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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Album Review: Gianluigi Marsibilio



Beirut ‘Gallipoli’
(4AD) 1st February 2019


A scratch in a forest of familiar sounds.

The new Beirut album is a freaky object, but in some details it revives the old fuses placed by the band on the battleground.

The shining of good past ideas is a necessary work to reaffirm the identity of the Beirut that are exalted in the Farfisa organ and in the galloping sections of winds, as in ‘Family Curse’.

This album follows in the footsteps of an album like March of the Zapotec, throwing us into an ocean of summer images, continental Europe still seen with an eye to the utopia of union. Zach Condon like Thomas More and his island of Utopia draws a world, even today, where contaminations flow and merge win on the walls, closures and fears.

Gallipoli is a bay where the Balkan folk, like Bregovic, can germinate and mix with the ideas of Condon, who uses a very similar instrumentation compared as to that of his previous masterpieces Gulag Orkestar and The Flying Club Cup.

Another peculiarity comes from the choice to capture the record in a fortress in Puglia (Italian region); to reflect by vibrations on the record are the walls of a castle that attaches Beirut not only towards geographical but also historical borders.

Overall, the work is able to light up in pieces like ‘Gallipoli’ or ‘When We Die’, but the feeling is of being in front of a rib, a sequence of the season and not a new and well focused chapter.

The danger of sound homogenization is strong, but with his head held high Condon’s ability to write songs on the thread of wool comes out, with a defined and precise register, a plot now well experienced by Beirut. To attenuate, however, the similarities of the work with the previous discography of the group there is the strong sound contamination that Gallipoli has suffered, while travelling in studios in Italy, Germany and New York.

The ukulele of the first works has disappeared, but the optimistic attitude of Beirut is reflected in background voices, in the raw keyboards and in the wind sections.

Gallipoli is a celebration of the talent of a musician with incredible ideas, so even if not everything is perfectly successful on the album, there is no room for disappointment, tracks like ‘When I Die’ or ‘I Giardini’ are worth it alone.



Words: Gianluigi Marsibilio

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