used. In fact, as Patricia Waugh states, modernism is a fiction of consciousness, where postmodernism is one concerning itself with the fictionality of a text (Waugh cited in Nicol 2009, p. xvii). So postmodernism as a literary style is less interested in the working of the psyche or the soul than it is on the nature of the very text itself, using this definition. Another definition is that postmodernism is a blending of all styles to deliberately defy classification (Abrams 1999, p. 168). There is none of this experimentation in the thesis as Carr concentrates altogether on the nature of the Gothic and the dark romantic being fictions about the conscious. She makes a distinction between Gothic and dark romantic literature, stating that the latter is a subset of the former (Carr 2013, p. 5) and quotes Poe’s Ligeia as a salient example. She suggests that the seminal difference between the two is that dark romanticism features visionary, poetical writing. However, the distinction is often blurred as Dinçer points out that both are fictions of dark dreariness, usually concluding in an unhappy manner (Dinçer 2010, p. 220).

The methods Carr used were composing three creative works of varying length, The Conservatory, Psychosis and The Lady of Tangiers, then writing an exegesis on each, with an eye to psychological theory and how it can be applied to Gothic and dark romantic fiction. Carr worked alone on this thesis and there is no acknowledgement to any other contributor apart from a bibliography listing her sources. Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature draws heavily on the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (Carr 2013, p.3), particularly Jung’s theories of Self and what Jung called the archetypes: psyche and soul (Stevens 1994) in which Carr identifies as being critically important to Gothic literature. She argues that the literature itself would be ineffective without psychological insight or the application of psychological theory. The literary symbolism in Jung’s theories has been utilised in Carr’s first creative work in the thesis, The Conservatory, is a short piece the author has constructed in a deliberately antiquated style. Within, Carr implements Jung’s archetypes and his theories on the mandala – the circle. The mandala, according to Jung, was emblematic of the what he termed the “psychic transformation” (Jung cited in Stevens 1994). Carr uses this symbolism in her short story to illustrate how a mental state can come full circle. The Conservatory also deals with the matter of the Faustian bargain, where the protagonist is searching for the elixir of youth. Carr cites Goethe’s work as being seminal to the Gothic canon (Goethe cited in Carr 2013, p. 13) and she has her protagonist seemingly forsake his life for the pursuit of the elixir.

In her second creative work, Psychosis, Carr again applies the psychological theories of Freud with regards to the repression of bad memories (Freud cited in Carr 2013, p. 27). In her creative work, Carr suggests that repressed memories are not a natural mental state and there had to be division between the conscious and unconscious. The character of Melinda in Psychosis is redirecting her suppressed memories into “anxiety hysteria” (Carr 2013, p. 28) which Carr suggests is a subset of psychoanalysis. The hidden or obscured memory aspect posits itself into Gothic literature in terms of the unstated or understated, which Carr exemplifies with her mentioning of du Maurier’s Rebecca (du Maurier 1938) in which the titular character is deceased but exerts a palpable and dark influence throughout the novel (Carr 2013, p. 5). So, Carr suggests that what is figuratively buried beneath the surface can be an effective ploy in Gothic and dark romantic literature.

Her third creative work, The Lady of Tangiers, is a novelette that draws upon Freud’s theories of the uncanny (Freud cited in Carr 2013, p. 49). Here, a unrequited love story is made ominous by the environment itself: the Sahara Desert. The visitors to this harsh land are a group of English aristocrats going for a sortie from the safer confines of the Moroccan city of Tangiers (or Tangier as it is more commonly known). Among the sands and the harsh winds, they encounter the supernatural and the romantic interest of the protagonist vanishes. Carr in her exegesis of this story makes comparisons with the colonial experiences of the British in Australia: the strangers in a strange land trope, thus shifting the genre of the story into the postcolonial. She states that Gothic fiction set in lands that have been colonised are by their very nature haunted (Mafe cited in Carr 2013, p. 50) which suggests that the land itself remembers or is capable of sentient deed. This is an important facet to my research as I intend to employ a similar methodology with my own creative work: imbuing the land itself with a slumbering malevolence.

Much of the thesis is a work of juxtaposition and intertextuality; comparing her creative works to previously published material and placing them into the Gothic and dark romantic canon. Interestingly, she makes comparisons between The Conservatory and previously published material insofar as stating that the garden is a place of innocence (Carr 2013, p.17) and that this innocence can be inverted by the application of Gothic and dark romantic tropes, especially those sourced from philosophical literature such as Jung and Freud. Thus, I feel that Carr is making a point here in her thesis that Gothic fiction is largely one of upending order and completion, and replacing it with disorder and unresolved issues. This is a crucial key in my own research as other works I have studied have drawn similar conclusions (Chudy, Cook & Costello 2010).

To summarise, Carr makes repeated references to psychology and symbolism and their importance in Gothic and dark romantic literature. There is stress made that these forms of literature depend heavily upon the usage of symbol and metaphor for their potency. Indeed, Carr draws a conclusion through exegesis and exposition that Gothic fiction would not work without such artifice. At its very core, both forms of fiction are works of psychology, where the fear and dread, or the sin and guilt, are sui generis. I do not believe that Carr has made a totally effective use of her fiction to convey the points she is making as all three works are in need of editing, as there are numerous phrasing and dialogue issues with them. Regardless, the core ideas are firmly there and the exegeses are sound, providing further avenues into deeper research. In summary, this thesis succeeds as an article of research into Gothic and dark romantic fiction, particularly in an Australian setting.

References

Abrams, M 1999, A Glossary of Literary Terms (7th ed.), Thomson Publishing, New York

Carr, D 2013, ‘Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature’, MA thesis, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria

Chudy, T, Cook, N & Costello, M 2010, A ‘ruined or fractured’ sublime: voice, identity and agency in reading and writing the gothic/noir in subtropical regional Australia, Strange Bedfellows: Refereed Conference Papers of the 15th Annual AAWP Conference, 2010

Dinçer, F 2010, The light and dark Romantic features in Irving, Hawthorne and Poe, The Journal of International Social Research, 3(10), pp. 218-224

du Maurier, D 1938, Rebecca, Victor Gollancz, London

Nicol, B 2009, The Cambridge introduction to postmodern fiction, Cambridge University Press, New York

Stevens, A 1994, Jung, a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Measuring Trees and Forests. Practical exercise 1: Plane survey

A paper I did for uni back in 2013


Abstract

On 2 April, 2013, a plane survey was conducted of a mixed species rainforest plantation on private property at Wollongbar, northern New South Wales. The plane survey was undertaken by walking around the perimeter of the plantation and taking measurements from one survey point tree to the next tree using a variety of instruments. The data was then taken back to a computer laboratory at Southern Cross University, entered and analysed. A conclusion was derived that it is an accurate and precise method to measure the perimeter of a forest stand, but is dependent upon observational acuity and familiarity with the instruments.

Introduction

The aim of the plane survey was to accurately assess the external boundaries of the plantation and to familiarise students with the concepts of a plane survey, and in the usage of measuring instruments and recording and calculating methods. Previous surveys have been conducted at this location and the scientific environment is fairly well established. The plane survey is so named as the mapping is represented on a flat piece of paper, the plane (West, 2009).

The survey was performed on private property, “Pamplemousse Park”, located in a rural area in Wollongbar, a town approximately 13 kilometres east of the regional centre Lismore, in northern New South Wales .

The plantation was on sloped terrain, with the slope generally ascending toward the northwest. The soils appear to be of the Ferrosol variety, although no analysis was performed. Two separate tracks sub-divided the plantation into three unequal sections. A variety of sub-tropical rainforest species have been planted including Elaeocarpus grandis, Agathis robusta, Podocarpus elatus, Araucaria bidwilli, A. cunninghamii, Syzygium moorei and Argyrodendron trifoliolatum. There was a considerable amount of saprophytic fungi present amongst the ground litter, predominantly of the shelf fungi variety though there were some jelly fungi present on log and branch detritus.

The plantation has an irregular shape, and is surrounded by tracts of macadamia trees growing in orchards, with the species either Macadamia tetraphylla or M. integrifolia which are the two commercially raised for their nuts in Australia. These tracts are not a part of the plantation and do not figure any further in this report.

Methods

The students were divided into three groups. Each group, numbering from three to four members, were given a prismatic compass, a clinometer and a 100 metre measuring tape. Results were recorded on a printed pro forma. The boundary of the plantation was determined by choosing trees that were on the periphery and were clearly on the apex of a bend or at an equidistant point between two such apices. From tree to tree, the distance between was measured, and the bearing in degrees (from north) was recorded. The slope angle between the trees was measured and this was achieved by using the clinometer at the measuring tree and taking a reading of the foot of the target tree, with consideration given to the height of the measurement-taker. At each successive tree, a back bearing was recorded to the previous tree, which under ideal situations would be 180 degrees but this was not often the case in real conditions. Where the survey intersected the tracks, the points were taken from the corners of the tracks (Southern Cross University, 2013). The area within the tracks was not counted for statistical purposes .

Only live trees were considered when establishing the boundary. Dead trees on the periphery and other non-tree flora were not counted. These were surveyed around and only the actual planted area was counted (Southern Cross University, 2013). Once the initial perimeter was surveyed, the two tracks within the plantation were measured for length, width and slope angle.

In the university laboratory, the results were collated and entered into Microsoft Excel. The data were tabulated into fields thusly: survey point, forward bearing, back bearing, slope angle, and slope distance. From these data a variety of means and distances were obtained using established mensuration formulae (West, 2009).

Discussion

In the laboratory, the data were analysed using a variety of published formulae (West, 2009). Microsoft Excel was used to perform all calculations and analyses and a map was constructed using the in-built scatter plot function. Figure 1 shows the derived map.

plane survey

Figure 1. Map of the plantation derived from the plane survey

Each of the plotted points in the figure represent one surveyed tree. As can be seen, the beginning and end points do not intersect. There was an observational error for part of the walk around survey in which one of the students misread the compass readings. This was later amended both in situ and in the laboratory. Even with these corrections, there is still a reasonably sized error. The method used to survey the perimeter has an innate and variable lack of precision due to human error, greater than using more sophisticated methods such as laser rangefinders, global positioning systems and theodolites. However, it has been suggested that where a highly precise map is not required, the usage of handheld compasses and clinometers, etc, is acceptable (West, 2009).

The lack of precision was most obvious with the results found for the closing distance and close error. The end result for the plane survey was an error of 14 metres in 628.5 metres measured. This can be represented as being one metre away from the true figure for every 44.8 metres measured. This figure has been derived by using a formula that can be found on page 130 of Tree and Forest Measurement, 2nd Edition, by West. Future surveys would be expected to be undertaken with a greater deal of precision due to the increased familiarity with the techniques and the instruments used. Continual cross-checking for errors as the survey was being walked would also be useful.

Conclusion

The plane survey method to measure the perimeter of a forest stand generally gives a precise and true reckoning, however this is dependent upon observational skill and the instruments used. In the case with the plantation at Pamplemousse Park, there was a mostly accurate reading, and the fundamental principles of the plane survey were both understood in regards to utility and calculation. Further practice is required to achieve more accurate results.

References

Southern Cross University (2013). Practical exercise 1: Plane survey. (Lecture notes).

West, P.W. (2009). Tree and Forest Measurement (2nd ed.). Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag

Postmodernist structures in Australian fiction (essay)

An essay I did for uni.


My life as a fake

Australian author Peter Carey’s novel My life as a fake was first published in Australia in 2003 by Random House (Carey 2003). It is a take on the fake literary identity theme, with an author deliberately creating an identity for the purposes of fooling either the reading public or the literati. At its heart, it is a pastiche of the Ern Malley controversy which was a literary imposture from the 1940s; a case of two men wishing to debunk modernist poetry by proving that gibberish was not only publishable but widely admired (Nolan & Dawson 2004, p. x) and according to Nolan and Dawson, this controversy has remained the touchstone literary hoax in Australia (ibid), despite intervening hoaxes such as the Demidenko case.

Not only is it a creative comment upon literary hoaxes, but it is a work of intertextuality. My life as a fake references and pays homage to not only the Ern Malley hoax, but Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus (Shelley 1969) by having the invented character of Bob McCorkle take on a life of its own. As Kampmark states, the character Chubb did not expect his creation to come to life (Kampmark 2015) instead and like Ern Malley, McCorkle was devised to ridicule an object of torment. McCorkle, like Frankenstein’s monster, takes out its ire on its creator. At one point in the book, he kidnaps Chubb and takes him “quite far north” (Carey 2003 p. 76) and Chubb, understandably, fears for his safety. As an aside, the realisation of Bob McCorkle where he becomes an embodiment of Chubb’s innermost urges and desires pays homage to the Tibetan Buddhist concept of tulpa or “thoughtform” (David-Neel 1929) where through dint of extraordinary faith and belief, an independent emanation can arise from an individual and live their own life. Like McCorkle, the tulpa can also prove challenging to be rid of.

According to Ashcroft, Peter Carey has been fascinated by the concepts of “the narrative function of truth and the ambivalence of lies” his entire writing career (Ashcroft 2004, p28). My life as a fake is a prime exemplification of what is truth or lie. Throughout the work, much is made of whether the characters are living in the real world, or if they are figments. Even the embodied McCorkle may or may not have any real truthful presence. This takes the hoax of Ern Malley to a literary, logical conclusion – that McCorkle is as real as Ern Malley if the reader is willing to believe it., but subjectively real in Australian way. This, according to Ashcroft, is what binds both the Ern Malley experience and My life as a fake together. Right down to the almost shared characters of Vogelsang and Vogelesang, which was the spelling used in Carey’s book (Carey 2005, p56). Vogelsang was the name of the South Australian police officer involved in the prosecution for indecency of the two men behind the Ern Malley hoax (Ashcroft 2004, p. 30). There is something quintessentially Australian about poking fun at authority figures in strange or off-handed ways, especially when the lines between truth and lie become blurred or obfuscated. Ashcroft further states that while the oeuvre of Ern Malley has engaged critics and literary analysts, “his” work remains purely textual, and “demonstrates the textuality of all lives” (Ashcroft 2004, p31). This is a salient endorsement of intertextuality, and shows that no work of fiction can be readily digested in isolation. Later in his paper, Ashcroft suggests that Ern Malley has become as tangible in “his” own way as the character of Bob McCorkle from My life as a fake (Ashcroft 2004, p.32).

So, to summarise My life as a fake, it is both a work of intertextuality and the perception of truths. Using unconventional narrative techniques such as time jumping and pastiche, it is a knotty and thought-provoking take on one of Australia’s signal literary hoaxes. It certainly fits into the postmodernist canon, as it makes no attempt to conform to realism or employs linear narrative of any kind, and in fact, appears to utterly reject such forms. Also, it is a work of Australianness without ever resorting to jingoism, cultural cringes or being self-referential. To be sure, as one reads the novel, there is the sensation that it could not have been anything other than Australian.

The deadman dance

That deadman dance is the third novel by Perth-based writer, Kim Scott, a man who has Noongar heritage, one of the Indigenous peoples who inhabit the south-western corner of Western Australia (Scott 2010). Although as with My life as a fake this novel uses pastiche and time-jumping, the emphasis with That deadman dance is the personal, not abstract humour and homage. It is a work of idealism destroyed, of dreams and visions ruined by colonial rapacity. It reinvents in its own way, the European concept of “settlement” and redresses this word by presenting it from the critical eyes of those being settled. The title itself bespeaks Noongar belief – the white men are “dead men”, returned from the other world, where pale people are their ghosts or revenants. The character Bobby witnesses the white soldiers drill, giving rise to the “dead men dance” (Brewster 2011, p61), something that Scott himself stated in an interview was intentional (Brewster 2012, p.231)

Identity is one of the key concepts in That Deadman Dance. The initial us and them, colonial and native, becomes increasingly blurred as characters began to slide into and out of each other’s culture and lives, but in the finish it is clear an unequal power relationship occurs, a state that exists down to the present day. At the end of the novel, Bobby thinks he has won over the white man with his dance; the dance he thinks could go “around a spear and make a song to calm any man (Scott 2010, p394) but it bespeaks failure. Despite the best intentions of those who came before, the new relationship between white man and Indigenous Australian will be asymmetric, favouring the former heavily and this too has carried into the present day. As the band Goanna sang in their song Solid Rock in 1982:

Well they were standin’ on the shore one day
Saw the white sails in the sun
Wasn’t long before they felt the sting
White man, white law, white gun (Howard 1982)

That deadman dance does not present this conquest is such overly stark terms, though the net result is tragically the same. Instead, the novel is couched in a poetical postmodernist fashion that reads as a dream sequence in many places. The Noongar concept of family is distinguished from the British by the character of Bobby, who explains that the Noongar have a relationship not only with their fellow humans, familial or not, but with the land and the life that lives upon it. Thus, according to Brewster, there is deep sense of betrayal and melancholy when the Noongar divest themselves of their white man clothes, putting an end to cordial relations with the colonisers (Brewster 2011, p.67). Although key characters like Dr Cross made efforts to empathise and understand the Noongar, others like Geordie Chaine saw them as nothing other than savages. Chaine, for all his bluff amiability with Bobby, can never have friendships based upon parity, despite Bobby thinking of him as a babin, an “uncle-friend” (Scott 2010, p. 157).

The character of Dr Cross is cast as the idealist, according to Hughes-d’Aeth. With Bobby’s parents dead presumably from the tuberculosis or smallpox the British have brought with them, Cross stays on and plays the intermediary, making reparation for the British presence (Hughes-d’Aeth 2014). He is the mirror of Bobby, another idealist, and perhaps through the actions of both men, there could have been conciliation between the two cultures. Cross’s death effectively nullifies this early on into the novel though Bobby’s idealism persists.

To close, That deadman dance and My life as a fake are both works of Australian origin that concern Australia in markedly different ways. The latter is a novel of playful pastiche, contorting and rearranging narrative forms and truth perceptions into something definitely postmodernist; an abnegation of realism. That deadman dance is equally as postmodernist but engages in realism almost paradoxically. There is no doubt that characters within are real and not fallacious figments, and they are also living entities and not embodiments. It is writing back, a rejoinder to European history and tale-telling, and a redressing of misapplied conceptions and cherished European beliefs.

References

Ashcroft, B 2004, ‘Reading Carey Reading Malley’, Australian Literary Studies, 21(4), pp. 28-39

Brewster, A 2011, ‘Whiteness and Indigenous Sovereignty in Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance’, Journal of the European Association of Studies on Australia, 2(2), pp. 60-71

Brewster, A 2012, ‘Can You Anchor a Shimmering Nation State via Regional Indigenous Roots?’, Cultural Studies Review, 18(1), pp. 228-246

Carey, P 2003, ‘My life as a fake’, Random House, Sydney

David-Neel, A 1929, ‘Magic and Mystery in Tibet’, Dover, New York

Howard, S 1982, ‘Solid Rock’, audio recording, WEA Australia

Hughes-d’Aeth, T 2014, ‘For a long time nothing happened: Settler colonialism, deferred action and the scene of colonization in Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance’, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 2014, pp. 1-13

Kampmark, N 2015, ‘Monstrous (in)authenticity: Text and identity in Peter Carey’s My life as a fake’, Književnost i Kultura, (5)2

Nolan, M & Dawson, C 2004, ‘Who’s who?; hoaxes, imposture and identity crises in Australian literature’, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, pp v-xx

Scott, K 2010, ‘That deadman dance’, Picador, Sydney

Shelley, M 1969, ‘Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus’, Oxford University Press, Oxford

The Church – Further/Deeper

So, is this The Church‘s latest and greatest? It’s certainly the former and as for being the greatest, no I don’t think so, though I do rate it. It’s grown on me, far more so than the more mystic, reflective Untitled #23. While there’s nothing on this record that approaches the spacey directness of Starfish, it’s a direct album in a glistening kind of way. Maybe that’s to do with new guitarist Ian Haug, who replaced Marty Willson-Piper. Haug’s background is alternative rock with Powderfinger, and his influence may have reined in some of Kilbey‘s experimental tendencies.

Make no mistake though, this is a Church record in every sense, although what that sense is varies usually from album to album. Like I said in another review, each Church record swims in its own logic and this one is no different. As with most of this band’s material, repeated listens are mandatory and if you don’t get their particular brand of psych rock, then you won’t get this album.

Further/Deeper continues a Church tradition begun with Heyday‘s Myrrh in having a trippy, driving opening track, most prominently highlighted by cuts such as Starfish‘s Destination or Gold Afternoon Fix‘s Pharaoh. This record’s Vanishing Man definitely rates among the best Church openers.

In fact, the record goes from strength to strength as you get further and deeper (!) into it – to a point. Album highlights include the surging, throbbing Globe Spinning, which is about as close as The Church gets to a new wave track, and then there’s the delightful Laurel Canyon, and the equally scintillating Love Philtre. The record runs out of steam a little toward the end, though it picks up in a slamming, bright fashion with Miami. Trimmed of a little fat, this record would rate in the top 5 for anything they’ve ever done, yet thirty four years after the release of Of Skins and Heart, it’s marvellous business as usual for The Church. Further and Deeper indeed.

further deeper cover

The Church – Heyday

I’ve been threatening to review this record since I (re)started this blog. Now that you know that, let me get on with things. If one includes the fix-up of Remote Luxury then this is album five for The Church, and what we have here is the stupendous culmination of a musical form that had been taking place since The Blurred Crusade.

Practically every song on this record is a new definition of jangle-rock from the opening mysticism of Myrrh to the concluding restrained thunder of Roman. In between one can find masterpieces such as Columbus, which rates amongst the best thing this band has done, the alluring Tristesse, the furious Tantalized and the epitome of psych/jangle in Disenchanted. The mystic vibe gets a further look in with the instrumental Happy Hunting Ground. The cassette/CD version contained The View sung by Willson-Piper, and Peter Koppes gets an outing on As You Will. Both of these extras add to the album’s lustre, which was already transcendent.

Yes, this is one of those rara avis varieties of record where there isn’t a weak track. Fans and critics cite their next record Starfish as their best, but song for song, this leaves it for dead. Yet, the critics went ooh aah over this record too.

Was it their best thing to date? Or for all time? For mine, it’s up there with Seance in the best thing they’ve ever done category. I feel it’s a better album than Starfish as the songs are better collectively and individually. Starfish was too spare in places for my liking and contains a song or two that aren’t quite there. Heyday, it coruscates and vibrates the whole record through. Close to perfection really.

heyday cover

Steve Kilbey – Miscellanaea Whispers in the Static

Well, what a glorious surprise this was. To be fair, I haven’t given much of Steve Kilbey’s solo work a real listen as what I’ve heard tends to blur together with many songs fighting to distinguish themselves. Yet his first record, the glorious Unearthed, is a masterpiece, full of hidden corners and sonic whisperings. At the other end of the catalogue, this collection with its purposefully misspelled title is almost its equal. Where Unearthed is a crafted album united in theme, this one is a motley crew of odds and sods but what marvellous offcuts and fragments it is.

It opens with the propulsive shimmer of Flummoxed, and things stay in palpably weird and vibrant territory thereafter. The record, true to its sewn together nature, it about half sung, half instrumental. There’s a couple of commissioned songs he’s written for others, such a A Song for Debby and James, and the glorious A Song for Domenique. He’s even concocted a string quartet rendition of Alice Cooper’s Poison which I think is a few notches up the totem pole from the original.

Some of the instrumentals rank among the best things he’s done, such as Carbon Nitrogen and Oxygen, Stately Garden Music and the Wild East.

But the album highlight would be the closing Panthalassic Sea, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Church record.

I love this collection and I can’t get enough of it. The one before it, The Idyllist, hasn’t grabbed me the way this one has with is unplanned, delightful chaos. Mr. Kilbey, more like this please.

miscellenaea

The Church – After Everything Now This

Well OK, with this record, The Church have released what is effectively their most blah piece of work. Repeated listens haven’t revealed the undercurrents and nuances that normally pervade any good Church record. It’s a consistently reflective and calm effort that swoons by without ever taking hold. Songs like The Awful Ache and Chromium mix things up a bit but not to the point where it offers the record refreshing variety, because quite simply, variety doesn’t exist here.

After Everything Now This is record number twelve and comes three years after their covers LP Box of Birds and, more tellingly, a year before one of their better outings in the excellent Forget Yourself. Maybe the memo went out to start mixing the formula again after this record. Yet, this isn’t to say After Everything Now This is a bad album – it’s not. It’s full of the usual suspect Church ingredients but rather than sugar, it’s been replaced by saccharine here. Or stevia. I’d like to think it was stevia actually.

But this record is for completionists only, of which I am one. A new fan of The Church eagerly delving into their wonderful discography should skip this one for the nonce.There are better records from this band to begin a grand adventure in neo-psychedelic ecstasy.

after everything now this

The Church – Magician Among the Spirits

This is record number nine for The Church and it sees a semi-sort of return by Peter Koppes after he left the band a few years previously. The title is lifted from a Harry Houdini book and that’s the great wizard himself on the record cover.

So is there any legerdemain, wizardry or conjuring on this album? Yes, plenty of all three. It’s not as samey-sounding or as watery as the preceding effort, Sometime Anywhere but it’s still an acquired taste for anyone who doesn’t instantly dig what The Church do.

It commences in a deceptively straightforward manner with the measured and steady Welcome which rates among the sillier things The Church has done, then affairs moves into the rockier Comedown which was an obvious single. Beyond that, we move firmly into legerdemain and trickster/mystery land and any attempt at making a commercial record went flying away in the clouds.

Cockney Rebels’s Ritz gets the cover treatment and it rates among the most glorious things The Church have ever done. Then life itself get better with the aptly-titled Grandiose, one of the more impressive instrumentals in existence.

Beyond that, the songs get longer and more languid. There’s plenty of turns, nooks, crannies and fugitive glances as the band delve into their experimental vibe. Romany Caravan is delightful and album closer After Image is a sweet and sad little piano outing.

Where does this record sit in their impressive catalogue? It’s hard to place simply as it’s hard to categorise. It’s brilliant in places and woefully unfocussed on a lot of it. To be honest, some of the songs could’ve used a good edit as they’re allowed to waft along without aim. In fact, you might accuse the band of being self-indulgent but if you read up on the history surrounding their existence at the time of this record, facts weren’t quite so delineated.

Steve Kilbey has pretty much written this record off (according to what I’ve read) and the band re-released it later minus Ritz and added four other tracks, and called it Magician Among the Spirits and Some. And gave the cover a nice pretty bronze tinge.

A transition record between their earlier, sharper commercial records and the latter, more independent period.

magician among the spirits

Icehouse – Man of Colours

Of course, this record was Icehouse‘s commercial peak, the one that spawned megahits like Electric Blue and Crazy. Oddly, these two songs are among the lesser tracks on the record.

On Man of Colours, Iva Davies manages to sound like Once Upon a Time era Simple Minds while still hanging on to his David Bowie kink. He definitely was not shy about wearing his influences openly. Anyhow, the record is full of big 80s synths and drums and if anything is a definitive product of its time, this would be it. If you were wondering what that “new wave” thang is you keep hearing about, check this album out – it’s a key indicator.

For all intents and purposes, it’s a sequel to Measure for Measure. As I said in the review for that record, Man of Colours is pretty much more of the same, though in its defence, it is a tad rockier. It is also a better record, with marginally less filler. The album highlight would be the dreamy The Kingdom, which seems like a sequel to Measure for Measure‘s Angel Street, and Davies is probably singing about the same woman here. The same woman caught in the same blah limbo, anyway. Perhaps she’s the Hey Little Girl from Primitive Man, too.

Other choice cuts include the charging Nothing Too Serious and Anybody’s War. The title track could be Icehouse’s most atmospheric outing, reminding me a bit of the first album‘s tack-on instrumental Paradise Lost. Other grand tracks include the single My Obsession and the hazy record closer Sunrise.

Icehouse reached the recording artist apex with this record, taking Australia and parts of the world by storm. They would never again scale such heights. The following album Code Blue is a bland and just there record that died in the charts and Big Wheel which followed later…well, nobody’s ever heard of it.

Davies has sporadically kept the Icehouse name alive, releasing an album of covers, music for an opera and other bits and pieces but for mine, he effectively brought the band’s thing to a logical end with Man of Colours.

man of colours

New music in January

As with the review I did in December, “new” means new to my ears, not the dictionary definition. With that established, let us move on…

First up was Queen of the Stone Age‘s …Like Clockwork. I’m not a fan of bluesy hard rock and this record didn’t grab me in any way or shape on first listen and that dissuaded me enough from a second listen. It’s a bit like the Them Crooked Vultures record I listened to in the previous review (same lead singer) and though I’m absolutely sure this kind of music has its fans and adherents, I’m not one of them. Anyhow, Led Zeppelin did this sort of thing better, let’s face it.

We come to St Etienne‘s Sound of Water. I’m still struggling to recount what it is I exactly heard on this record. At times it reminded me of Missing Persons running headlong into Madonna but in the main, the music kind of just drifted by. Not something I’d want to listen to again. Not my cup of chai – the beeps and bleeps were all wrong.

sound of water

Lastly, we have Sarah Blasko and her What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have recordThis one kind of drifted by as well with nothing I recall standing out. Alternative rock/singer-songwriter or something like that is what the press and fans label this kind of music.

So, three records of material that isn’t my bailiwick, That happens.

Also gave a whirl to Peter Gabriel‘s third self-titled record (“Melt”), Nazareth‘s greatest hits, Midnight Oil‘s 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and The Clash‘s London Calling. Apart from the Nazareth record, I’ve listened to the others before, wholly or partially. I’m still not sold on London Calling being the epic work the world says it is. Maybe I didn’t get the memo.

Anyhow, that’s that for January.

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