Lower Plenty, Heart Beach, and more November gems from the Aussie underground

As we head well into the pointy end of the 2016, DOUG WALLEN takes a moment to examine some of the shiniest gems to emerge from the Australian underground in the month of November – with albums from Lower Plenty, Pure Moods, Heart Beach and Parading getting a look under the microscope.

Lower Plenty – Sister Sister

Lower Plenty broke a lot of hearts with their out-of-nowhere 2012 record Hard Rubbish and its shambling road song ‘Nullarbor’. The Melbourne foursome have returned every two years since for another album, despite members being tangled up in bands like Deaf Wish and Dick Diver. Sister Sister couldn’t have come from any other band, wobbling through kitchen-floor ragas and a sweetly unrefined delivery from three different singers. The prevailing mood is one of resigned melancholy, but opener ‘Bondi’s Dead’ is more likely to warm cockles than rain on parades. ‘Treehouse’ nails Lower Plenty’s off-kilter, Velvets-ish take on DIY folk music, but the anti-war ballad ‘All the Young Men’ arguably cuts closest to the bone. Bonus points for the mesmeric seven-minute jam ‘Ravesh’.

Pure Moods – Pure Moods

To casual listeners, Pure Moods will probably bring to mind fellow Melbourne guitar poppers like The Ocean Party and Cool Sounds. But there’s a recurring vibe in their self-titled debut album that dates back to ’80s alternative touchstones like REM, Orange Juice and our very own Go-Betweens. Between singer/guitarist Adam Madric’s delicate vocals and the trio’s glassy jangle, these songs sound at once groggy and youthful – like evergreen songwriting slowed down and dipped generously in Vaseline. But while Pure Moods readily establish that softness on tunes like the exquisite father-son meditation ‘Blurb’ and the winking New Age palate cleanser ‘Dolphin Interlude’, they make sure to spike it with noisy, gnashing guitar on both ‘From My Pocket’ and ‘Meadow Heights’. Even the otherwise soothing ‘Dolphin Quest’ dabbles in foreboding with this repeated warning: “Don’t wait for alligators to bite down.”

Heart Beach – Kiss Your Face

Their band name may sound relatively cheery, but Heart Beach tend toward downbeat songs that often lumber and creep along as if walking wounded. The Hobart trio make arty, low-key rock that’s at once calculated and unpolished, taking minimalistic cues from Young Marble Giants while absorbing more than enough grotty noise and overcast effects for the fixating. Their second album opens with the Pixies-ish tension of ‘Defacto’, only to wax wistful with the dual vocals of ‘Counting’. ‘Brittle’ brings together those both sides, whereas ‘Sleeping’ unspools like a diffuse version of a John Hughes soundtrack gem. Heart Beach alternately lock into murky post-punk or a clean-cut indie pop, but their best moments blur the distinctions until they achieve bittersweet transcendence.

Parading – Jungle Songs

Parading’s second album is lovingly slow to pick up steam. Bookended by a pair of immersive instrumentals, the Melbourne ensemble’s syrup-soaked indie rock stretches out and expands into a lot of distinct territory. The obvious highlight is a devastating recasting of Paul Kelly’s classic ballad ‘Big Heart’, which keeps the original’s achy isolation but loses its telltale ’80s earmarks. Unassuming frontman Tom Barry (ex-Witch Hats) is just as comfortable channelling Yo La Tengo’s sleepy majesty on ‘Butterfly’ and Jesus & Mary Chain’s proto-Britpop on ‘Delicate Flower’ as he is turning more menacing on ‘Flying’ and the Rowland Howard-esque march ‘Jungle’ (“I take what’s mine in the jungle”). Layered guitars brood their way toward the horizon in hypnotic, droning tangents. Rippling and reverberating as if in slow motion, Jungle Songs is a total wooze fest.