Vivid Sydney daily report#2: Efterklang, Modularand APRA Song Summit
Sun 27th May, 2012 in Local News
Modular with Tom Vek, Jonathan Boulet & Kindness – Caitlin Welsh
This being a Modular party, the Studio was inevitably dotted with posses of identikit bros, gussied-up American Apparel types and escapees from the State Home For The Unintentionally Hilarious – the best examples of the latter had unfortunately found their way behind the decks between bands, tag teaming some really average semi-ironic funk and house and giggling into their glasses of bubbly when they fucked up a crossfade. Between doors and Boulet, though, Purple Sneakers DJs were on the case, with a great set full of dreamy beats from the likes of Chad Valley and Kitty Pryde.
Jonathan Boulet has kept up a regular pattern of new singles in the lead-up to his second album (out on June 8, he assures the crowd). The leader so far, You’re An Animal, takes his signature sound – simple, almost formless melodies, delivered in playground chanting and call-and-response and armoured in a cascade of thunderous drums and cymbals – and ramps it up to a frenetic battle cry. The crowd visibly leans forward to bellow the titular lyric at the bandwidth all their might. The other fresh tracks on offer include newest offering This Song Is Called Ragged – a jaunty, piping melody that plunges into a heavy reiteration of itself, showing why Boulet is still head-and-shoulders above any of the cookie-cutter bill-padding local bands peddling Afro-culty shimmer pop. (He’s got most in common with Lousiana outfit Givers, who also mix joyful, spontaneous-sounding raucousness with a dark, precise undercurrent of relentless, even overwhelming percussion and influence from jazz or improvisational backgrounds.) With an extra pair of floor toms out the front, percussion remains the backbone of Boulet’s songs; another under-the-radar recent single, Trounce, sees him lead the band in a short but seriously brutal, full-throttle metal throwdown. That beard is clearly a sign of bigger, grizzlier things to come.
London’s Kindness have a solid groove going – great drummer, bouncy bass, two cute backing singers – but leader Adam Bainbridge is a black hole of charisma. Looking like Tiny Tim in patent winklepickers, snapping pictures of the crowd and repeating his one dance move, a pigeon-toed, wiggly-ankled shuffle, his voice is spectacularly unremarkable. Occasionally, when he drops into his lower register over a slower number, he sounds like Richard Cheese, which is entertaining. Their cover of The Replacements’ Swingin Party is like a limp, clammy handshake, and Jai Paul’s Jasmine is transformed into an anaemic ballad; the girls take the lead on That’s Alright, a saucy New Power Generation-style jam that mainly serves to highlight how bloodless the rest of the set is. The crowd seems enthused though, enough to pack onto the stage during the final song to dance awkwardly, just stand there or fuck with the drum kit – clearly they’re not all up there in a spontaneous fit of self-expression brought on by the undeniable groove. Bainbridge stops the song, politely asks people not to touch the instruments, and then tries and eventually fails to get the band back on track. He does something with the DJ equipment, waves perfunctorily and wanders offstage. My companion jolts awake at the applause.
Tom Vek is making his Australian debut with this show, having released one acclaimed album in 2005, We Have Sound, and its follow-up Leisure Seizure just last year. Unlike a host of post-punk-inflected 2005 debutants, Vek didn’t fall into the trap of feeling as though he needed to “update” his sound to keep his fans; Leisure Seizure evolved but didn’t essentially change his idiosyncratic, uncluttered structures of mechanically precise percussion, warm, angular electronics and simply-recorded vocals.
This makes for a particularly cohesive set – there’s no gear shift between old and new, just a parade of rapturously-received highlights. His band – one guy on a small drum kit, one on samplers and synth – are a flawlessly tight unit, but it’s Vek who draws the focus. With his signature black specs, modest quiff, crisp white tee, blue jeans and red guitar, he looks every bit the Central St Martin’s graphic design grad, but it also has the feel of an unofficial uniform, and even matches the colour scheme of the Leisure Seizure cover. They open with C-C (You Set The Fire In Me) and it takes the sound desk a few minutes to get the mix right, so it’s not the electrifying overture it should have been; but Vek is on from the first note.
His acerbic London drawl is precise and flat, a droning recitative that turns vividly expressive as is pushes into the upper register, folding notes in half mid-syllable and dragging them out to express extreme boredom or desperation. It’s not a strong voice, but Vek wields it deftly and always with a self-aware wit; he flaps his hands in a self-deprecating manner when he reaches the limits of his voice, the same way he presses the air in time with the beats and grinding synths, somewhere between conducting and air-guitar. He’s an unexpectedly charming presence, with a nerdy swagger in his stance as he injects twanging guitars into songs that can feel distant and icy; at one point, hilariously, he leans down to throw up the bunny-ears gesture behind a girl in the front row trying to get a photo in front of the band.
The songs are the perfectly level of overwhelming in the small room – A Chore has a Teutonic-sounding electro tune that’s leashed down to half its natural bpm by an absolutely massive kick drum; the Eastern motifs of Aroused crash into each other with gleeful abandon. Even World of Doubt, which, down to the lyrical cadences and laconic guitar licks, sounds so much like Cake we can’t resist yelling “he is calling you DUDE!” at the end of every other line, is anchored by the curt sparseness of the arrangement. The post-punk riffs of 2005 single I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes sound like a product of their era, to be sure; Vek, hopping delightedly from foot to foot as he closes with A.P.O.L.O.G.Y’s frenetic double-time kick and stomp, is neither living in the past or desperately clambering after the next big thing, but tripping along on his own timeline.
PS – Hey, Sydney audiences: encores are not a given. Don’t stand there expectantly and then bitch once the house lights come on. If you want more, yell for it.