When I first moved to Sydney 10 years ago, I somehow became immediately ensconced in the world of experimental music. There were countless exciting spaces and acts around at that time, and one in particular could not help but pique my interest. A friend first told me of Justice Yeldham, a mysterious musician who would attach a contact mic to a shard of glass and play it like some kind of horrific harmonica. When I finally got around to seeing him live, it amazingly lived up to expectation. It was loud, bloody, and ruthlessly immediate.
A decade later, Lucas Abela is still, somewhat surprisingly, performing the Justice Yeldham act in the same manner and has just put out a physical release, Fresh Books, to go with his European tour. I avoided reading any information about the album before listening so I could take it in from a pure sound perspective. On first listen it appeared as though he had eschewed his glass-chomping shenanigans and instead opted to sit at a synth and idly hold down keys and twiddle knobs for 40 minutes. I was surprised to find out that it was indeed a “live-streamed” recording of a glass performance, albeit being totally devoid of the visceral energy and sonic complexity of his live shows and previous releases.
Sitting through the 15-minute title track which begins the album is a challenging experience. The challenge, in this case, comes not from extreme esoterica or brutal timbres, but from the painfully boring sounds which are put forth. This first piece consists of a goofy, incessant, sawtooth tone oscillating up and down, occasionally picking up some grit or needlessly grating whistle tones from whichever filters and effects the sound is being passed through. Structure is not something to look for when listening to a Lucas Abela’s work, but this first track is so apathetically meandering as to seem insulting to anyone who actually wants to listen to or, heaven forbid, pay money for the record.
The second track, ‘Fresh Balls’, contains largely the same ideas and tones, but is mercifully shorter at just under four minutes and begins to pick up the pace to lead into the relatively lively ‘Your Mean’. This third piece at least offers slightly more dynamic range than the redundant rambling which preceded it, and some semblances of pure, chaotic noise are teased when the inane up-and-down melodic wanderings which have beleaguered the record up to this point are put to rest for a few moments. ‘Octa Putra Puta Pus’, which clocks in at over 14 minutes, somehow becomes even more plodding, introduces no perceivable new ideas and finishes the album amongst the same interminable morass which kicked it off.
A Justice Yeldham release is never easy to navigate, as Abela works – or at least once did – within a sphere of what could be truly considered experimental music. But does this mean it should be immune from critique? Should the concept and method behind the project, and the weight of Lucas Abela’s reputation let a sub-par album be deemed anything other than lazy? Or am I missing the point completely? Does it exist for posterity, a physical piece to act as a companion to Abela’s unforgettable live shows? If this is the case, I still don’t think it’s unfair to expect more from one of the elder statesmen of Australia’s noise scene, because for me I’m struggling to understand why the effort was expended to press this work in the first place.
But it looks like the vinyl copies have just sold out at his most recent show, so what do I know?