PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Various Artists: Tales from the Australian Underground Vol. 1: Singles 1976-1989

This super-comprehensive collection of Australian independent 7" singles from the '70s and '80s provides a rare insight into the roots of today's Aussie pub-rock and indie scenes.


Various Artists

Tales from the Australian Underground Vol. 1: Singles 1976-1989

Label: Shock
Australia release date: 2003-03-03
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes
Various Artists

Tales from the Australian Underground Vol. 2: 1977-1990

Label: Shock
Australia release date: 2006-11-20
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2006-12-04
Amazon
iTunes

Every country's underground musical history deserves as careful a chronicling as has now been lovingly compiled by Tim Pitman and the team at Feel records. This extensive, four-disc, two-volume set compiles 89 singles and rarities from the years 1976 to 1990, many digitally transferred from vinyl and offered here on CD for the first time. This era has been mined before -- see Shock Records’ Do the Pop! set from 2002 -- but never with this academic a bent. Add to that the ultra-extensive linter notes, outlining the history and background track by track, and you've got a document with an archival quality.

The first volume (two CDs) compiles independently released singles from the years 1976 to 1989; the second charts songs from 1977 to 1990. The dates may seem somewhat arbitrary, but roughly correspond with the emergence of an "independent" or "alternative" scene in Australia. The seminal, founding bands of this scene are known at least by name in Australia -- Brisbane's the Saints and Sydney's Radio Birdman -- and have provided a lasting influence on the garage rock/punk scenes that still exist in the country. Both those bands released their first material in 1976, and so that year is a convenient starting point for both volumes of Tales. From there, the discs proceed with an indiscriminate, inclusive spirit that encompasses better-known alternative bands like the Birthday Party, the Scientists and Severed Heads, as well as entirely obscure acts such as Makers of the Dead Travel Fast and Happy Hate Me Nots. A few of these acts, namely the Scientists, Cosmic Psychos and the Celibate Rifles, have been cited as influences on the Seattle grunge scene in the mid-'80s. But the styles are as diverse as the number of bands on these discs, so apart from identifying a certain Aussie proclivity for messy DIY-rock, there's not much of a stylistic arc that you can trace from this collection.

But these musicians are important, and have come to play a leading role in Australian alternative music over the past four decades. Ed Kuepper, guitarist from the Saints, went on to form the Laughing Clowns and, later, to pen 19 solo albums. One of his songs provides a fitting, and slightly emotional, ending to Tales' listening journey. Kim Salmon, leader of the Perth band the Scientists, closely informed a generation of alternative artists from Tex Perkins to Nick Cave, whose own early band the Birthday Party is also represented. For the most part, it's a band's first single or early, original recording that finds its way onto Tales from the Australian Underground -- rarities until now confined to dusty basements or second hand record shops, no doubt. It's an impressive feat, the result of Pitman’s obsessive research. But since the bands here are presented in such an embryonic form (often with only a hint at their eventual sound) it can occasionally be a less rewarding listening experience for those not already familiar with these musicians' work.

Looking back at this scene from the skewed perspective of the present day, it's a disservice to filter bands like the Saints and the Scientists through the haze of mediocre pub rock that it has spawned. Aussies, it seems, have always appreciated a good garage growl, but the link between these first messy experiments and the slick retro disposability of Jet or Airborne is tenuous. Just listen to the strong vein of classic rock and blues influence that runs through the early period, say 1975-1980, of Tales. The Riptides' "Sunset Strip" (1979) energizes the classic 1-5-4-5 chord progression with a surf-rock enthusiasm; sun-soaked and carefree, this kind of wide-eyed rock is so refreshing in our post-ironic times. The longevity of Severed Heads’ “Dead Eyes Opened” is already well known -- the song, remixed, was voted No. 10 best song of 1994 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 – but even the 1983 cassette version presented here could have been put out last year by a group like WhoMadeWho and hailed as new disco brilliance.

As with any compilation so wide in its reach, the listener is often surprised by how modern the sensibility of some older bands was. The breakout single for Perth band the Triffids, “Raining Pleasure”, presages recently remastered Born Sandy Devotional for an almost Bjork-like meditation over open string/marimba fifths and wonky, space-filled time. The Moffs' "Another Day in the Sun", a minor independent hit in 1985, is a revelation, combining layers of slow-moving synth chords and a repetitive, mantra-like vocal melody in a way that brings to mind modern drone music.

Yes, these discs are so wide-ranging that there can hardly be a listener for whom every track is a pleasure (the industrial drone of Thug’s “Dad”, with its line “Fuck your dad!”, was lost on me). But if you’re at all interested in the roots of Australia’s well-cemented rock tradition or even in where those carrying the country’s indie flame (Dappled Cities, Damn Arms, etc.) sprung from, you’ll find plenty of fascinating material here. Tales From the Australian Underground is an often eye-opening, occasionally enthralling look into that country’s alternative explosion from the mid-'70s onwards, compiled with care and representative of the spirit of the bands represented.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.