By: Gilbert Potts
Corner Hotel, Melbourne | August 7, 2016
Instrumental rock in Australia is on a high right now, reflecting the diversity and depth of composition and performance in other parts of the world. And it’s fair to say that sleepmakeswaves are up there on the crest of the wave, having captured the sort of crowd most niche genres struggle to hook regardless of skill.
It’s not come without a huge amount of work from surviving founding force Alex Wilson (bass), those who have joined him over the last ten years, and some pretty canny help in recent years from manager Mike Solo. Sleepmakeswaves continue to use non-instrumental bands in their shows and although it confuses some it’s really helped break those barriers instrumental bands face in Australia.
The other ingredient is the personality of the band and the internal, musician community that’s developed, with Sydney pretty much at the centre. The sort of community where a fanboy, Otto Wicks-Green, becomes lead guitarist .
Amazingly, their second album, Love of Cartography, is now two years old, and to mark its send-off the lads joined up with US friends The Contortionist, Western Australia’s Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, and various other supports for a whirlwind tour of the home country before going off to some cave or something to write and make a new record.
Because we love them so much in Melbourne two shows were booked, and it helped me firm up my view that Sunday shows are better than Saturday shows. Granted a lot of it was due to the sound – Max Watt’s really struggles to get guitar nice and clear above the muddy bass – but crowd behaviour was chalk and cheese. OK, no one was getting knocked around, and when it comes to songs with words I’m in favour of a big singalong (Karnivool springs to mind). But guys – at a post-rock show, if you talk loudly and yell out relentlessly during the quiet passages, you’re really fucking it up for others. So shut the fuck up.
That said, it’s the only negatives I can take out of the two shows, and in fact that dirty, muddy sound really transformed Tangled on the first night, and if there’s one thing that sets them apart from most other bands, it’s the ever-changing variation in their performances. More on that soon, but I’ll stick to comments about the second show from here on.
The night started early and I got to Richmond’s Corner Hotel just in time to catch opener Dumbsaint as they played half of the ten pieces of their Panorama release from last year. The band members are film-makers as well as makers of intense atmospheric instrumental rock and the visual component of the album was played on a screen as they performed. It’s not like the visuals you tend to see at post-rock shows and I’m not sure it always worked in this context given the free flow of the music against the slide-show structure of the film, but when it did come together it really hit the mark. I’m told their launch show involved bean bags and popcorn and I’d be up for that for sure.
I listened to Panorama a lot when it was released and hearing a good chunk of it live brought back that familiar snare and their deft balance of heaviness and light, with ‘(Partition)’ being a great example of just how thunderously low they can go before climbing to delicate lightness, only for the two forces to entwine before trying to smash each other’s brains out. I really need to experience a solid one-hour set from these guys.
Next up was one of Australia’s most exciting and adventurous progressive acts – Tangled Thoughts of Leaving. Having opened on Saturday with the thunderously heavy and deep ‘The Albanian Sleepover (Part 1)’, they changed their approach on Sunday with the jazzier and lighter ‘Deep Rivers Run Quiet’ from their brilliant album Deaden the Fields, and finished the three-tune set with ‘Yield to Despair’. The piano that had been smothered the night before came back out into the open and BeHn on drums was in the zone.
This is not easy listening, but the rewards are massive for those it just clicks with. No two performances are the same, not just because they decide their set and changes to chord structure close to walking on stage. The music just feels like it has a life of its own, feeding off the moods of the players and the feel of the room. One moment it’s galloping away, the next it’s trudging through mud, only to soar skyward before fluttering like a butterfly. The two Pollard brothers almost explode with energy as they smash out the river of melody and driving rhythm. I can’t think of anyone else playing music like this – at times there’s a hint of Mono, their fluid approach to performances remind of Holy Fuck, and yeah it’s full of dynamics and crescendos, but that’s about as close as it gets to what’s happening elsewhere. Good news is they played a new track on Saturday and we should see another release in the near future. Don’t miss a chance to see them.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mike Lessard of The Contortionist a week or so ago just before they headed over for the tour, and the mix on Sunday night showcased his smooth clean vocals, as well as his eruptions into harsh. We were treated to most of their current release, Language, in correct order and with two earlier songs slipped in. The current lineup (the band seems to go through singers like Spinal Tap goes through drummers), has now been together for two years and although guitarist Cameron Maynard tells me they are “getting there” from where I was standing they sound tight and confident.
Not as flamboyant or frenetic on stage as either Tangled or sleepmakeswaves, the emphasis is on technical variety and precision rather than dynamics and noise, although there is still plenty of loud and quiet. Once you go down that technical path, you risk losing emotion and the ability for the crowd to dance or nod their heads. No such danger for The Contortionist as they’ve found that space that links the two without feeling like some happy medium, and rather than kick your emotions around or spoon feed them back to you, they link arms with you and say “It’s gonna get hairy at times, but let’s do this together”. Good, honest, intelligent progressive rock.
Sleepmakeswaves follow a fairly typical post-rock structure of a series of two- or four-bar building blocks coated in a range of textures, as opposed to the traditional verse/chorus/middle-eight rock or pop song. What really makes them stand out is just how well they do FUN, and let’s face it, not everyone wants to feel like they’re being crushed by the world. And we always have the likes of TWDY to fulfil that need where it exists.
This isn’t simply rock without vocals – than tune we yearn to hum or verse we are bursting to sing along to is replaced by four human-shaped parcels of “fuck it’s great to be here” as they each extract as much passion and thunderous joy as they can from their instruments. A year ago they played to a sell-out crowd here at The Corner and they were clearly just as thrilled with the turnout for this weekend.
It was crescendocore heaven with ample opportunity to get in some serious airdrumming to the likes of ‘a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’, ‘Perfect Detonator’ and ‘Traced in Constellations’, time to jump up and down, punch the sky, and just feel amazing. Then there was time for reflection as Otto slowly wound down ‘…and so we destroyed everything’. There’s nothing like a couple of hundred fans hanging on silently as each note is picked, pausing for a second after that last note before erupting in cheers and applause. I get goose bumps just writing about it.
Perhaps a taste of things to come, the played a brand new, un-named intro to the set before launching into ‘Perfect Detonator’. Other highlights included dusting off ‘Keep Your Splendid Silent Sun’ from their split EP with Tangled Thoughts, complete with another new intro just for this tour, and ‘Something Like Avalanches’ to bring the set home. Non-musical highlights included the shots of tequila from a couple of fans, continuing a tradition they started when the band supported Karnivool two or three years ago. The sound was close to the best I’ve heard from them – guitar was sharp and clear, bass thumping and glitch backing track set just right, all with minimal unwanted vibration in the room. It is indeed a fine venue (now if we could just get rid of that pole…)
Once again I turned up at a sleepmakeswaves show full of expectation and once again I went home happier than I thought possible. Seeing Tangled Thoughts of Leaving on the same bill doubled the awesome factor and a big thick chunk of icing topped the cake in the form of The Contortionist and Dumbsaint. As my dear long-departed Dad would have said; “I wouldn’t be dead for quids”.