Music criticism is not a review of the album you just made, its a review of your career up to that point. – Caroline Polachek Source: This Generation’s Caroline Polachek by Switched on Pop

After doing a deep dive into The Go-Betweens, I was looking for a new artist to delve into their discography, so I decided to dive into the world of Custard.

In part, I was left intrigued by the cross-over between Custard and The Go-Betweens. For example, Dave McCormick and Glenn Thompson had served as Robert Forster’s backing band for a time in Forster’s post Go-Betweens era, while Thompson was a part of the reformed Go-Betweens line-up. They were also integral to putting together Write Your Adventures Down, the tribute album to The Go-Betweens after Grant McLennan’s death.

I was also inspired after seeing Dave McCormack perform an acoustic set supporting The Fauves. I have never seen Custard live and was not sure what to expect. What I was privileged with was a solo set of deep cuts, classics and a countrified cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’. Although I had read about McCormack’s country and western origins (COW) in Andrew Stafford’s Pig City.

Robert Moore had imagined COW as a musical collective similar to the Wild Bunch behind the first Massive Attack album, where a virtual reserve bench of musicians would be on call to play gigs or recordings. Often the band would be joined on stage by backing vocalists the Sirloin Sisters, twins Maureen and Suzie Hansen; at other times, former Go-Between John Willsteed and occasional Queensland Symphony Orchestra violinist John Bone would jump up to add their own flourishes.

SOURCE: Andrew Stafford – Pig City: From the Saints to Savage Garden

This never made sense with the image of Custard that I had from the 90’s.

Lastly, I was left wondering by Damian Cowell’s comment on the Take 5 Podcast reflecting on the 90’s zeitgeist. Talking about Custard, he suggested that it was important to leave listeners with something more:

Use your power wisely … Treat them to an anchovy.

All this left me feeling that maybe there was more to hear and that maybe it was time to give Custard the time of day.


Custard were formed in Brisbane in the early 90’s. Although they have had various line-ups over their time, the classic line-up has been Dave McCormack on guitar and vocals, Paul Medew on bass, Matthew Strong on guitar and Glenn Thompson on drums. As a member of McCormack’s other project COW (Country or Western), Thompson was actually always around. For example, he was involved with creating the artwork associated with Custard’s first release Buttercup / Bedford.

They have had two distinct periods, their initial time in the 90’s until they disbanded in 2000, and their reformation in 2010’s. Their time in the 90’s stood in contrast to the dour grunge sound dominant at the time.

Although they’ve obviously been listening to the Pixies as well as Pavement, unlike many other bands of the ’90s they studiously avoided the Seattle sound, preferring to indulge in pop hooks and resolute cheerfulness.

Source: Brisbane 1990-1993 Review – AllMusic by Jody Macgregor

Or as McCormack reflected upon, they wrote “melancholy song that you could listen to a few times.”

“It’s that whole realisation that people like The Go-Betweens can have on you,” Dave McCormack said. “On the balance of things, no one wants to hear a happy throwaway song. I don’t really. I wanna hear a sad, melancholy song that you could listen to a few times. That’s something we came to realise and therefore that’s what we wanted to do.”

Source: Classic Album – Custard – Loverama by ABC Listen

During this time they worked with producers such as Eric Drew Feldman (Captain Beefheart, PJ Harvey, Pere Ubu, Augie March et al.) and Magoo (Regurgitator, Midnight Oil et al.) They were a part of the music industry being turned upside down.

The alternative boom of American bands meant Australian major labels and commercial radio were more willing to take a punt on Aussie bands, putting a guitar band like You Am I, who formed in 1989, in a prime position.

The alt-rock boom in Australia kicked off in earnest in 1994, building and bubbling to its own boiling point as it had in 1991 in the US.

Source: 1991 saw the music industry turned upside down, and 30 years later, its echoes remain by Matt Neal

In contrast, their later work is often a little more subdued and has largely been self-produced by Glenn Thompson, although it never quite sits comfortably within ‘Adult Contemporary’ even if it has come out through ABC Records.

Although it often feels like Dave McCormack is portrayed as the face of the band, one of the things that I had never appreciated is how the rest of the band all play their part, often contributing their own songs to the mix. When asked by Lindsay McDougall about what make a Custard song in an interview for Respect All Lifeforms, McCormack explained that it was everyone adding their piece.

There’s sketches of the song and you throw it out to Paul, Glenn and Matthew and then they play it back to you and you say “ahhh, it’s a Custard song” … that nice sort of organic interchange.

Source: Dave McCormack and Custard Respect All Lifeforms by Lindsay McDougall (SoundCloud)

In some ways that may seem self-obvious, but listening to some of the other projects that McCormack has been a part of, there is a similarity and difference. I think that there is something to be said about the chemistry of the band.

It was interesting watching Jonathan Alley’s documentary Love in Bright Landscapes and the pressures put on The Triffids by the record labels with Calenture. I was left wondering if something like this never happened with Custard as the band was always bigger than the individual and maybe that is why they actually initially disbanded?


Listening to the albums, I started with Buttercup Bedford. Although their ‘first’ album, it is both hard to find (not on Spotify) and possibly intentionally forgotten.

Due to its self-published nature, the album has not appeared on any streaming sites and has largely been a rarity to find online, with most sites links to download no longer working. Dave McCormack has expressed that maybe it should stay offline.

Source: BUTTERCUP (BEDFORD) by Custaro.fans

With the majority of the album recorded in eight hours after winning Australian Academy of Music’s Encouragement Award prize of $500 recording time, it felt to me like jangly pop on speed.

David McCormack: That’s when the drugs really came into play, around that time . . . In 1988–89 it was all speed, acid, ecstasy had just hit. And because we had nothing to do – we’d basically finished our degrees and were on the dole, and we were white middle-class kids from Kenmore – we could just get out of it forever. That’s why Who’s Gerald? broke up. We’d be speeding for days on end.

SOURCE: Andrew Stafford – Pig City: From the Saints to Savage Garden

The ‘second’ album, Brisbane 1990 – 1993, combines the Gastanked and Brisbane EPs. It is full of ideas and influences. As soon as you think a song will be one thing, something unexpectedly disrupts this.

These songs capture Custard in lo-fi during the period when they were a group of Pavement fans writing quirky but straightforward love songs like “I Just Want to Be with You” and “Edie,” which has two chords — E and D. David McCormack‘s excitable little-boy tone can be heard taking shape while he sings oddball lyrics like “I had too much to dream last night” in “Satellite,” his rewrite of “Goodnight, Irene.” The self-descriptive “Short Pop Song,” which manages to cram in three tunes’ worth of material despite its 1:14 running time, shows the way toward later reflexive efforts like “Hit Song.”

Source: Brisbane 1990-1993 Review – AllMusic by Jody Macgregor

Wahooti Fandango continues the joyful chaos associated with pasting ideas together to somehow find some semblance of coherence. It often feels like each song is almost in contrast with itself.

Drawing on a vast array of influences (from the art-rock of Pere UbuDevo and Sonic Youth to country ballads and big band swing), Custard’s casual, whimsical approach to their own music often masks the degree of craft underlying songs.

Source: Wahooti Fandango by Wikipedia

Produced by Eric Drew Feldman in Hyde St Studios, Wisenheimer feels less contrasting than Wahooti Fandango, but each track still seems to jump between a different genre, whether it be the angular rock guitar one minute with ‘GooFinder’, to leaning back into the country origins with ‘Leisuremaster’. With sixteen tracks in under 40 minutes, you never really get to settle as a listener. Even the slower tracks fly on by.

Continuing on from the other albums in bouncing between pop, surf, stoner, country and rock, I feel We Have the Technology is best described as seriously silly. Although each track seems to make its own statement in itself, they feel like they are contrasted with how they are organised on the album.

We Have The Technology caught McCormack in an ornery mood. Heavily under the influence of Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, also made at Easley Studios, McCormack’s songs were growing ever more tangential and self-referential. And consequently, the music – as a review of another Brisbane band had earlier suggested – ‘disappeared up its own arse’.

David McCormack: I remember Eric Drew Feldman sitting me down in some diner saying, ‘Look, you’ve got to have a radio single, you’ve just got to have one . . . Go as crazy as you want, but you need three or four radio songs so the band can keep going, you can’t just ignore that stuff,’ and he was right. But I was just like, ‘No, man, we’re fucking artists!’ It’s maturity . . . If I could go back, there would be a lot of decisions I would make differently.

The release of Thompson’s Music Is Crap as a single in February 1998 painted the band into a corner.

Source: Pig City by Andrew Stafford

For me, there are just too many flavours on the plate with this album. It balances between genius, chaos and who cares. What remains after all is said and done is a certain catchiness that pervades throughout.

Teaming up with Magoo, Loverama is a case of ‘same, same, but different’. Although it is roughly the same length as previous albums, there are not as many tracks. Although the same ingredients are present, whether it be distorted guitar, slide guitar, weird effects, quirky lyrics, I feel it is the placement of the drums and bass in the mix seems to hold the songs together and provide a semblance of continuity.

“I was happy to do something that wasn’t as throwaway as some of the other ones [songs on earlier albums],” McCormack said, although he was aware his intentions might not land in the same way for listeners.

“I’m sure everyone else would think it’s an overtly happy and quirky Custard record. But I think for us, we could listen to it and go, ‘ah yeah that’s right, that was fucked when that happened.’”

Source: Classic Album – Custard – Loverama by ABC Listen

After this album, the band disbanded, with members going off in different directions and different projects.

They began playing odd concerts again in 2009, however their next album Come Back, All is Forgiven did not come out until 2015. Although it begins with a more laidback country rock feel – maybe Custard Goes Country – they still have the knack of throwing a spanner into the mix that extends allows it to pivot. Craig Mathieson described it as a ‘welcome visit’.

Despite the title, for Custard the new album isn’t so much a career comeback as a welcome visit

Source: Dave McCormack’s Custard comes back (and all is forgiven)) by Craig Mathieson

Similarly, The Common Touch is also bit more subdued than some of their earlier albums, but it feels like this space gives the opportunities for the hooks and harmonies to really flourish. For me, it is one of those albums that the more I listened, the more I could not help sing along with.

“In the ’90s it was much more of an ongoing concern that we were a professional music group, so you had to constantly think about how to make people interested in you again. How could we get people to our gigs? How do we get songs on the radio? And none of those factors really come into the equation now. Now it’s like, ‘What’s the most interesting songs we can write and record and release?’ “

And there’s no shortage of those on The Common Touch, a varied and focused record that shows the band’s eagerness to move beyond their quirky slacker pop “golden days”.

“This is the first time I sat in my spare room in Bexley and just went, ‘Right, every day I’m going to sit down and make myself available to write songs.’ So for about three or four weeks, five days a week, I’d just sit in the room and make stuff up.”

Source: From the ’90s to now, Custard haven’t lost their common touch by Bronwyn Thompson

In contrast, Respect All Lifeforms feels like a return to the ebbs and flows of We Have the Technology and Loverama. Unlike Come Back, All Is Forgiven and The Common Touch, which both open with slower more somber tracks and a touch of country, this albums kicks off with a bang with ‘Couples Fight’. The album then bounces around from there. Gone is the lap steel and harmonica. It also does not wear the criticism of ‘Adult Contemporary’ made against their last two albums so well. Noel Mengel argues that what makes a Custard album is this ebb and flow throughout.

But what is so enjoyable about Custard’s music is not that it can be defined in any neat way but that it can’t. Pop-rock with guitars it might be, but there is a lot going on that rewards play after play. And it always sounds just like them.

Source: Respect All Lifeforms. Custard by Noel Mengel

In addition to sounding like them, there is something to be said about their lyrics throughout.


In an acceptance speech for the Nashville Songwriters Association International award for Songwriter-Artist of the Decade, Taylor Swift shared three genres associated with her lyrics.

I categorize certain songs of mine in the “Quill” style if the words and phrasings are antiquated, if I was inspired to write it after reading Charlotte Brontë or after watching a movie where everyone is wearing poet shirts and corsets.

Fountain pen style means a modern storyline or references, with a poetic twist.

Frivolous, carefree, bouncy, syncopated perfectly to the beat. Glitter Gel Pen lyrics don’t care if you don’t take them seriously because they don’t take themselves seriously.

Source: Taylor Swift Explains Her Three Types Of Lyrics In Nashville Songwriters Association Awards Speech by Tom Breihan

Thinking about Custard, I feel that there are possibly three types of Custard lyrics:

  • Songs that capture a particular topic or situation (i.e. ‘Apartment’)
  • Songs about a person (maybe auto) (i.e. ‘Lez Pinball’)
  • Songs about … songs (i.e. ‘Hit Song’)

However, the more I listened with this framework in mind, it felt somewhat contrived to fit the songs into such rigid categories.

Noel Mengel suggests that what ties Custard’s songs together is an eye for the normal everyday:

You could say Custard have been writing about normal lives and everyday situations since 1990.

An easy hook but not entirely accurate. As with any songwriting the key to such local observations is to create something interesting and lively rather than banal. Or in Custard’s case, interesting, lively and sometimes outright hilarious. Which is in keeping with all the exuberance and energy at the heart of their pop-rock musical style

Source: Respect All Lifeforms. Custard by Noel Mengel

I feel that this is what Cowell was touching upon when referring to ‘anchovies’ in his discussion of Custard on the Take 5 Podcast.

Another element to their songs is that they always seem to enter halfway through a story or a scene. I remember reading something similar from Bono talking about U2’s song ‘One’:

“I like to start a song halfway through a conversation,” Bono says. “As with a lot of dialogue, you very often find yourself talking around the subject rather than through it.” The first lines came quickly: “Is it getting better or do you feel the same?/ Is it any easier on you now that you’ve got someone to blame?” The chorus emerged from an exchange between Bono and the Dalai Lama, who had invited U2 to contribute to a benefit concert called Oneness. Bono politely declined, signing the letter: “Lovely to correspond. One but not the same, Bono.”

Source: Why U2’s One is the ultimate anthem by Dorian Lynskey

For Custard, it is always a conversation, but where the listener is often left scrambling for any semblance of context. It is often akin to a story stripped of everything deemed as superfluous. Sometimes this can be disorientating. As Cowell touched upon with regards to ‘Nice Bird’, when McCormick sings, “Trey’s got the feathers and a 12-gauge shotgun.” We are left wondering who Trey is and why does he have a shotgun? As McCormack touched upon regarding ‘Min Min Lights’ with Lindsay McDougall.

I just got this sketch of an idea. The more mysterious it is the better

Source: Dave McCormack and Custard Respect All Lifeforms by Lindsay McDougall (SoundCloud)

Inspired by McCormick’s comments in their 90’s zine about reading Cormac McCarthy, I was intrigued by Graeme Wood’s comment that “characters are what matters.”

The Shakespeare is no coincidence—and of course Shakespeare, too, was weak on plot; as William Hazlitt and later Bloom affirmed, the characters are what matter. McCarthy’s Sheddan is an elongated Falstaff, skinny where Falstaff is fat, despite dining out constantly in the French Quarter on credit cards stolen from tourists. But like Falstaff, he is witty, and capable of uttering only the deepest verities whenever he is not telling outright lies. Bobby Western regularly shares in his stolen food and drink, and their dialogue—mostly Sheddan’s side of it—provides the sharpest statement of Bobby’s bind.

Source: The Incandescent Wisdom of Cormac McCarthy By Graeme Wood

I think that in some respects that the same could be said about Custard. Although McCormack and Thompson may not be William Shakespeare and Cormac McCarthy, it does feel that they do have an eye for character and description over plot.


It is a strange experience slowly listening through a bands oeuvre one album at a time, I feel it is impossible by nature of the exercise not to judge each album against the previous. Sometimes I wonder if you start to hear ghosts after awhile, with one album bleeding into another. For example, I would find myself making assertions, such as this album is more straight-forward or has a different feel when it comes to instrumentation, only to then question myself as many of the ingredients are present in their earlier work. I think that this maybe what Caroline Polachek was touching upon in regards to the challenges associated with album reviews:

Music criticism is not a review of the album you just made, its a review of your career up to that point.

Source: This Generation’s Caroline Polachek by Switched on Pop

Growing up, I remember buying a copy of We Have the Technology at Cash Convertors. My guitar teacher was encouraging me to play the surf rock tune ‘Memory Man’ as a part of my Year 12 group music performance. I knew the singles, such as ‘Anatomically Correct’, ‘Nice Bird’ and ‘Music is Crap’ and feel that past me probably skipped to those tracks on my CD player or computer, but I fear that I never gave the album the patience it probably deserved or needed.

In a review of Loverama, the comment was made that if something was bad it was meant to be.

If something’s bad, that’s what they meant to do, it’s them having fun.

Source: Custard – Loverama (album review) by blueyxd

Maybe this comment is as much about the tendency for the band in the 90’s spending hours and hours perfecting their early albums in the studio. However, I also think that this could probably be read as “if something seems bad.” I feel you have two choices with Custard, you either accept them and their music and come to respect it for what it is or you do not. Younger me never quite reconciled with who they were, therefore I never quite respected it.

This left me wondering if Custard are one of those bands that are best considered as something of a Rorschach test.

The Rorschach test is a projective psychological test in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning.

Source: Rorschach by Wikipedia

The music never gets too serious, but is serious none the less, while it never gets too silly, but is silly none the less. The interpretation of the music can then be considered a reflection of the listener. Some listeners take away with them the distorted rock, some the steel string, some the jangly pop. (Thinking about my group music performance, I feel that I could have just played Custard songs and I would have been able to tick all the requirements for my set?) With so much often going on all at once, there is always so much to take in.

I am glad I dived back into the music of Custard. It left me thinking differently about what music could and maybe should be. In the end, I learned to stop worrying and love Custard.


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In a world that moves too fast, and in which myriad exhausting decisions must be made at every turn, the small ceremony is, it seems, making a comeback. A new generation is discovering how soothing it is to blow imaginary dust from a beloved record – and a dozen other everyday sacraments besides. Observer ‘LPs are the antidote to a frenetic digital world’

I have given up smoking, well at least that is the excuse I give for my new found addiction, buying vinyl records. I feel that the use of the word ‘addiction’ might be hyperbole, but there is something about vinyl that feels like it is a want, rather than something of a need, especially when I often own copies of many of the albums on CD or am able to stream them. However, there is something about vinyl that has really captured my me.

I remember reading Doug Belshaw’s post a few years ago involving a letter to his future self.

You’re 23 years old now and this is you in 10 years time writing to yourself. I want to give you some advice and general pointers. Having already been you, I know it’s likely that you’ll read this and then forget about it, but I’m going to do it anyway. For better or worse, I’m still as stubborn as you are now.

Source: A letter from the future by Doug Belshaw

It is something that has haunted me since, what would I say to my past self that would make a difference today. I think I would probably say would be “don’t give up on your music.”

Saying I “gave up on music” seems strange, it is not that I completely stopped listening to or playing music, rather I feel at some stage in life I stopped engaging with music in a certain way. (Maybe Daniel Levitin might say this is normal, I really should read This is Your Brain on Music.) I have always listened to new and old music alike, but not in the same manner. I also sold a lot of my music equipment – MicroKorg, Roland MC303, audio mixer and reference monitors. In part, I think it reflected a change in life. On the one hand, Aphex Twin’s Drukqs is not really something I would be inclined to play with sleeping children around, while tinkering with music seemed like an indulgence. In addition to this, concerts and late nights no longer seemed like a priority.

I started buying back my my music equipment. This has included a Arturia MiniFreak, Roland MC101, Roland JX-08, a new mixer and monitors. I also started going to concerts again. With my effort to collect my crumbs, I started being more deliberate with my music listening, intentionally listening to albums and making notes of what I listened to. I also started purchasing some music via Bandcamp. However, I had not really returned to purchasing physical music. A part of this related to the fact that I simply do not get out my DVDs and CDs anymore, I was even challenged about whether I needed them anymore, whether they still ‘sparked joy‘. I do not think that this is anything new, as captured in a post from Rolling Stone from 2018:

As streaming gives the music industry its biggest profits in a decade, the CD business continues to plunge. CD sales have fallen 80 percent in the past decade, from roughly 450 million to 89 million. Since Tesla began manufacturing cars without CD players, other companies like Ford and Toyota have recently followed. Downloads – once seen as the CD’s replacement – have plummeted 58 percent since peaking in 2012, their profits now even smaller than physical sales. Artists have taken note; Bruce Springsteen released his latest box set, The Album Collection Vol. 2, 1987-1996, exclusively on vinyl, with no CD option, unlike 2014’s Vol. 1. “It’s a streaming world and a vinyl world with a quickly diminishing CD,” says Daniel Glass, president of Glassnote Records, indie-label home of Mumford & Sons and Phoenix.

Source: The End of Owning Music: How CDs and Downloads Died by Steve Knopper

One impetus to start listening to vinyl came when my dad gave me his record collection. I had always enjoyed trolling through his collection of crates when growing up, finding what felt like the weird and wonderful, whether it be David Bowie, Frank Zappa or early Cure. However, I soon realised that I wanted more than somebody else’s collection, I wanted my own music in the collection.

Over the years I have incidentally purchased some vinyl records, such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows and The King of Limbs, as well as Go-Go Sapien’s Love in Other Dimensions. I had some friends who bought vinyl. However, I never really appreciated them. I think I was caught up in the debate about audio quality, rather than how I actually listened to music. I spent years listening on poor headphones, it seemed a moot point to be arguing about the difference between streaming and vinyl records.

Another other inspiration of sorts has been Jim Groom’s VinylCasts, where he would play vinyl on internet radio. I think this may have planted the seed for vinyl being about more than just audio quality. Associated with this, Damian Cowell spoke a lot about searching for records and his love of listening as a part of his podcast for his album, Only the Shit You Love. Also, Austin Kleon often talks about playing particular records in his studio.

One of the things that is often said about records is how good the artwork is and how this is often lost in a world of streaming.

Album artwork today has a comparatively minimal role. It no longer serves as the focal point of an artist’s release, instead, it is one part in a much broader visual whole. Creating consistency between an artist’s social media posts, press photos, tour posters and any other visual elements serves the same purpose that album artwork once did: to build a world around an artist and contextualise their music for the listener. However, I can’t help lamenting what we might have lost. If less people are looking at album artworks, less resources will be allocated to them, and less people will put effort into them.

Source: The Lost Art of Album Artwork by Max Bloom

This is something that Damian Cowell discussed in regards to Roger Dean’s design for Osibisa.

Osibisa is the self-titled debut album by British afro rock band Osibisa
This is the cover art for the album Osibisa by the artist Osibisa.

Covers are often references as being the stimulus for purchasing a record. (This is something that my dad said that did.) For me though, this side of things is an added bonus. Of course covers look better blown up, but it is not what draws me to an album. (Although, I did spot Methyl Ethel’s Triage while flicking because it is such a unique cover.) Other than a handful of occasions (The Fauves Driveway Heart Attack and High Pass Filter’s Nice Coordinated Outfit), I have not bought a record without having already listened to it a number of times first.

When I buy a record, I do not necessarily want surprises. Even though I can connect my headphones to my turntable, I usually listen while doing things, therefore it is a very public medium. I am more inclined to listen to a range of music online, but when it has reached vinyl, it feels like a statement of intent. On the Take 5 podcast, Ed Droste discussed how it usually takes five listens to form a judgment on an album. My purchases can therefore be understood as a confirmation of my judgment. (Ironically, Droste felt that growing up with vinyl and being unable to skip helped with that judgement process.)

A strange thing I like about listening to vinyl is that it forces you to listen to a whole album. I like this constraint. There is no skipping and no pauses. If I have to stop an album for some reason, then it means I need to start that side all over again. In a world where being interrupted has become standard, missing a part of an album makes this more concrete. (I have actually taken the album approach to long drives. Instead of worrying about playlists and/or individual tracks, I have started queuing albums, one after another.)

Here is a list of my vinyl purchases so far:

  • Methyl Ethel – Oh Inhuman Spectacle
  • Methyl Ethel – Triage
  • Methyl Ethel – Are you Haunted?
  • The Panics – Cruel Guards
  • Sarah Blasko – Depth of Field
  • Massive Attack – Blue Lines
  • Portishead – Dummy
  • Portishead – Portishead
  • Jeff Buckley – Grace
  • The Avalanches’ – We Will Always Love You
  • DIANA – Familiar Touch
  • Joseph Shabason – Anne EP
  • Beach House – Teen Dream
  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  • The Fauves – Driveway Heart Attack
  • Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine – Only the Shit You Love
  • Client Liaison – Divine Intervention
  • Montaigne – Complex
  • Washington – Batflowers
  • Kimbra – A Reckoning
  • Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
  • Depeche Mode – Violator
  • Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK
  • High Pass Filter – Nice Coordinated Outfit
  • Tortoise – Standards
  • Autechre – Tri Repetae
  • Boards of Canada – Geogaddi
  • Lorde – Pure Heroine
  • Lorde – Melodrama
  • Taylor Swift – 1989
  • Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

I must admit, I have not started buying vinyl that maybe scratched to have on the shelf. I know some buy some albums just to have them in their collection, whether they are playable or not. I am also circumspect about buying expensive second hand records or expensive records in general. For example, I saw a used copy of The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotion for near on $100. Although I love the album, I feel there needs to be a limit. (I am not buying four versions of the same record for four album covers.) I have bought many of my records when on sale and would rather have three different albums than one really expensive one. (If Jamie Lidell is right in his desire to purchase and play an original Can record, then I might be wrong about listening to original recordings. However, for now I will live with that.) I also prefer albums that a single records. I accept that some albums are actually quite long, but there are others that end up with on a couple of tracks on each side, which just seems frustrating. Oh, then there are albums like Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi which is three records.


As always, comments welcome. Oh, and I only used giving up smoking as a reference. I find it interesting the idea that if I had given up smoking that it would be somehow justified.


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Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux. Walter Benjamin ‘Task of the Translator’

Each January, on the Sizzletown podcast, Tony Martin tides over the holiday season with an unplugged version. This involves going back through his movie diaries from the 80’s. Each listing includes the name of the film and a five star rating. The podcast is basically him making sense of these ratings. One of the things that I find while listening is how much the rating seems superfluous to the explanation as to why he provided the rating. Personally, I always find it hard while listening to music or reading books as to how you make a judgment call. Often I am more interested in different ideas and beginnings and how this all changes in time.


Back in 1997, I went with my step-sister to see Romeo and Juliet at Knox City. Before the film, we went to JB-HiFi. This was before it had been floated on the stock exchange and stores were still somewhat rare. In addition to inquirying about a mobile phone (something else rare at the time), my sister bought a Celine Deon CD. I on the other hand bought Double Allergic by Powderfinger. My sister was mystified. She had never heard of Powderfinger. As time passed, I am pretty sure she found out who Powerfinger were and for me they went on the back burner.


In her review of JP Hartley’s novel, The Go-Between, Ali Smith argues that ‘books are go-betweens’.

Books are, in essence, go-betweens, works which conjure rhythm and release across time and history, across places of familiarity and those foreign to us; and personally and individually, too, it’s all a going-between, for every person who picks up a book for a first, then a second, then a third time.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

I would argue the music is the same. Different music, touches different people, at different times.

In Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘The Task of the Translator‘, he discusses the purpose of translation. Instead of conforming to the reader, the translator should conform to the source and target language of the work. The purpose is to highlight the relationship between the two languages, and how they complement each other. In his discussion of this, he gives the analogy of the tangent touching the circle:

Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux.

Source: Task of the Translator by Walter Benjamin

I wonder if there is something in this ‘tangent’? Each listener hears an artist at a particular point in time from a particular point of view, in some ways they translate it into their own world.


In Raymond Williams’ Marxism and Literature, he talks about the notion of the ‘dominant, the risidual and the emergent’. For Williams, culture is always in one of three phases. As WIlliam’ touches on:

By ’emergent’ I mean, first, that new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationship are continually being created. But it is exceptionally difficult to distinguish between those which are really elements of some new phase of the dominant culture (and in this sense ‘species-specific’) and those which are substantially alternative or oppositional to it: emergent in the strict sense, rather than merely novel.

Source: Marxism and Literature by Raymond Williams

Thinking about this idea in regards to my purchase of Powderfinger’s Double Allergic, this was clearly an emergent practice. They were on the up. Although they were popular, they were not popular enough to be a household name. For example, I did not jump onboard when they released Internationalist or Odyssey Number Fiver, their ‘popular’ albums.

The question that remains with this is what about those who may have jumped onboard before? For example, what about those who bought into (as my friend’s brother did) the release of Parables for Wooden Ears or invested into them when they were playing covers in Brisbane?


As listeners, we are not only a part of a whole, but we are individuals as well. For me, we hear artists not only as a part of a particular moment in time, but also as a part of one’s individual experiences. Personally, I often find myself seemingly late to the party. For example, I find myself stumbling upon an artist only to become mesmerised by their next release. I did this with Methyl Ethyl’s Are You Haunted. I remember stumbling upon Jake Webb with the release of Triage, however Are You Haunted and I seemed to meet at the right moment. More recently, I had a similar experience with Kimbra. I had listened to and liked Primal Heart, but there is something about A Reckoning that met me at a particular moment.


So What about you? How do you go about ‘rating’ music or rating anything?


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Basically there's night and there's day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. (Robert Forster) David Nichols ‘The Go-Betweens’

There have been many side-effects associated with the pandemic. One has been to jump into untouched classic literature, like Proust. Alternatively, some, such as Kevin Smokler, have suggested returning to a favourite artist, while others, like Colin Marshall, have discussed the process of choosing one artist and listening to each album, once a day for a week. I tried Proust in regards to literature, but like so many before me, waved the white flag after the first two books. Moving on, I decided to dive into an artist I thought I knew, but knew that I had never listened to deeply. The artist I chose was The Go-Betweens.


I am not exactly sure why I chose The Go-Betweens as my deep dive. I had always known The Go-Betweens, but was not sure I really knew The Go-Betweens. One thought was maybe Kriv Stenders’ documentary, Right Here. I initially watched this on ABC iView. I think that I was captured by the discussion of the myth that surrounds the band. Another thought was listening to Missy Higgins’ cover of Was There Anything I Could Do on her album of Australian covers, Oz. Lastly, I was left thinking about Damian Cowell’s comment on the Take 5 podcast:

Use your power wisely … Treat them to an anchovy.

Source: TISM’s Damian Cowell’s songs from the 90s zeitgeist by Take 5 podcast

Although Cowell was speaking about Custard, I could not help but think about The Go-Betweens.


The first question that needs addressing is who were or are The Go-Betweens? First, there is the name. David Nichols’ captures some of origins in his book on the band. The obvious reference is to L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, a story about Leo Coulston who is somewhat unknowingly entangled within an affair which leaves his life forever corrupted. However, some of the other ideas were that the music was a go-between ‘night and day’:

McLENNAN: Oh; we were driving along in a car one time; going to the Exchange Hotel. We drove over the bridge there and we were just thinking of a few names and 1 think Rob came up with the Go-Betweens. Because, we since found out, we went between two types of music, maybe, or …
FORSTER: Basically there’s night and there’s day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. – Page 20

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

Or between different styles of music:

To be a go-between was far from a negative role in McLennan and Forster’s eyes. They were in between so many places, swamped by a cultural flood. While they faced the reality of Brisbane, the heat, parental pressure, and the influence of punk rock, they also yearned for New York in the 1960s and 1970s, Paris in the 1920s and 1950s, and were fascinated by Timothy Leary Bob Dylan, Tom Verlaine, Françoise Hardy, Samantha Eggar, Richard Hell, Blondie, and the Erasers. All of this was siphoned through a strange, anomalous Brisbane rock group called the Go-Betweens. – Page 52

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

Interestingly, coming back to Hartley’s novel, Ali Smith describes it as a book about books:

The Go-Between is about books as much as it’s about memory. It’s a model of the importance of rereading (and God knows we treat books lightly – we wouldn’t, after all, expect to know a piece of music properly on just one listen), knowledge and innocence so much part of its structure as to make it a knowingly different book on revisiting. Above all, though, it is a text which works like a charm: books are, in essence, go-betweens, works which conjure rhythm and release across time and history, across places of familiarity and those foreign to us; and personally and individually, too, it’s all a going-between, for every person who picks up a book for a first, then a second, then a third time.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

Replacing the word ‘books’ with ‘music’, maybe the The Go-Betweens are music or a band that go-betweens, across places familiar and foreign. In the end, the name seems to act as a catchall for whatever meaning listeners are willing to apply.


Going beyond the name, the narrative of the band seems just as disputed. The easy answer is to focus on myth surrounding the two songwriters, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster. They met while studying at University of Queensland, before deciding to form a band on Forster’s behest. Interestingly, Foster was interested in creating a band as an idea:

If a musician couldn’t be found, a friend could be taught. It then followed that a group could be cast like a play or a movie. – Page 25

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

Although many compare the partnership between Foster and McLennen as some sort of Australian Lennon and McCartney, there inspiration was as much groups like The Monkees and the ‘band as a flagship’:

FORSTER: Grant and I used to look at products. As a game, I’d go round the kitchen and pick up something like Vegemite. And we’d rattle off five or ten advertising slogans. Products around the kitchen. We were flying! We thought we were geniuses. The band was always the flagship: “If the band becomes famous, everyone’s going to be interested in these ideas. We’ve got to get famous.” The group was the get-famous thing—once that happened, we could go. ‘‘Surprise, surprise, everybody, yeah, we’re pop stars but we’ve got all these other ideas and we’re goddamn flickin’ geniuses. You thought you were only getting two moptop pop stars, what you’re getting is Truffaut and Godard! We’re the Orson Welles of rock.” It didn’t happen. – Page 70

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

However, The Go-Betweens story is far more complicated than a story about two songwriters.

In My Rock n Roll Friend, Tracey Thorn makes the case that The Go-Betweens are really a classic trio whose true story starts and finishes with Lindy Morrison.

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. – Page 40

Source: My Rock n Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn

Morrison was the drummer for much of the eighties, before McLennan and Forster dramatically pulled the pin on the band. She defied the “fantasies of a chic little French girl” that Foster and McLennan may have intially had. Instead, she provided a particular edge and perspective.

Underplaying Lindy’s contribution does not just do her a disservice: it is self-defeating. It makes them a less interesting band, saddling them with a dull identity when they had a bright and interesting one. It is their final act of self-sabotage. – Page 200

Source: My Rock n Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn

In addition to Morrison, there are others, such as Amanda Brown, Robert Vickers and John Wilsteed, whose legacies served in making the band more than just a duo. Let alone the later additions of Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson when the band reformed in the late 90’s.


Although I listened to all the albums in order, I feel they can be organised into two groups. The original line-up featuring Morrison on drums ending with 16 Lovers Lane and the reformed line-up.

The Original Line-Up

Send Me a Lullaby
Before Hollywood
Spring Hill Fair
Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express
Tallulah
16 Lovers Lane

Reformed Line-Up

The Friends of Rachel Worth
Bright Yellow Bright Orange
Oceans Apart

I am not sure if it was because, out of all their albums, I had listened to 16 Lovers Lane the most, but listening to the early albums in more depth and detail felt a little like one of those word puzzles where you change one letter each step until the whole word has changed.

Send Me a Lullaby is an albums that feels like it is trying to find itself.

Released in 1981, it now sounds very much of its time: jerky, influenced by all sorts of even jerkier-sounding British post-punk bands like Gang of Four, the Raincoats and the Slits.

Source: The last time I saw Grant – Griffith Review by Andrew Stafford

Beyond Hollywood adds hooks and texture to develop a more complete sound.

Where Send Me a Lullaby was fragile and occasionally faltering, yet still possessed of an uplifting resonance, Before Hollywood is a more complete album. Endearing as their vulnerability was, the Go-Betweens now play with confidence and solidity, though still with an edge . . . [here] they offer ten deceptively simple pop songs that pack an emotional impact just below a skin of finely wrought and realised melody and rhythmic attack. – Page 209

Source: Stranded by Clinton Walker

With Spring Hill Fair, gone is the contrast between fast and slow of their early albums. This is replaced with the attempt at a slicker pop sound.

With synthesized rhythms—about half the drum tracks are programmed—and “slick” sounds, the album sounds the way a major-label debut is supposed to sound. There may, then, be no readily identifiable reason why Spring Hill Fair doesn’t quite seem to come up to scratch. Perhaps it‘s that the diversity of the songs prevents it from coming together as a cohesive whole.

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nicholls

Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express parks the technological experimentation, instead going for a more organic approach.

The production credit for Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (what a wonderfully pretentious title) was going to read, ‘The Go-Betweens and Richard Preston’. There’d be no drum machines, no piecemeal recording, no acquiescence to a higher authority – we were experienced enough in the studio, and flying on the strength of our demoed songs and Richard’s easy, collaborative ways. Our intention was to expand upon the crisp, woody sound of Before Hollywood, to include a grander, more exotic range of instrumentation – vibraphone, oboe, piano accordion, and, at Grant’s suggestion and to my apprehension, a string section. But he was right; we were making music and living lives that demanded strings. And we had a crack rhythm section, with Robert’s swinging melodic bass and Lindy’s signature rolls and fills, inventive and sturdy under every song. – Page 113

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

Tallulah is an experimentation in sound and texture. For me, it sounds like a search for the right formula, something of a ‘what if’ album.

Among fans of the Go-Betweens, there’s a school of thought that every second album they made was better than its predecessor: the first exploring a style, the second perfecting it, before they would immediately move on to a new form. In this way, the Go-Betweens’ parameters kept expanding, like Chinese boxes.

Source: The last time I saw Grant – Griffith Review by Andrew Stafford

16 Lovers Lane trades in the funk grooves and distortion of Tallulah, instead replacing this with a bed of acoustic guitars. Although it is heavily produced, leading to some songs being difficult to reproduce live, it still feels subtle and subdued.

I had trouble with 16 Lovers Lane for a long time. It wasn’t until the late nineties that I recognised the album for what it was – a pop record, a far but tine side of what we were as a band. With its spiralling guitars and narcotic groove it became an influential album in noughties pop. On its release my fear was that the production obscured the grit in the songwriting, the added heart Grant and I had put into our lyrics. – Page 140

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

I find listening to the reformed albums, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Bright Yellow Bright Orange and Oceans Apart, interesting. There are the usual hooks and melodies, but no matter how much I listen, they do not gel like the early albums.

I wonder if they miss the ‘Go-Betweens drama’ as Amanda Brown has put it or if a part of this disappointment is my own listening experience? I was left wondering whether maybe they missed the flourishes from the likes of Willsteed and Brown? I also wonder if there is something about getting six, seven and eight records in? This also left me thinking about the challenges in listening back through a whole catalogue? When asked about album reviews and music criticism, Caroline Polachek suggested that:

Music criticism is not a review of the album you just made, its a review of your career up to that point. – Caroline Polachek

Source: This Generation’s Caroline Polachek by Switched on Pop

Maybe it just is not possible to listen to their later albums without comparing or even placing them within the context of their time.


One of the things that I found interesting about doing this deep dive is that growing up with the singles, it can be hard to appreciate evolution that I imagine most bands go through it. In addition to this, it provided a deeper appreciation of the music. Bopping along with the jangly guitar of their ‘striped sunlight sound’, with mentions of love and emotions, it is easy to be lulled into their music. However, to come back to Cowell’s point about anchovies, I found that digging into The Go-Betweens more akin to zucchini chocolate cake. When you move beyond the surface, there are often ingredients that surprise you. Maybe this is what made them what they were, while at the same time prevented them from ever quite making it into the mainstream.


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Some bands peak early. Almost all the great ones, however, take several years to hit their stride. Andrew Stafford ‘Pig City’

Andrew Stafford explores the Brisbane music scene between 1975 and 2005. The book discusses the place and politics that laid the foundation to the music scene. Stafford dives into groups such as The Saints, The Go-Betweens, The Apartments, The Riptides, Died Pretty, Kev Carmody, Tex Perkins, Screamfeeder, Custard, Regurgitator, Powderfinger and Savage Garden. This is tided together with investigations of various cultural and historical institutions that were integral to the change, such as the Curry House, Triple Zed, the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and the Livid Festival.

Although I had read David Nichols’ The Go-Betweens, Robert Forster’s Grant and I, Tracey Thorn’s My Rock n Roll Friend, and Clinton Walker’s Stranded, I did not really appreciate the politics of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Although not quite East Berlin described in Anna Funder’s Stasiland, it certainly seems a world away from the Melbourne music scene. For me, it really put criticisms of ‘Dictator Dan‘ in perspective.

I also enjoyed Stafford’s book for the insight it provided to various artists, such as Custard and Powderfinger. For example, I was shocked at Darren Middleton’s glam metal beginnings:

Darren Middleton was recruited to add the requisite metallic flash after the band discovered him strutting his stuff in a glam-metal band called Pirate. Middleton, now probably the least showy member of Powderfinger, has never heard the end of it since.

Ian Haug: He was doing the shred thing, dancing on the tables with a wireless guitar. He was into Dokken and all those terrible bands and we thought he was just the sort of idiot we needed! He was really funny.

While I was intrigued by the endeavor of the COW (Country Or Western), Dave McCormick’s band before Custard, to be the something akin to the Wild Bunch.

Robert Moore had imagined COW as a musical collective similar to the Wild Bunch behind the first Massive Attack album, where a virtual reserve bench of musicians would be on call to play gigs or recordings. Often the band would be joined on stage by backing vocalists the Sirloin Sisters, twins Maureen and Suzie Hansen; at other times, former Go-Between John Willsteed and occasional Queensland Symphony Orchestra violinist John Bone would jump up to add their own flourishes.

All in all, Pig City is a great read that helps with appreciating some of complex the roots to Australian music.


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Basically there's night and there's day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. (Robert Forster) David Nichols ‘The Go-Betweens’

David Nichols’ book on The Go-Betweens was first published in 1997. Capturing their rise in the late 70’s until their initial demise in the late 80’s. I read the third revision published in 2011, which included a postscript discussing the reforming of the band in the late nineties until McLennan’s death in 2006. It often ties together original source material with more recent interview material from those in and around the band in a similar vein to Clinton Walker’s Stranded.

Although Nichols’ captures The Go-Betweens rise and fall and rise again, it is feels somewhat lopsided towards the bands initial rise. From Robert Forster and Grant McLennan meeting at university, the early desires to form a band as a flagship for other endeavors, the various local and international influences, and the roll of Lindy Morrison. Once the band started producing records, the book becomes somewhat more methodical.

In some ways I could imagine this book just being about the band’s early years. In regards to ideas, I think that this early period is often more telling. I think this is why Jarvis Cocker’s memoir Good Pop, Bad Pop works. Although as Tracey Thorn captures in her book on Lindy Morrison, this retelling can often lead to mythologising.

I remember reading an online comment left by a reader prior to starting it, criticising the fact that it did not provide anything about the band that you could not find online. This is not something Nichols’ necessarily denies. However, when it was first released in 1997, the internet was only in its infancy. As Nichols attests,

This book is largely a pre-internet work and, it turns out, one of the last of its kind. – Page 270

Additionally, I wonder how much credit needs to go to people like Nichols for the fact that you can find so much information on the band online. He talks about the fact that he actually donated his research to the National Film and Sound Archive. I feel that Kriv Stenders’ documentary Right Here would not be possible without Nichols’ work.


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These are the ways in which the stories of women get told – in music, in art, in literature, in science. I think about the women who are silenced by encounters with disparaging, or predatory, men; the women who think they are working as equal partners only to find their names left off the credits; the women who work to their own rules and are then patronised for not knowing the real ones; and I remember how much sheer bloody determination it takes to keep forcing yourself back into the narrative, back to centre stage. Tracey Thorn ‘My Rock 'n' Roll Friend’

My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend is the story of Lindy Morrison told by Tracey Thorn. It is compiled from a range of sources, including interviews, letters between the two artists, diary entries provided by Morrison herself, as well as existing accounts of The Go-betweens, such as an interview with Andrew Denton and Kriv Stenders’ documentary Right Here.

On the one hand Thorn goes into Morrison’s life in The Go-Betweens as you would expect. However, she goes beyond the tales told by and about Robert Forster and Grant McLennan as ‘the indie Lennon and McCartney’ to provide a different perspective on how things were with an attempt to correct the record.

I have carried with me all the way through the writing of this book this particular line from Rebecca Solnit’s essay [Grandmother Spider] as a template for what I’ve tried to do, the way in which I want to reclaim Lindy’s story, to save it before it’s too late and to add it to all the other lost stories. To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your own fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not just straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out. Why does it matter that Lindy has been partly written out of the story of the band? Because it happens all the time. LOCATION 2618

Thorn makes the claim that the band were always really a classic three-piece, with other members coming and going:

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. LOCATION 485

Appealing to the reality beyond the myth surrounding Forster and McLennan’s friendship, Thorn suggests that denying Morrison’s contribution is the ‘final act of self-sabotage’.

Underplaying Lindy’s contribution does not just do her a disservice: it is self-defeating. It makes them a less interesting band, saddling them with a dull identity when they had a bright and interesting one. It is their final act of self-sabotage. LOCATION 2481

Thorn, also broadens out to provide a different perspective on Morrison, one that goes beyond the ‘force of nature’:

When it comes to describing you, everyone uses the same phrase: a force of nature. I do it myself in Bedsit Disco Queen: ‘as for Lindy, well, she was a sheer force of nature, an Amazonian blonde ten years older than me, unshockable, confrontational and loud’.

Your friend Marie Ryan says in the liner notes to a Go-Betweens box set: ‘She was a force of nature, brash, opinionated and loud.’

Writer Clinton Walker says: ‘Lindy, is, as we know, this force of nature, and she’s very attractive in that, you know, and she can be a FUCKING NIGHTMARE.’

Peter Walsh doesn’t use the actual phrase, but comes close:

Lindy Morrison. Her great, upending, tumultuous, machine-gun laugh . . . SHE SPOKE, IF NOT LIVED, EXCLUSIVELY IN CAPSLOCK, a Klieg light in a roomful of 40 watt bulbs. Describing her quickly exhausted all possible weather metaphors. Gales of laughter, gusts of enthusiasm, a storm of personality that broke in every room.

An interview in Hero magazine says: ‘Lindy Morrison is an excitable girl. Some would say volcanic.’ LOCATION: 924

Thorn explores Morrison’s life before The Go-Betweens, her discovery of feminism, work with Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, relationships with Denis Walker, activism in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland, participation in the world of theatre, hitching around Europe, and playing in punk group, Xero. However, most importantly, Thorn captures a more more human fragile side to Morrison, especially when exploring Morrison’s letters she used to write to herself when growing up.

When I learn about the child and teen she used to be, they are not immediately recognisable to me as the Lindy I thought I knew. The uncertainty, the self-doubt, the miseries suffered over her appearance – they’re at odds with my image of her. I had formed a first impression of her as a textbook heroine: a bold adventurer, no one’s plaything, no one’s victim. But I created that myself, out of almost nothing. LOCATION 1607

As Kitty Empire highlights, “this is a book about more than music.” It captures identity, friendship, culture, Gina Arnold suggests that, “the book is a reminder of the present, with Thorn using Morrison’s story to show the myriad ways that women continue to be underserved in the world of rock, despite being integral to it on every level.”

Listening to The Go-Betweens albums, I have always felt that they all seemed to lead to 16 Lovers Lane. However, after reading Thorn’s account, I have been left thinking that another way of viewing the before and after 16 Lovers Lane is a story of Lindy Morrison and everything that she brought to the ‘three piece’. I was also reminded about Ann Powers’ discussion of ‘band guys‘ wondering what she might add to this conversation.


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The actions that define culture are rarely deliberate. Culture is, in many ways, an accumulation of accidents, small gestures and stumbles that somehow end up sticking together like a giant snowball rolling down a hill. Every successful band has the moment when they almost gave up just before their breakthrough; every artistic movement has its rejections, arguments, and fistfights; every book has a graveyard of characters and scenes that were killed to make way for the story. The end result may look neat — libraries of books ordered alphabetically, artworks organized into linear chronologies — but the process of making culture is anything but. - Matt Locke ‘The Hot List: The Rise and Fall of the Singles Chart’

I was recently inspired to read Clinton Walker’s Stranded – The Secret History Of Australian Independent Music by the deaths of Ken West and Chris Bailey. Over the years I have watched various music documentaries exploring Australian music over the years, including Autoluminescent, Something In the Water), Midnight Oil 1984 and The Go-Betweens: Right Here, as well as listened to Damian Cowell’s Only The Shit You Love podcast and Double J’s series on the Big Day Out. However, it occurred to me that although I might have heard many of the names, my understanding of the history of Australian independent music is rather patchy.

My introduction in the 90’s to artists like Tex Perkins, Dave Graney and TISM primarily came via Triple J, Rage and the annual ARIA awards. Although there were programs like The J Files which would provide some of the back stories to artists and their music, for whatever reason, I do not remember these retrospectives addressing the history. For example, it would seem that Perkins giving the bird to Scott Morrison was pretty timid to some of the things he did in the past.

Walker’s book provides something of a ‘thick description‘ of the Australian music scene between 1972 – 1992, the bedrock of much of the music I grew up with.

It took time before my analysis of grunge came together, before I could see what had been under my nose all along—that its roots were Australian as much as anything! That’s perhaps why it never did much for me, because I’d sort of heard it all already. Grunge, the defining Sub Pop/Seattle Sound of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, was basically the sound of Australia’s ’80s underground—the Scientists, the Cosmic Psychos, even the Birthday Party, and bands like Feedtime, Grong Grong, Lubricated Goat and Bloodloss—mixed up with classic early metal, classic early punk and, I’d now add, AC/DC and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.

Not only was Walker there for much of it, but he was a part of it as well.

Stranded is, for better or worse, simply my version of a history.

It goes beyond the world of Countdown, Farnsey and Barnsey, Michael Gudinski and the pub rock scene. Instead, it captures the rise of bands such as The Birthday Party, The Saints, The Triffids, The Hard Ons, The Beasts of Bourbon and The Go-Betweens. As well as the many other bands and artists who seemingly came and went.

Some of things that stood out to me were:

  1. How fluid, volatile and connected tge scene seemed to be. Often one band would demise only to have members pop-up in another band, if they were not already in more than one band.
  2. Hearing some of this music was incredibly hard. Whereas these days we might go online to listen or purchase new music, finding some of these pressings would have involved going to a handful of niche record stores.
  3. Place of covers. With so many bands forming on a whim, covers seem to play an important role in filling out a set or helping to define a bands sound. I feel that Walker’s latest book, Suburban Songbook, might have more to say on this.
  4. How many moving parts there were and are. It can be easy to think that success is all just about the music, but there are so many other parts at play. Whether it be the labels, the record stores, the local radio stations, the magazines, the venues, the promoters, the managers, the producers. Each play their own particular part in the rise and fall.

What amazes me about this book is that Walker was able to remember what he did. As he posits:

They say that if you remember the ’60s you can’t have been there. So much about the ’80s I can’t remember either. My journalism brings a lot back; I can’t help wondering if the rest isn’t best forgotten.

I guess the task of remembering is often ruefully aided with snipets from the artists in question that help provide further perspective and fill out some of the gaps.

There is so much more that I would love to know. This was the feeling I had after listening to Damian Cowell too. However, as Walker suggests, maybe sometimes it is best left forgotten.


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"Nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return." Milan Kundera - Ignorance

Although a little late, here is the music that soundtracked 2021 for me and how it kept me surprised.

Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land – Marina

I always love serendipitous discoveries. Bored one day, I created a set of arbitrary rules on Spotify to decide what I would listen to. It was something like clicking on the fifth artist in the ‘Fans Also Liked’ three times. Doing this, I came upon Muna’s remix of Marina’s track Man’s World and I went from there.

I feel like this album has a bit of everything. There are aspects of slick pop production, balanced with a mix of punk, all done with a touch of melodrama. Overall, it is shouty without actually shouting. As Damian Morris explains:

Anti-misogyny manifesto pop could easily become clumsy and overwrought, but the joy Marina invests into her mannered, quasi-operatic delivery makes sedition sound seductive.

Sixty Summers – Julia Stone

It is interesting how there are some artists that you overlook because you presume you already know what they are about only to discover a whole other side that you were unaware of. In 2020 it was Sufjan Stevens, while in 2021 it was Julia Stone.

It is easy to imagine another version of Sixty Summers at the hand of somebody like Stuart Price. Although it always threatens, it is always held back. Whether it be the tempo or the particular mix. Overall, I really liked the delicate and sparse nature of this album. In part this is a product of Stone’s voice, but I also feel it is result of Thomas Bartlett and Annie Clark production.

Deep States – TFS

There is a quote from Peter Goldsworthy that I come back to again and again, “cartoon descriptions, how else to describe a cartoon world.” I think that there is something to be said about TFS being the soundtrack for the current crisis. As Gareth Liddiard suggests, maybe the world has just caught up with a perspective they have been plying for years.

“With TFS, I think the world just caught up to our thing. We’ve been plying our trade for years and I think the world has finally become as anxious and neurotic as we’ve always sounded,” says Liddiard.

I must admit, there are times when I listen to TFS and I just feel kind of stupid for not following all the references littered within the music. Maybe that it how it is meant to be, not sure. Overall though there is something compelling about it that just keeps me there. There are moments where the clouds clear and clarity shines through, such as in GAFF.

I’ll take the wages of sin over the minimum wage I’d blow myself up too, man, it’s been one of them days But I’m not a kamikaze, I don’t wanna die a martyr I’m just looking for a latte and a fucking phone charger

Divine Intervention – Client Liaison

I remember seeing Client Liaison perform for the first time for ABC’s New Years Eve This Night is Yours concert. One cannot help be transfixed. Are they for real? I guess artifice comes in many shapes and sizes.

Divine Intervention is an album in search of higher power. There is something about their slick sound that leaves me both full and yet wanting more. In some ways, just as Roger and Brian Eno’s album felt like the perfect album for the start of the pandemic and the world wide lockdown, Divine Intervention seems the right album to shake out the blues and get out on the dancefloor again and the new normal, even if that dancefloor still may be alone in a kitchen with headphones.

Only the Shit You Love – Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine

Damian Cowell has a knack of taking a morsel of an idea to its nth degree. In the age where bands release a series of singles prior to the album launch, Cowell took this a step further releasing his who album on a weekly basis as a YouTube series, until finally release the album as a whole.

Only the Shit You Love is a snapshot of the modern world.

The modern world, product placement, continuous improvement, the culture of engagement, the diminution of language, the moronisation of television, imposter syndrome, subjectivity, my career demise, the heard instinct, popularism, the death of reason, nostalgia, love, lose, tolerance and friendship.

As always, it contains Cowell’s usual witty observations on the world. However, one of the changes to the first two Disco Machine albums was exploration of different dynamics and tempos. The usual upbeat tracks are still present, but they are contrasted by a number of slower numbers. Overall, coupled with a weekly podcast, this album was the perfect ailment for what felt like a perpetual lock-down.


One of the things that music offered me in 2021 was a sense of surprise. With so much of life in lockdown somewhat mundane, these albums each in their own was offered something new, unexpected and seemingly novel.

So what about you? What albums soundtracked your 2021? Were there any themes that tied things together? As always, comments welcome.


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When the world stopped, music continued. Its power was more vital than ever, providing comfort in times of great anxiety and loneliness, and adding fuel to the righteous anger that exploded across the planet. Music itself rarely fixes anything: it’s not medicine, listening to a beautiful piece of art doesn’t absolve you of the need to confront the issues this year has brought on. It does help, though. A lot. When things are grim, it can get you through. Sometimes that’s all we can hope for. At least for the moment. Great music, and the communities that have formed around it, will be one of the best legacies our generation will leave. This year did not test that, it brought the importance of this art and those who make it work to the fore.

A reflection on the music that represented my soundtrack for 2020.


With 2020 a strange year on so many levels, here is the music that tied it all together.

The Slow Rush – Tame Impala

I am sure that some might be put off by Parker’s move to ‘deft auteur-pop synergy‘, however I found this to be the first Tame Impala album to really capture my attention. Although the album touches on themes of nostalgia, lose, anxiety and inner peace, first and foremost I feel this album offers up a sound that envelopes you.

As a producer, Parker has more moving parts to balance this time, but he arrives at a deft auteur-pop synergy in which every last decision, down to the assorted cathedral-like reverb effects that lend his voice an otherworldly aura, become as intrinsic to the music as the melodies or the words. Though there’s a lot going on in the latticework of the music — springy analog synthesizer arpeggios, guitars doing unguitarlike things, layers upon layers of pastel lushness — the post-psychedelic swirl of The Slow Rush registers as an organic blend, with the songs never feeling cluttered or too tightly scripted.

Written before the onset of the coronavirus, it has been fascinating to listen to it in this new light. This was an experience that also happened with Run the Jewel’s RTJ4 and the death of George Floyd. Take for example the lines from One More Year:

Not worryin’ if I get the right amount of sleep (One more year) Not carin’ if we do the same thing every week (One more year)

Or On Track:

But strictly speaking, I’m still on track Strictly speaking, I’m holding on More than a minor setback But strictly speaking, I’m still on track And all of my dreams are still in sight ‘Cause strictly speaking, I’ve got my whole life

Or Tomorrow’s Dust:

I was blinded by a memory Like it’s someone else, like it wasn’t me And there’s every chance I’ll be learning fast And the day will come and then it will pass

It has also been interesting to see Tame Impala address the constraints of performing/promoting these tracks. After turning to solo performances, they have since morphed into a synthpop setup, driven by sequences and drum machines. In part, this was due to some members not being in Perth, but one wonders if this is where Parker was heading anyway.  It will be intriguing to see how much of this persists in the long term.

Folklore – Taylor Swift

This year produced a number of albums that were clearly responses to the situation at hand. For example, Charli XCX stripped things back to what she had on hand with her quarantine album, How I’m Feeling Now. Taylor Swift used the opportunity to explore a different collaborators, sounds and storytelling.

With folklore, Swift has made a self-consciously minor transitional album, a grand readjustment. She’s nailed it. Swift, it turns out, is one of the few great pop chameleons to come along in recent years. She was great at gleaming Walmart country. She was great at bright-plastic global-domination ultra-pop. She was a bit less great at quasi-trap club music, but she made do. And now she’s great at lightly challenging soft-thrum dinner party music.

Although Antonoff features on the album, Swift used Folklore and the sister album, Evermore, as an occasion to team up with Aaron Dessner from The National. What I find interesting is that the album is a departure for all parties. Although some would like to pigeon hole Antonoff, his oeuvre has shown nuance. While it feels like Dessner further unpacks some of the sounds explored with The National’s I am Easy to Find, as well as Big Red Machine.

With its woodsy black-and-white art, not to mention its title, Folklore advertises itself as an expected pop-star maneuver: the “back to basics” or “stripped down” revelation. But the album’s more complex than that, and does not conjure the image of Swift slumped over a guitar for an acoustic set. With the producers Aaron Dessner (of the indie band The National) and Jack Antonoff (the rock singer turned pop-star whisperer), she swims through intricate classical and folk instrumentation largely organized by the gridded logic of electronic music. Melancholy singers of ’90s rock radio such as Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan seem to guide Swift’s choices, as do contemporaries such as Lana Del Rey and Lorde. The overall effect is eerie, gutting, and nostalgic. If Folklore is not apt for summer fun, it is apt for a year in which rambunctious cheer and mass sing-alongs have few venues in which to thrive.

Although it is possible to find correlations with Swift’s past albums, what previously was at the edge is placed front and centre. There has been some conjecture about whether these tracks will fit with Swift’s stadium spectaculars, this was one of the reasons she gave for her live recording with Antonoff and Dessner. At the very least, with the absence of the traditional pop singles, it is at refreshing is to hear a track like Cardigan played on mainsteam radio.

Djesse Vol 3 – Jacob Collier

There are some albums that stick straight-away, while others take a bit more time. Djesse is one that took time to sink in. Collier’s tendency to mash-up so many ideas and sounds can sometimes be an affront to the pop senses. I think what helped was not only appreciating the tunes, but also the sonic world Collier created.  However, I feel this uncanny experience is somewhat intentional. As Collier explained in his Switched on Pop interview with his exploration of unfamilar keys and new sounds. When it clicks though there is a certain joy and exuberance that cannot be escaped.

Collier claims that Djesse is a quarantine album both in its sound and structure.

“Djesse Vol. 3,” recorded remotely, is “really a quarantine album,” he said. One of the songs, “He Won’t Hold You,” with Rapsody, “is about coming to peace with being alone. So much of my process is a solitary one. I wanted to craft a journey that described that—a mixture between very chaotic sounds that wrapped themselves around you and a simple melody that can rock you to sleep.”

However, it could also be argued that he has been building to this moment. Not only has he always recorded and produced his own music, but he also has tendency to push what is possible to the limits. Whether it be singing ahead of the beat to perform duets over Zoom, using Source Connect to capture recordings from around the world or performing as a one-man band, Collier is always innovating.

The Ascension – Sufjan Stevens

WIth The Ascension, Sufjan Stevens takes a step back to drag the listener in. There are many pop elements within all the layered synths and beats, however the mix always feels held back. Rather than sad bangers, Stevens’ presents what he labels ‘rage-bangers‘. In the hustle bustle of lockdown life and political upheaval, the album provides a point of meditation. Jon Pareles describes it as, “more metaphysical than biographical.“. While Grant Sharples argues, although it may not be the optimistic answer we may be craving for, it captures the current air of contemplation.

Though it’s still an incredible album, The Ascension better suits the cynicism of 2020. It feels banal to say that, but The Ascension isn’t exactly the optimistic salve that people may be looking for in 2020. Fans can find solace in this colossal work, sharing Stevens’ valid sentiment that, simply put, everything sucks right now.

Lost in all the sounds and starts, Sam Sodomsky compares the album to a big-budget IMAX movie.

Don’t get too hung up on the plot—just tilt back your head and watch him float.

Kate Miller-Heidke – Child in Reverse

Whether it be The Weeknd, Dua Lipa, Washington, Washed Out, The Naked and Famous, Empress Of or Sylvan Esso, there have been some great pop albums released this year. However, the one that stood out to me was Kate Miller-Heidke’s Child in Reverse. Her sense of authenticity and honesty, as well as the measured production reminds me of Lorde’s Melodrama. Whereas, Lorde’s album recounts her transition into the adult world, Miller-Heidke is looking back on life with a sense of acceptance of who she is and forgiveness for any misgivings.

It’s hard to separate Miller-Heidke’s musical theatre dalliances from songs like ‘Twelve Year Old Me’. Her storytelling is so precise and the imagery so vivid that you could transplant it into a theatrical setting with ease. Her balance of poignance and playfulness has always set her apart, and there are countless moments on this record that highlight how emotionally commanding she can be, without coming across overbearing.

Some of the tracks came out of an APRA SongHub songwriting weekend. She signed up after going through a phase of writer’s block. Miller-Heidke reflects upon the experience of working with Evan Klar and Hailey Collier and the benefit of letting the songs live through the ‘ears and hearts of others’:

It actually needs to live and breathe through the ears and hearts of others, and sometimes that can paradoxically make it sound more personal and more intimate. Sometimes other people can just help you distill what you’re saying down to an essence.

The album was produced by Klar. Miller-Heidke explains what she felt he brought to the table.

[Klar’s] arrangements are a little bit strange and surprising, but they’ve got this sparkly, airy sweetness and I think that style compliments my voice beautifully.

His aesthetic as a producer is what really drew me to his work, and made me want to work with him across the whole record. These are all sounds that come out of his computer, but there’s such a warmth and analog humanity there. They are imperfect sounds, but there is so much sparkle and air to them. What he does sounds so beautifully fresh and real to me.

I have always been aware of Miller-Heidke’s music and appreciated her virtuosity. However, I was always a little put off by her vocal gymnastics. This album changed all that for me.

We Will Always Love You – The Avalanches

This album was on the periphery for a while, with various teasers released throughout 2020. However, it was not until the album dropped that the vision for it fell into place. Although there are some great tracks, with my favourite being Wherever You Go, the strength is listening as a whole. Chris Deville describes the this as an odyssey.

Like the other two Avalanches albums, We Will Always Love You is an odyssey. Each track feels like an encounter with some new character or a scenic passageway in between outposts.

Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, with the help of Andy Szekeres, stitch together voices from the past and present in an act of musical remembering. Touching on themes of contemplation and transcendence, Kate Streader describes it as The Avalanches’ own Golden Record.

In many ways, We Will Always Love You is The Avalanches’ own Golden Record, tracking their sonic DNA through an epic list of collaborators who have influenced their sound in some shape or form over the years while exploring love, human connection and our place in the universe.

As with Oneohtrix Point Never, We Will Always Love You feels more like a mix tape, a hopeful one that was needed to end the year with.


With all the talk of the ‘new normal‘ this year, the theme that seems to tie them together is the idea of ‘new beginnings’. Whether it be new collaborations, new sounds, new mindset or new approaches to performance, I feel each of these albums has offered something different.

So what about you? What albums soundtracked your 2020? Were there any themes that tied things together? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.