Cyclic Defrost

An Australian magazine focusing on interesting music

Brassskulls – Old Man. Off Our Lawn (Independent)

So prolific are noisemakers in the outmost regions of Australia’ music scene that groups like Brassskulls run the risk of languishing in terminal obscurity. The constant onslaught of releases from this fringe is exhausting, but thankfully quality control seems to hold a weight of import to these three Newcastle fellows. This is one of two vital releases from the group in 2008, along with the Monstera Deliciosa issued Skullduggery, which saves a few live CDRs from the trappings of their (virtually invisible) small scale print run. Along with that disc, you have everything they’ve officially committed to tape. This being the later release, it’s interesting to hear how refined their distinctly and purposefully unrefined morass has become over the course of a few months.

Refined, because on this independently released cassette they manage to transcend the inherent merits of their genre – the Mandelbrot feedback, the abysmal monochrome dread – to create something with a surprising depth of clarity. There’ a narrative here that distinguishes Old Man… from the comparatively tacked together nature of Skullduggery. The opening minutes of “Off Our Lawn’ sound like desperate morse code appeals from a damned spaceship, mournfully sustained and cruelly pitch shifted. It’s a crude and jarring sound, but it also contains an almost subliminal melancholy provided by distant ethereal guitar notes hinting at melody. It doesn’ last long though. As if infuriated by the graciousness of this sound, the group trigger a crackly low-end throb as if hurling a grenade, obliterating the serenity and most of the details therein, pressing everything hard against the speakers and ushering in the fractals of feedback that ensue. Vague samples of meticulously pronounced English monologue straddle the feedback as if commentating cryptically on the mesh of tones beneath it.

It doesn’ get any more pleasant from this point. Brassskulls’ appeal is in their ability to create spontaneously affecting environments, the type that feed off a few initial triggers and grow infinitesimally. The results grind onwards with what seems only peripheral input, until it feels like the group is collaborating with a force they have no control over. That sense of struggling to rein in a sound willingly prised into existence is what makes this recording so fascinating: it’s like losing control is vital to the Brassskulls modus operandi. Better still, it doesn’ lean upon doggedly aggressive textures but also succumbs to moments of stasis and inertia that often don’ survive in the trigger-happy noise scene. Less is more. More is welcome.

Shaun Prescott

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Cyclic Defrost is Australia’s only specialist electronic music magazine. We cover independent electronic music, avant-rock, experimental sound art and leftfield hip hop. Read more

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