Monday, December 7, 2009

CD Review: THE STICKMEN - WHO SAID IT WOULD BE GOOD? (Solar/Sonar / Shock)

Monday, June 02, 2008 

The answer to that is: anyone who saw them, ever.
Sooner or later, quality will always surface somehow, sometime, somewhere. Tom Lyngcoln, better known as frontman for sonic behemoths The Nation Blue is, via his label Solar/Sonar, on a one-man mission to ensure that it happens sooner rather than later for some. After making listeners widen their eyes and take a few steps back from their speakers with 2005's reissue of punk legends (at least in Hobart) Mouth's sole digital release Victim Chant, he's done it again with another formidable and relatively unknown proposition, The Stickmen. A Tasmanian four-piece existing from 1996-1999 and playing only a handful of shows in Melbourne, they here prove themselves as masters of barely-restrained nervous tension; building atmospheres, bending sinister riffs while using dynamics and speed changes in a way few bands before or since have ever thought to.

Guitar, bass, drums, turntable player (not a DJ but a turntable through a distortion pedal and guitar amp) and snarling vocalist and intimidating songwriter Aldous Kelly make the lineup for a band who were one of the most absorbing and fearsome live acts in the country for their time - a claim to which live video footage and recordings still attest. It seems impossible that music this simple and powerful isn't like or reminiscent of any other band, but it's true. 

Like all great bands, they do just as well live as they do in the studio and with all great albums there is a sense of an encapsulation of time and place - time they can seemingly bend within a song. In blindingly illuminating liner notes Andrew Harper explains: "...there was a smell in the air, it was a bright, sharp smell and there was a moment when something could have happened, but nothing did. It never got out of town and perhaps it's far better that way." Perhaps for a few hundred people in Hobart, but for everyone else it's a manifold blessing that this testament exists.

Wasting no time in dropping you into the whirlpool of the title track, Who Said It Would Be Good? proceeds to give you an overview of the band's recorded history; a protracted convincing argument rather than a desperate one-two punch. With disparate sonic elements and tightly-tethered musicianship The Stickmen create space in a refreshingly curious way. Slivers of distorted turntable signal pull ghostly orchestras from thin air before wiry riffs and Araldited drums and bass return to arrest you with repetition as on the slackly sinister Ashtray, the blistering title track, the ear-incinerating No, the belligerent Rider Down, the seasick spaceship ride of Man Made Stars or the spiderweb stickiness of Measure Your Limbs in it's live recording from a Senior Citizens Hall. "Under the electric light we wait for the sun / Nocturnal skin / The air is clear tonight / Salivate, you have desire / Calculate, your next move". - Strange World

The sounds are simple, the lyrics curt Hobartian verse, the production crisp; it's ageless music. Had it been made ten years later (which it sounds like it was), it would have found literally a million ears around the world and pulled the band from Doghouse obscurity to a global stage; were that what they wanted. Evidently it wasn't as few photos or interviews exist. Myth; it's a rare thing these days.
For the few of you who know, it's time to update those CD-Rs. For a band who are short on ideas yet hunger for fame, here's a book to rip from.

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