: various

New Weird Australia is a series of free downloadable albums compiled by Stuart Buchanan and Danny Jumpertz, the team who also present the show of the same name on Sydney’s FBi radio. The naming draws inspiration from the New Weird America moniker (in turn influenced by Old Weird America), which loosely categorises a range of alternative musics such as the neo-folk stylings of Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart; the psychedelic jams of the No Neck Blues Band and The Sunburned Hand of Man; and the laptop-folk fusions of CocoRosie and the Animal Collective plus more. Boldly borrowed by Buchanan and Jumpertz, the Australian usage is a little more expansive incorporating electronica, contemporary classical, lo-fi electronics and laptop experimentations that dwell on the outer edges of the ‘alternative mainstream’. Two compilations have been released so far, with the third due in November and already they are exposing listeners to some great hidden treasures—from artists well known in experimental circles, and from fresh discoveries—with an impressive Australia-wide representation.

Interestingly there is a subtle difference in the range of styles between Volumes One and Two. The first compiled by Stuart Buchanan alone (renowned for his previous International Music radio program, Fat Planet), offers a wider scope of weirdness for this listener. It ranges from Pimmon’s finely detailed crackle, hiss and hum on “On The Other Hand This Carbon Fire Is (Flammable)”, to “Heartburn”, the lengthy (13mins) energetic, angular impro by Predrag Delibasich on soprano saxophone with band. In between we get a gorgeously climactic piano and drum séance from Telafonica’s “Time and Distance”; electroclash-cute with mind boggling lyrics and intricately glitched up rhythms from Loom’s “Snail Shell”; Raven’s dark, propelling beats with mellow strings in “Presumption #1”; and Anonymeye’s shimmering bluegrass guitar morphings in “If At First You Don't Secede…”. Mass choruses made popular by bands such as the Animal Collective and Tunng are definitely in fashion on this volume, with some exploring the area well, such as Lessons in Time – “Those Plastic Street Signs Are Not To Be Followed”, and others descending into urban primitive noodlings that make you skip on second listen. The choral epiphany on Kyü’s “Sunny in Splodges” with its epic massed military drum crescendo and close harmony, multi-tracked wailing is simply magical. Expect Kyü to be plucked from the obscurity of weirdness sometime soon.

Volume Two is co-selected by Buchanan and Danny Jumpertz and steers away from the Freak Folk that is influencing Volume One, into the territory of exploratory electronica and ambient. Some of this is pretty much what we expect from electronica—which is not bad, just perhaps more neatly classifiable. Broken Chip’s “Summer Stars” offers pleasing glassy ripples and Björky-clockwork multi-rhythms. There is a similar machinic style, overlayed with a more militaristic drum exploration in Sam Price’s compelling “Auto Hackney”. Kharkov’s “Crustacean” keeps edgy by drifting swathes of sharpish tones over a subtle propulsion while Mieli’s fat beats of “Hometime”, though finely produced, offered me no weirdness at all.

The burning question Volume Two raises is why do I find some of this fairly standard electronic music (not weird), and some more worthy of the title? Cock Safari’s “8MH” pushes the barriers with off-kilter nagging loops of sampled psychedelic rock that satisfies in its lo-fi exuberance. Similarly the crunchiness of Maddest Kings Alive’s “Measels”, with joyous 8bit-sounding arpeggios, keeps it in edgier terrain. The more satisfyingly weird tracks are by Oceans, Transmissions, Panoptique Electrical and Splendid Fields which offer more challenging timbral palletes, and if using beats, don’t rely on them as the unifying structure of the piece. However several of these are rather short, as though afraid of testing the listener too much.

William Gardiner’s “Sonance Arboreal” is a stand-out, not only as it is from the more contemporary classical end of town, but also because its Minimalist tuned percussion sequences, choral drifts and sparse piano lines are powerfully emotive. As is my favourite track on Volume Two, Paul Fiocco’s “Torsions and Drifts”, a 13-minute, microscopically detailed field recording of walking through shifting terrain accompanied by dark and haunting drones—disturbingly visceral.

Listening to the two collections in search of the definitive ‘weirdness’ becomes agitating and perhaps is not in the spirit of the venture. In the introductory notes Stuart Buchanan states “Neither popular nor alternative, neither one genre nor another, New Weird Australia represents a new breed of Australian musicians that find refuge in the space between us.” And on the whole it does, in an indefinable way.

Perhaps it is not the ‘Weird’ that is so important as the “Australia’ part of the naming. These styles of music are already in the alternative mainstream with reasonably large fan-bases and niche airplay, but it is still primarily the international artists who are foregrounded. What these compilations achieve, along with the associated radio program (and several others on FBi), is to bring to light some of the more interesting and innovative Australian artists who are also making challenging and chewy music across a range of genres. I’m looking forward to Volume 3.
Gail Priest

Free download available from http://newweirdaustralia.com/nwa-releases/
New Weird Australia radio program, Thursdays 9-11pm, FBi 94.5 FM, and is streamable. www.fbiradio.com

6 November 2009