Saddleback – Night Maps (Preservation/Inertia)

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If I hear another person say they’ve slept on that mattress I think I’ll burst. Tucked away on the side of Saddleback Mountain in Kiama, on the New South Wales south coast, Tony Dupé’s cottage (and spare mattress) has hosted many a musician and music fan. The Woods Themselves, Night Radio, Holly Throsby and Jack Ladder have all slept in the loungeroom/studio to work with the 42-year-old who’s doing as much as anyone, and probably more than quite a few people to shape the sound of Australian music. The basic studio is a long way from flash city studios, figuratively and metaphorically, but it’s how Dupé likes to produce.

He first appeared with Glovebox, one of Sydney’s more interesting groups in the early 1990s. Their delicate songs were even then bolstered by Dupé’s rich use of chord progression and production. In time, the band’s relaxed recording schedule gave way to his new freeform sound. A shifting round of musical elements, gently thrust upon an unsuspecting public, in 2004, with Saddleback’s debut, Everything’s A Love Letter. Dupe’s abstract colour photographs, exhibited around the same time at Paddington’s Disc Gallery, out the back of the record shop, were as good a guide as any to his music. Taken using a camera with a broken lens, his pictures were heartfelt and soft, out-of-focus forms, tending towards the amorphous.

Listening to Dupé’s latest, Night Maps, is not a radical experience. He draws on folk and jazz, as well as the ambient electronic sounds that fill these textural expanses. Instrumentally, Dupé plays guitar, drums and clarinet, piano and pump organ, as well as building loops from all sorts of found sounds. Peter Hollo (a scribe from this publication) joins on cello, Robin Dixon plays the strohviol and melodic saw, while that dark velvety trumpet is played by Penny McBride from the Cannanes.

The sounds drag you down to Saddleback time: the slowness of country life, the shifts in light, the paucity of contact. It’s obviously the same musical mind at play. But there’s a difference too, a loosening. The debut sounded carefully arranged, each sound placed for maximum effect, composed. It was an unfolding palette, rather than a musical thrill. The follow-up is less explicitly restrained. I get the impression Dupé’s production and, more to the point, musical abilities have grown. The music feels freer.

These gentle and sad pieces of music take the sonic opportunities of experimental sound design, production and composition, and use them to create music that’s emotional, lovely and bleak. Highly recommended.

Matthew Levinson

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