REVIEW
Dominic Valvona


Mick Harvey - Monolith Cocktail

Mick Harvey   ‘Waves Of Anzac/The Journey’
(Mute)  17th April 2020

Excuse the obligatory uninspired platitudes but Mick Harvey’s first soundtrack release in a decade is a most worthy and stirring orchestration for two poignant themes; the often forgotten story of the ANZACs and their sacrifices and loyal service during both World Wars and, later, Vietnam, and the ongoing crisis of child refugees and people seeking asylum in offshore detention centers scattered throughout the South Pacific atolls.

 

Though it’s been a long time since Harvey released a soundtrack the former Birthday Party bruiser, Bad Seeds and Crime And The City Solution instigator has been busy. Despite being ignored by the majority of press and blogs, his charmingly understated Four (Acts Of Love) album of afflatus paeans and lamentable covers and original numbers, was wholly embraced by the Monolith Cocktail, the only blog, to our knowledge, to both critically endorse it and grant it a coveted place in a ‘choice LPs of the year’ list. In 2014, Harvey alongside Crime and the City Solutions’ Alexander Hacke and Danielle De Picciotto and musical director Paul Wallfisch, formed the nursery grime musical outfit, The Ministry Of Wolves, for a set of theater performances. By way of the Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Sexton’s, even more, macabre revisionist take on the original Brothers Grimm fairy tales, the acclaimed stage production also spawned an LP, Music From Republik De Wölfe. Inspired and finding it far more fun than he originally envisaged, Mick Harvey’s 90s English translations of the louche coffee society genius of wit, salacious and often dark humoured song, Serge Gainsbourg, were given a new lease of life that same year. To coincide with the anniversary of the bawdry polymath’s birth, Harvey’s moiety of homages, Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants were re-issued, followed up with a small number of select live shows in Australia and Europe (including shows at Primavera and London’s Union Chapel). Invigorated by this return to the back catalogue, Harvey and his congruous band mates, which include the assiduous multi-instrumentalist J.P. Shilo and the no-less talented Glen Lewis and Hugo Cran, set up camp in Harvey’s Melbourne base of operations to record another two volumes of Gainsbourg prose, Delirium Tremens and Intoxicated Women. Fast-forward to this year and once more alongside J.P. Shilo, Harvey has been paying another homage. This time to the late knockabout foil Rowland S. Howard. Originally involved with and playing on the maverick’s Teenage Snuff Film and, later, Pop Crimes albums, Harvey has taken part in a tribute concert, whilst his label Mute have recently re-issued those two high influential totems.

 

The Waves Of Anzac/The Journey LP collects together two recent soundtracks of evocative timeless classical gravitas; composed and performed with an attentive touch, only occasionally revving up the unsettling electrified caustic waning specter of the late Scott Walker when scoring the most ominous, tumultuous of moods.

As a concatenate relative to Waves Of Anzac, at the end of last year Harvey collaborated (on yet another project) with Christopher Richard Barkes on the tragic WWI pliant The Fall And Rise Of Edgar Bourchier And The Horrors Of War. Before this and only now seeing the light, the soundtrack to Kriv Stenders 2015 directed Why ANZAC? documentary with Sam Neill was released to coincide with the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign. A campaign that featured the recently formed Australian And New Zealand Army Corps of the acronym title, commanded by General William Birdwood, the concentration of which took part in the ill-fated fight to open up a second front in the bogged-down war against Germany and her Ottoman allies. Even by the standards of the carnage on the Western Front and the badly laid plans of removed generals, this invasion of The Dardanelles was a tragic horror show. Audaciously planned by Churchill with certain fatal assumptions made about the Turkish forces who held the high ground, had knowledge of the terrain and were, unfortunately for the Allies, commanded by the military genius and future young Turk leader of a post-Ottoman Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), many of the antipodeans most hardy, loyal and brave died on the beaches in a eight month slog against tenacious defenders. The final tally of 56,000 Allied deaths included 8,070 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders; disproportionate figures considering the populations of these British overseas territories: a generation lost as they say.





Part of an ABC documentary series on ‘forgotten war stories’, the Aussie actor Neill presented a personal journey and family attachment to that sorry chapter; setting the Gallipoli and Western Front against a contemporary background of political division. Harvey for his part composed a mostly subtle, moving movement of short spiraling strings and atonal searing atmospheric leitmotifs. From melodious ripples to elbowed cello maladies, Waves Of Anzac is both a yearned and moody, with the final timpani and pealing bell tolled ‘The Aftermath’ being the album’s most dark. Though the focus of this album is Gallipoli, half of the tracks reference the ANZACs various actions on The Somme and in Mesopotamia during WWI, and their part in the defense of Greece and Crete during WWII. There’s even a piece of edgy reverberated trauma in motion music for a chapter on Vietnam. Though, in hindsight rather wisely, Britain declined to join the Americans, Australia and New Zealand unfortunately did.

A balance of stain glass lit annotations, the stately and aching; Harvey produces an articulate tribute to the horrors of war.

 

The four-part Journey performance is no less evocative, reflecting as it does the travails and terror of refuges making their way across the Pacific maelstrom towards sanctuary and the hope of asylum. Most of these unfortunate souls however, find themselves metaphorically washed up in detention camps indefinitely, marooned on islets such as Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island. Released in support of #KidsOffNauru, Harvey conducts a tumult mix of chamber and Baroque-pop, an oceanic waltz of dramatic swells and mournful torrents. Harvey and his The Letter String Quartet ensemble track that journey, from the ‘Pyramids’ like Radiohead signature beckoning and lamentable march of ‘Conflict’, through the confusion intense torrid of ‘All At Sea’ to the lulled ethereal choral ‘Hope’.

Classical music with an augmentation of the modern, Waves Of Anzacs/The Journey is an often-understated work of sadness, fear, trauma and also anger that stands well in any period. Harvey offers a moving testament of assured maturity to his subjects, connecting as he does, two different tragedies, from wartime and a so-called peacetime, on one sublime album.



Related posts from the Archives:-

Mick Harvey ‘Delirium Tremens’

Mick Harvey Live At The Oran Mor

Mick Harvey ‘Four Acts Of Love’

Rowland S. Howard ‘Teenage Snuff Film’ & ‘Pop Crimes’



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Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

ALBUM REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA

Vukovar   ‘Puritan’
The Brutalist House,  25th October 2017





Ah, the times in which we find ourselves. Portrayed in a maelstrom of uncertainty, anxiety and utter chaos by the collective forces of the established press and social media, and by reactionaries on all sides of the political divide: from those who envision a Marxist takeover to those losing their shit over fascistic dystopias. Fear and (self) loathing in a post-postmodernist world, all the constructs and old arguments previously, we believed, answered as democracy, and by its extension capitalism, seemed to have won out, are once more dragged to the surface.

No side in the political struggle, left or right and its various iterations however seem capable or ready to handle the personality cult leaderships (of which Corbyn’s own party could be accused) of Trump, Putin, Xi Jinping, and of course ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong-un. They also seem almost powerless to legislate and reign-in the domineering forces of Silicon Valley, which continues, in the name of so-called progress, to manipulate and filter much of the content and media we see and hear; taking over from traditional broadcasting whilst circumnavigating any restrictions and collecting our data for their own nebulous (daresay nefarious) intentions – well perhaps it isn’t that much of a secret, we know that Facebook et al are serious about entering the political fray in one way or another, and their tweaking of the algorithms in future will certainly benefit their own held ideals and leanings.

Yet despite the cataclysmic augers and the visions of the four horsemen appearing on the horizon, history proves that the world keeps spinning through all the bullshit regardless. And so proving that age old adage that history not only keeps on turning but often repeats itself (in a manner) the malcontent romantics Vukovar remind us through their chosen moniker that only a mere twenty odd years before in the infamous Croatian city of the same name, on the EU’s own doorstep, 300 poor souls, mostly Muslims, were rounded up and barbarically executed by Serb paramilitaries and the Yugoslav Peoples Army in what remains one of the worst committed atrocities of its kind since WWII. This was of course during the Balkans implosion of the nineties that followed the defrosting of the Cold War, as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire crumbled. A decade long war that eventually redrew the map of the region, demarcating for the most part, ethnic groups into their own republics and countries, with the most fought over and disputed being the NATO backed Kosovo. In a different part of the world, in the same generation, a similar genocidal persecution of a Muslim minority unfolds in Myanmar. A former darling of the West and liberals, Aung San Suu Kyi has proven to be anything but the democratic champion in the wings, having after a decades long struggle to hold office and take power away from the totalitarian military regime, turned a blind eye to the massacre of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population. Talks are ongoing, though Aung San’s constant stoicism and ‘fake news’ crowing in the face of blatant persecution doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence that the situation will improve anytime soon.

Before this review becomes an all-encompassing purview style essay of the state of affairs throughout the world and the multiple crisis we all face, I’d better stick to the catalyst of this piece and return to Vukovar.

 

Following in the tradition of their three-syllable sloganist album titles, Vukovar’s fourth LP drums home the Puritan mantra and analogies; a cleansing if you will of the status quo, a year zero, and perhaps also a return to the roots and communal deliverance of protest in music – not, I hope, the ‘puritanical’ steeple hat and buckle shoe wearing bible bashing of zealots, burning heretics at the stake, nor the bloody zeal of so many badly turned-out revolutions that end up creating just as terrible a reign of tyranny. The only fires here are the metaphorical kind; a funeral pyre of mediocrity, a bonfire of vanities, the-bland-leading-the-bland towards a conversion of raw intensity, dangerous, shamanistic performed anarchistic rock’n’roll: well I think that’s the idea.

Vukovar have their work cut out in a climate of such chaotic unreasoning, as people tend to turn towards escapism or certainty, even assurance. And so it comes as no surprise to find the creative landscape lacking in ‘danger’, new ideas, and confrontation; with much of the most fiery, interesting music coming from outside North America and Europe.

As the band’s previous album, Fornication showed, Vukovar have at least listened to many of the right bands; released at the start of the year, this amorphous, transmogrified covers style collection featured reconfigured homages to a host of iconic luminaries including David Sylvian, Coil, The Monks, The Birthday Party and Neu!. Cultish in a manner, the band’s influences and manifesto statements of propaganda intent, plus allusions to cultural regicidal and ability to shrink from publicity – even self-sabotage any signs of success or promotion – suggests a band that takes itself very seriously.

Yet even with countless references to history’s outsiders, philosophers, discontent mavericks, revolutionaries and demons throughout their previous trio of albums, and the elegiac resignation that shadows them, they waltz sublimely (for a majority of the time), rather than rage in romanticized contempt, as Olympus slowly grumbles.





I’ve stated in the past that Vukovar sound best when encouraged towards the light of melancholic pop and post-punk than when firing into a cyclone of caustic discord and noisy self-indulgence. Better when they enact Joy Division than say Throbbing Gristle; melody doesn’t necessarily mean commercial; doesn’t necessarily mean compromise, whilst industrial strength misery can grate and test the patience: in a live setting, depending on circumstance, a primal cacophony is just what’s needed; captured on record for posterity, it better be good and have some meaning beyond the atmosphere of the studio on the day it was recorded. Thankfully the band seem to have reigned-in the chaos and used it wisely and sparingly. Puritan however is closer to the debut Emperor, inasmuch as it balances the group’s dynamic forces of tortured-soul poetry and violent more aggressive tormented bursts of churning hell and occasional screaming.

Between the Gothic skulking and crystalline rays of shared 80s synth new romanticism Vukovar wander transfixed in a nightmare state of both despair and indolent antagonism; with stark lyrics more descriptively visceral than forced down the listener’s throat. Donning the vestiges of the Puritan, the front man, an amalgamation vocally of both Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner, sets the scene (“I am a sinful man, yet an honest man”) to a backing track of slung low growled bass, Jesus and Mary Chain’s bastardize Spector drum death knells and the miasma threat of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds on the opening inflicted and gradually ascendant Nietzsche propound Übermensch.

Pounding away like the BRMC on the life and death rock’n’roll discordant Veil, a tension is first released and then carried over with sinister effect on The Leadership Is My Light: the singer channeling Trent Reznor at Lynch’s Bang Bang Bar stage and Berlin era Crime And The City Solution as he shrieks “I am nothing!” repeatedly on one of the album’s most ominous seedy doomed outpourings of daemonic grief.

Waltzing once more through a gloomy dreamscape, joined for the first of a trio of tracks that feature the daemonic siren folksy vocals of Elizabeth Menally, Once More For The Puritan is a pendulous duet bordering on esoteric shoegaze, and despite its mantra title is anything but puritanical, consulting as it sounds with spirits and hallucinogenic substances. The first of two traditional song translations, and again featuring Menally, who floats in the ether with fateful ghost like calls, the old Appalachian via even older Celtic roots Down In The Willow Garden lament continues in the haunted vein. The macabre beckons, as in a fashion, Menally and Vukovar echo the murder ballad partners Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue; our protagonist inching towards the gallows after doing away with his lover in all manner of diabolical ways, the spirit of his love cooing from a maelstrom of spiraling dread from beyond a watery grave.

The second old faithful, All The Pretty Little Horses – itself a handed-down version of the hush-a-bye lullaby – is given a bewitching enchanting treatment that suggests foreboding rather than comfort and a good night’s sleep.

A second guest spot is reserved for the Lancashire actor, writer and producer, and owner of an equally disenchanted weary ominous voice, Graham Duff, who narrates a despondent eulogy full of death throes, destruction and adages over the two-part A Final Solution. The first part of which is starker, delivered over a drone, the second part submerging his speech beneath a merger of Radiohead, The Stooges and Joy Division influences, and the repeated vocal line, “Without you I’m an empty space”.

If Vukovar were in the business of releasing singles, then the trio of tracks in the last half of the album would prove ideal. I’ve already featured the group’s precursor to Puritan, the rapturous OMD joining Echo & The Bunnyman and The The on Nero’s veranda, A Clockwork Dance – launched on bandcamp in the run-up to this latest album -, but equal contenders for the single status are the Tubeway Army-Visage-OMD(again) melding synth pop indie crawl through the wastelands The Moment Severed, and the brilliantly dark throbbing Radiohead-esque S.S.S.

 

The most complete and best produced encapsulation of Vukovar’s sound yet, balancing both their experimental raw and ritualistic live performances with melancholic post-punk, and even brooding new romanticism pop, Puritan offers a travail through the dirge and gloom of our (end) times with all its sinful and cleansing, often biblical, connotations and language. Though it also often sounds like some kind of personal tortured Nick Cave love requiem, unfolding in the midst of chaos; looking over the edge into the abyss, the heretics taking over the asylum.




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