Quantcast
 Everett True

My review of Dallas, as rejected by The Guardian

My review of Dallas, as rejected by The Guardian
Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

By Everett True

I wrote this several months ago. The Guardian had started up in Australia, and I was suggesting several different series to them, one of which would focus on notable Australian albums. They liked the idea, but eventually decided not to run with it. Sadly, this review slipped through the cracks while the decision was being mulled over. (It took a while.) Here’s the third edit of the review, minus the superfluous intro. Nice album sleeve.

—————————————-

The first song on Dallas – the third album from Hobart’s elementary electronic duo The Native Cats – echoes the morbid stirrings of the rock scene in Manchester that gave us Joy Division and A Certain Ratio. There’s no percussion, no beat – only a dark, inward-turned mood. It is apparent that here is a band that does not wish to take part in the world of Australian Idol, who does not believe in the American dream as repackaged through mainstream Australian radio stations. The music could barely be starker.

The second song, ‘Hit’, is an instrumental that could be mistaken for one of New Order’s early demos (right when they were on the cusp of crossing over from their Gothic origins into dance monsters). ‘I Remember Everyone’ is a pulsating dance-floor filler… the sort of dance-floor filler that lingers malevolently in darkened corners in fading Australian venues wherever independently-minded musicians gather. Singer Peter Escott acts the part of the misanthropic uncle, pulling down anyone out of the ordinary, as a free-wheeling drum machine loops merrily.

The echoed cadences and distorted bass runs on Dallas, and the failed romantic vocals, do owe a debt to the disturbed visions of late 70s northern England. They owe an even larger debt to The Native Cats’ present-day surroundings:  the pleasant valley Sunday township of Hobart and its location in the middle of rain-swept, convict-haunted Tasmania. There’s a feeling of entrapment within the grooves: Escott and his collaborator, bass-player Julian Teakle, don’t even attempt to break free most of the time, but revel in their isolation, and exaggerate the distance and space – for example, with the use of modem signals fading in and out of earshot on the album closer, the monstrous 11-minute ‘Mohwak-Motif’. The pair embraces their limitations with a swagger the more becoming because you sense they knew right from the start it was a lost battle.

“I’m lost and undressing,” Escott repeats on the mesmeric ‘Cavalier’, analogue electronic keyboard patterns circling ominously like a horde of Nintendo 64 consoles left to run out their battery lives. Escott sounds like a frayed-nerve throwback to rock’s darker days, with sarcasm and depression battling for supremacy. There’s little you can hide behind to avoid the malignant vocals; just a deep, rumbling bass line and surly drum machine.

This is music that is designed to be played live to emptying clubs, the deserted moonscapes of Tasmania. The Native Cats know that the mainstream is turned elsewhere. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the motivation. The Native Cats turn failure into an art-form – their colour-by-numbers electronica might sound unsophisticated when compared to Kanye West, and retro next to Grimes but this is still extraordinary music.

Mess+Noise have described Native Cats as electronic pub rock, but Dallas is too insular to qualify: the point of pub rock is to help folk have a good time (the same comfort all these revivalist tours and big festivals offer). The Native Cats’ music often seem designed to stop that good time, cold.

Dallas is a fine, fine album from one of Australia’s greatest and most under-sung bands.

—————————————-

And here’s a previous edit…

In 1979, Manchester band A Certain Ratio released the forbidding ‘All Night Party’ – a song that encapsulated the alienation of a prematurely disillusioned generation even more ably than their peers Joy Division. “I work all day/I drink all night/My life is just an angry blur”, the singer intoned over sullen bass and caustic, grating guitars (no percussion). What else was there to do in a world that promised nothing?

The first song on Dallas – the third album from Tasmania’s dark elementary electronic duo The Native Cats – echoes those morbid stirrings decades earlier. There’s no percussion, no beat – only a dark, inward-turned mood. It is apparent that here is a band that does not wish to take part in the world of Australian Idol, who does not believe in the American dream as repackaged through mainstream Australian radio stations. The music could barely be starker. ‘Pane e Acqua’ sets itself apart through singer Peter Escott’s use of elegant archaic language. “When do you turn from a scrivener to a subject?” he croons. “I’m trying to learn about transfiguration,” he laments – revealing himself to be a Harry Potter fan, and a dreamer. There’s a minimal singing bass-line courtesy of fellow band-member Julian Teakle…and nothing else.

The effect is haunting.

The second song, ‘Hit’, is an instrumental that, which taken in the right light and with a minimum of squinting, could be mistaken for one of New Order’s early demos (right when they were on the cusp of crossing over from their Gothic origins into dance monsters). ‘I Remember Everyone’ is a pulsating dance-floor filler… the sort of dance-floor filler that lingers malevolently in darkened corners in fading Australian venues wherever independently-minded musicians gather. Escott acts the part of the misanthropic uncle, pulling down anyone out of the ordinary, as a freewheeling drum machine loops merrily.

The echoed cadences and distorted bass runs on Dallas, and the failed romantic, slightly surreal, vocals, do owe a debt to the disturbed visions of late 70s Manchester. They owe an even larger debt to The Native Cats’ present-day surroundings, though: the pleasant valley Sunday township of Hobart and its location in the middle of rain-swept, convict-haunted Tasmania. There’s a feeling of being trapped within the grooves of Dallas: Teakle and Escott don’t even attempt to break free most of the time, but revel in their isolation, and exaggerate the distance and space – for example, with the use of 90s modems, fading in and out of earshot on the album closer, the monstrous 11-minute sprawl of ‘Mohwak-Motif’. The pair embraces their limitations with a swagger all the more becoming because you sense they knew right from the start it was a lost battle.

“I’m lost and undressing,” Escott repeats on the mesmeric ‘Cavalier’, analogue electronic keyboard patterns circling ominously like a horde of Nintendo 64 consoles left to run out their battery lives. Escott sounds like a frayed-nerve throwback to the late 70s, fronting one of those scary, dark, misanthropic bands like The Passage, say – with sarcasm and depression battling for supremacy. There’s little you can hide behind to avoid Escott’s malignant vocals; just a deep, rumbling, hypnotic bass line and surly drum machine.

This is music that is designed to be played live to emptying clubs, the deserted moonscapes of Tasmania. The Native Cats know no one gives a fuck. That’s not the motivation. The Native Cats turn failure into an art-form – their colour-by-numbers electronica might sound unsophisticated when compared to Kanye West, and retro next to Grimes (when was the last time you heard a melodica on an album?) but this is in keeping with their aesthetic. Tasmania exists within its own world –a world that often seems at odds with the rest of Australia – and The Native Cats are definitely a Tasmanian band.

Does everyone in Hobart carry a knife as The Native Cats imply on ‘Scratch Act’? Paranoia and uncertainty and insecurity set in when you’re isolated, and it’s as much as one can do to stop oneself lunging at the shadows.

Up here in Brisbane, there’s a ‘makeshift venue culture’ wherein underground bands, fed up of travelling paths so timeworn and downtrodden they’ve become a quagmire of ill-intentions , frequently put on shows in whichever place suggests itself: underneath dilapidated Queenslanders, in the back rooms of shops, art galleries, porn warehouses, working men’s clubs. Likewise in Hobart, where Teakle in particular has been central to the ‘Hobart Sound’ – he is a curator, a documenter of local bands and a participant. See also: Dogtower, Secret Valley (indicative of the Melbourne/Hobart trade route), Heart Beach, and Naked.

Mess+Noise have described Native Cats as electronic pub rock, but Dallas is too insular to qualify: the point of pub rock is to help folk have a good time (often by chucking together a set full of popular cover versions). The Native Cats’ music seems designed to stop that good time, cold. One can only imagine the reception they get when venturing outside their self-made comfort zone.

Dallas is a fine, fine album from one of Australia’s greatest and most under-sung bands.

2 Responses to My review of Dallas, as rejected by The Guardian

  1. CDH February 5, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    I thought the previous edit was even better – puts the band even closer to Hobart, and further away from anything else (fitting for Hobart, I guess). Great writing Mr True, if only it’d been picked up by the Guardian.

  2. Everett True February 5, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks. Yeah, I’m disappointed it didn’t run – simply because I think The Guardian is a great platform for this sort of writing, and it might have reached a wider audience. I suspect pretty much everyone who reads the review here will already know who The Native Cats are.

Leave a Reply