In the late 80s and early 90s, I couldn’t get enough of a certain shambling strain of indie rock, marked by varying degrees of sloppiness and incompetence that were countered by a blend of aching sincerity, faux naivete, and catchiness. In the U.S. that aesthetic reached its apotheosis with Beat Happening, a trio from Olympia, Washington, that underlined its gee-whiz artlessness with punk-rock attitude. At the time many acts on K Records, run by Beat Happening capo Calvin Johnson, had a similar vibe. Eventually the label’s growing influence encouraged hundreds of insufferable bands that lacked the talent, vision, or imagination of Beat Happening; it became almost impossible for me to listen to a style of music I’d formerly loved without wanting to throw my stereo on the ground.
Beat Happening had excellent counterparts all over the world, such as Scotland’s Pastels and Australia’s Cannanes, who at times added a folksier element thanks to the gorgeously shaky vocals of bassist Fran Gibson. While that Sydney trio continue to make music, it’s been years since I’ve kept up with them—but I have been thinking about lately, thanks to a much younger Australian three-piece that taps a similar spirit. Melbourne’s Chook Race have knocked me out with their recent second album, Around the House (Trouble in Mind). Though there’s nothing especially naive about their music, the band do have that wonderful shambling quality, as if they’re constantly about to tip over.
Guitarist Matthew Liveriadis and drummer Carolyn Hawkins both sing, and their wobbly vocals remind me plenty of Gibson and Cannanes guitarist Stephen O’Neil. Chook Race display a more sure-handed sense of propulsion than the Cannanes, but the two groups share a similar combination of wide-eyed optimism and dark, almost brooding beauty. The harder-driving tracks (“Pictures of You”) have an early postpunk energy, but most of the tunes amble along at medium tempos, letting the lovely melodies float by with nonchalant elegance. Each time I listen to the album, a different song grabs me, and for today’s 12 O’Clock Track I’m going with my current favorite, “Eggshells,” a fragile number sung by Hawkins.
Robert Ashley, Automatic Writing (Lovely Music)
Eve Egoyan, Weave (Eve)
Bobby Timmons, The Prestige Trio Sessions (Prestige)
Masahiko Satoh & Soundbreakers, Amalgamation (Phoenix)
Magic Slim, Live ‘n Blue (Candy Apple)