Monday, March 09, 2009
Rounded up by Karl Smith to bring to life a new group of songs written since the sad demise of Sodastream, Lee Memorial is essentially a country-ish indie band with a damn impressive pedigree. The wonderfully (and unusually) subdued guitar of Tom Lyngcoln (Nation Blue), able drumming of Laura McFarlane (Ninety Nine), Matt Bailey (Paradise Motel)’s dour bass and the refreshingly band-free Madeline Spawnton on subtly potent cello and clarinet augment Smith’s songs smartly.
Though the band is tight, it’s Smith’s songs that are the focus here, and his raw keen of a voice that is such a welcome return to any ears lucky enough to be familiar with Sodastream. The album artwork indicates Smith hasn’t lost his love of writing for the alienated individual, and as such, it’s a familiar world depicted with incisive lyrics and music that reinforces the sense of solitude and movement.
Kicking off with the garage-stomp of All These Things and the gentle sparkling Mayflower via the quiet exuberance of Drifting, the album then takes a turn southward, inward, and thematically back to Smith’s West Australian home. The high country jangle and approach to raw recording lends a production-less quality that suits perfectly. Smith was raised in Bangladesh and India (the band’s name is taken from an Indian guesthouse) and the album feels shot through with a traveller’s take on passing towns, such is the way that Smith wholly experiences but is never consumed by his subjects. It’s an absolutely Australian album without an ocker twang in sight but infused with an sense of freedom observed but never known, as if Smith is imagining his subjects from his room in the apartment block that adorns the cover or recalling past states.
That the album was recorded in 11 days no doubt contributes to its raw rambling feel, but what elevates Lee Memorial above other drifting indie bands is the skill in Smith’s writing and the conviction in his reedy versatile voice, so good to hear again.