Review Summary: Why try..
For the past four years, I've spent at least half of my time in Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city and the capital of Queensland, our second-largest state in terms of area. For the most part, I like it here a lot; the people are friendly, the weather is nice for most of the year, it's in close proximity to some of the nicest beaches in the world. In 2009, The Economist rated it the world's 16th most livable city, just above Montreal. Brisbane's cultural contributions are also notable: proto-punks The Saints
, post-punk band The Go-Betweens
, novelist David Malouf, poet Judith Wright are prominent examples. I mention all of this only to note that in spite of it all, Brisbane is still mostly thought of as being a bit of a hole, somewhat by the people of Sydney and Melbourne, but mostly Brisbane residents themselves. 'Third largest city' is a relative concept, particularly when you're situated in the armpit of a country way the *** south of anywhere else in the Western world.
Living in Brisbane, I think, helps me understand why Purplene
, the Steve Albini recorded second and final album from the band of the same name, is such a great record and additionally, why it's so well-regarded by people up here. Purplene originally came from Newcastle, another small and often forgotten about Australian city and after they broke up, members went on to form a number of great Australian bands like Firekites, The Instant and especially Charge Group. The record itself is completely unassuming; a gentle and effortless set of eight songs that combine the prettiest parts of Karate, American Football, Bark Psychosis, and Low in which almost every note seems perfectly placed but with a veneer of complete nonchalance. In comparison with Purplene's first album Ruining it For Everyone
feels like a completely different, far more mature, band. Where the first album went for dynamic, soaring melodies with pronounced rhythms and chord progressions, Purplene
's guitars, drums and vocals, though more complex, create something truly unified. Even in the record's louder moments, no one instrument is ever privileged and no vocal harmony is ever less than subtle.
is (surely due largely to Steve Albini's masterful engineering) a plain-spoken record that simply allows the songs to speak for themselves; there are no guitar effects, and there's no reverb, overdubbing, or any studio trickery to speak of. The record's greatest strength is its shunning of the excesses of the genres it takes its influence from. Songs like "The Battler", with brush-based drumming and twinkly, complex clean guitar patterns avoid the technical excesses of math-rock with simple, gorgeous vocal melodies and harmonies, while more atmospheric tracks like closer "Watch the Watch" avoid the indulgent long-windedness of post-rock by moving steadily through varying sections. And more straight-ahead tracks like "Swords Down" and "Second Shift", with drumming as simple as possible, avoid indie rock cliche by replacing cheesy choruses with deceptively aloof vocal lines. Even lyrically, the record gives a vibe of indifference, with blunt and simple fragments or line that almost seem to come together through free association but that could not be more perfect in communicating linguistically what the songs seem to say musically (best example: the continually repeated 'catching reams of faceless distant enemies' from "The Battler").
On paper, Purplene
might sound like a record that expresses a cool indifference that's typical of far too much indie-rock in 2011. A better description of the record's feel would be resignation. When I think about how gorgeous the melodies of Purplene
are, or how perfectly arranged it is, I feel like it's a record I should frame and display on my wall, perhaps alongside pieces like Talk Talk's Laughing Stock
or Low's Long Division
. But when I go back and listen to it, I know it's an album that would be entirely uncomfortable with such treatment. Instead, Purplene
seems to me a record that when confronted with the respect it deserves, simply smiles and shrugs its shoulders.