Monday, 18 May 2009

The Rational Academy, Secret Birds, Triad, Marl Carx @ Step Inn (09.05.09)

I have no excuse for having not seen Marl Carx previously. I remember getting a myspace request from them right when they started out and finding the rough recordings on their site to be interesting, and yet it's taken me a good year or so to finally check them out. I guess part of the reason for that is that they tend to mostly play houseparties, so I was pretty keen to catch them as part of this great lineup at the Step Inn. Consisting of drums and guitar with a smattering of off-key / squealing vocals, they're an easy band to dismiss (see this Rave review). The playing is rudimentary, and they sound pretty similar to every other house party noise-rock band put together by a bunch of teenagers. That is, of course, if you don't actually give any of your attention to them. For those who DO put a few minutes of effort into understanding the band and trying to decipher the music behind the noise (and, admittedly, are amongst those who already have a predilection towards rough, feedback drenched rock music with a heavy early Sonic Youth influence), it's somewhat surprising to find that there are surprising adept riffs buried in there, and that the rhythms are not so boneheaded as they might first appear. There was one song in particular where I spent the whole song marvelling at the genius drum part, trying to figure out how it was put together. I found myself surprised at the level of songcraft that initially seemed like two kids randomly bashing at their instruments. Marl Carx are not a band who are going to impress a large number of people purely because of the style of music they've chosen to pursue, but they're not without their merits.

I knew pretty much nothing about Triad coming into this show; the only information I had was that it featured Tom Hall (of Brisbane acts AxxOnn and Secret Birds, as well as his solo ventures) and two dudes from Tasmania. When the trio began their set with various drones and delayed guitar I thought to myself 'right, so this is what we're going to get - nice synthy ambience'. I'm sure a good portion of the crowd thought this as well. For the first part of the set this is indeed what we got, with various tones and drones being melded together into a gradually rising wall of sound. At about the 1/3 mark, however, things started to change - Hall threw some bellowed vocals into the mix, twisting them via various laptop effects, and within minutes one of the three musicians had switched to drums and suddenly we were being bathed in waves of distorted doom guitar while Tom Hall ran around the room screaming like a young Henry Rollins. It was one of the few times in recent memory where a set has truly surprised me, as it seemed to do for everyone else in the room. For such dark, violent music there seemed to be a lot of smiles and laughing going on in the audience, but I don't think that anyone was laughing AT the band, instead it seemed that everyone was simply shocked by what they were seeing and truly enjoying the spectacle (though others have disagreed). What a surprising show.

Secret Birds had the job of following up Triad, and did so by putting on one of their best shows. The band doesn't seem to be morphing from one gig to another as much anymore, having settled into a fairly steady lineup of two guitars, bass, drums and keys/ambience. It's difficult to explain the difference between a good Secret Birds show and a poor one - they all tend to consist of two or three lengthy jams based on a handful of heavy guitar riffs. I suppose it all comes down to the effectiveness of the riff and the aptitude of the guitar noodling around it. For this show the riffs were at the higher end of the quality scale, and the band seemed to be really well in sync. In fact, for once it seemed as though Secret Birds weren't just jamming on a riff, instead playing actual compositions that were stretched out over extended periods of time. Maybe the songs that they played at this show were no less structured than previously, but the differences between sections were less subtle and the band moved between them more tightly. Whatever the reasons, the general consensus seemed to be that The Rational Academy had their work cut out for them to meet the standards that had been displayed up until that point in the evening.

Going by the grimaces on the faces of the band members throughout their set, you wouldn't have thought that The Rational Academy were playing a great set. And sure, it wasn't a GREAT set. Maybe, by Rat Acad standards, it wasn't even a GOOD set. But by that same token it certainly wasn't a POOR set. Given the fact that the band played no previously released songs at all the fact that they were able to hold my interest through the entire show would indicate to me that they were still doing a pretty passable job. Some of the more familiar new songs were performed on the night, but the majority of the set seemed pretty new to my ears. I know that I'm certainly eagerly looking forward to hearing the two new records that the band are supposedly releasing within the year. Anyway, yeah there were lots of feedback issues etc, but it wasn't anywhere near the trainwreck that the band seemed to think it was. Plus, any set that finishes with such an abrasively deconstructed cover of Bowie's 'Life On Mars' has to be at least a little bit good.

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