Catch up with this month’s best local releases

If you’ve been too busy taking shelter from either the deadly heatwaves or tropical thunderstorms to get your head around the latest local releases, don’t fret. DOUG WALLEN wraps up the best of what February has to offer.

Biscotti – Like Heaven in the Movies

Biscotti is the colour-drenched, genre-jumbling concoction of Carla Ori, whose other band Empat Lima are also no strangers to rifling through international flavours. Biscotti’s debut album is a giddy burst of creativity and sophistication that exults in throwing out the rulebook. That means the raga-tinged instrumental ‘Soda Pop’ and French and Italian guest vocals on ‘Fantastico’ feel just as natural as the hummable psych-pop of ‘Instamatic’ and the off-kilter rapping from Curse Ov Dialect’s Raceless on ‘Luciano’s Jalopy’. Ori and friends dream up delirious flights of fancy driven by chewy bass lines and bubbly melodies, while titles like ‘Velvet Sunflake’ and ‘Cognac’ broadcast sumptuous indulgence before we’ve even heard the songs.

Like Heaven in the Movies gets weirder as it goes, transitioning from a poppy first half to a more diffuse second that peaks with the funkified Blonde Redhead vibe of ‘Shenice’ and supremely trippy intersections of ‘Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli’. Ori and collaborator Alice Hutchison even conceived a recent art exhibition around the album, which makes perfect sense for a record that swings open so many doors of possibility.

Sodastream – Little By Little

Melbourne folk-pop duo Sodastream thrived around the turn of the millennium, winning a loyal cult following at home and abroad. They’ve returned with their first LP in 10 years, and it’s the darkest entry in their considerable discography. The startling lead single ‘Three Sins’ takes the perspective of a firebug, a sexually abusive Catholic priest and a suicide bomber, culminating in a cathartic chant- along. Guitarist Karl Smith’s voice swings from creaky plaintiveness to a haunted howl, while bassist Pete Cohen contributes a robust undercurrent of upright bass (both plucked and bowed) and baritone harmonies.

After the sinewy latticework of rhythms and melodies on opener ‘Colouring Iris’ and the stormy horn flourishes on ‘Letting Go’, the clouds part later in the album with leavening marimba on ‘On the Stage’ and singing saw on ‘Saturday’s Ash’. Between the arrangements and the songwriting, Sodastream have never been better.

Lawrence English – Cruel Optimism

How political can an album without words be? Brisbane composer Lawrence English takes up that challenge on Cruel Optimism, an instrumental LP examining how humans wield (and abuse) power. English strives to counter the pervasive apathy exemplified by low voter turnout – which helped to foster both Brexit and Trump – and does so with stunning turbulence. Opener ‘Hard Rain’ blurs the line between unsettling and soothing, while ‘Exquisite Human Microphone’ is a desolate and score-like centrepiece.

Taking ambient music’s signature fluctuations to profound (and often noise-bathed) extremes, English and an international cast of collaborators stoke billowing drama that will appeal to fans of Ben Frost’s Aurora. Best appreciated loud, it’s grippingly meditative.

Broads – Vacancy

Broads began as an offshoot of throwback vocal ensemble The Nymphs, but Kelly Day and Jane Hendry have since swapped out Andrew Sisters kitsch for a tender, expansive take on alt-country. There are still loving echoes of older music, but now it’s more about tapping the slow-burn power of Patsy Cline and evocative harmonising of The Everly Brothers.

The reverbed lullaby ‘Nod Off, Dream’ may give the impression of placid gentleness, but Vacancy hinges just as much on the airing (and cultivating) of anxieties. ‘Can’t Stop Thinking (I’m Going to Die)’ is appropriately troubled, while other songs are as eerie as they are lovely. With backing that can range from skeletal to crashing, Broads linger deliciously in open spaces, crooning dreamily into the void on the final minute of ‘The Valley’.