ice cream

Time to actually live up to this blog's name for once and tap into the zeitgeist. For if there was any more pervasive topic that seems to have overtaken the cultural consciousness of not only Australia, but the globe, it's one thing: ice cream. I'm not joking. I fail to remember the last time when something was so prevalent in music in such a short period. The thought first occurred to me when I noticed Melbourne bands Muscles and Eddy Current Suppression Ring both had songs on the topic; but of course two songs was a bit of a stretch to start announcing a new cultural icon, nay, archetype.

Then I remembered the seductive yet nonetheless insipid indie-disco track Ice Cream from New Young Pony Club - in which the lead singer droid-sings about various manoeuvres via kitchen imagery; post-feminist posh, sexual servitude dressed up as sexy sass and assertiveness (let's avoid it from here on). Now, two new releases, from US acts, have truly cemented what I guessed but would never have admitted -
spanning genres and continents, ice cream is the new cultural glue.

First up, let's look at Eddy Current Suppression Ring, possibly Melbourne's best live act (gracious and unpretentious enough NOT to play a shitful set at a university gig, unlike Midnight Juggernauts) with their paean to that fattiest of desserts, Cool Ice Cream:

I ate all my veggies
I ate all my soup
Now can I have just one scoop of that
Cool ice cream?

This one's pretty obvious: ice cream is a tasty fucking food, way better than beef and broccoli. Eddy Current's track sets up the impetus behind this mass adoption of ice cream - it tastes great - but doesn't go fully into why we're so hooked on it.

Noise rockers Pissed Jeans not only prove that ice cream can soothe abrasive punks, but also offer more personal reasons for why its so comforting in I've Still Got You (Ice Cream). After yowling about a desperate rejection, with band crunching out rolling, loose hardcore riffs behind him, singer Matt Korvette nails it: "Just a taste and all my troubles fall behind / Sweet bowl of sugar is there to ease my mind" - it really is the ultimate comfort food.

Also from the US, a just released album from Michael Hearst (also of notable nobodies One Ring Zero) mines the otherwise unrecognised musical nexus that is the Mr Whippy van for some minimalist, avant-garde, heavy on the glockenspiel ditties in Songs for Ice Cream Trucks. If Pissed Jeans speak to personal consolation, Hearst's songs - Tones for Cones, Ice Cream Yo, etc. - ruminate on the truly utopian atmosphere conjured up by the ice cream van, driving through neighbourhoods and perched at waterfronts throughout summer, bringing together adults and children alike for a sweet treat. Unfortunately, being thirteen tracks long, ingesting too much of this one is also likely to give you a "it's like I'm there!" sugar headache too.

Perhaps the track with the most ambitions for frozen fat and sugar, though, is that by Melbourne one-man whirlwind Muscles, the banging crowd-favourite Ice Cream:

There are people pushing me on the train
Screaming from the top of the their lips
(You're gonna get what's coming)
And I don't know how to react or if i should fight back

(wooo ahhh)
Ice cream is gonna save the day

Not only will the treat cure urban congestion but even threatened violence ("He could have knife, stab me in the back...")! Repeatedly ("again!")!

[Ludicrous, tenuous political commentary follows] Considering all these various deployments of the confection, is there little wonder why ice cream is the symbol for these dark, troubled times? In a post-11 world, in which the politics of fear pervade our everyday, its the simple things - like ice cream - that we cling to, either to avoid confronting problems, or maybe just to regain some innocence. "Things are fucked, but at least there's ice cream", would seem to be the general import here.

The problem is, when I think ice cream I'm reminded of overpriced Mr Whippy vans and the generally shitty people running them, Streets' eerily make-up'd children beaming with a CGI/eye twinkle at me from the side of licensed-out freezers in service stations, Trampoline's faddish transformation of the ice cream into a sceney status symbol, and so on.

If ice cream is going to be the global panacea the music community is touting it to be – uniting parents and children (Hearst), curing violence (Muscles), curing broken hearts (Pissed Jeans), and repairing cultural rifts in general - then I think we should aim for the simple, homely ‘bowl of cool ice cream’ that Eddy Current advocate. Available to all, as devoid as possible of corporate gloss or shitty vendors, and really yummy – then ice cream truly might save not only the day, but the world.

[If anyone thinks of extras, hit us up in the comments; too much ice cream isn't enough!]

Stream: Pissed Jeans - I've Still Got You (Ice Cream)

Download: Muscles - Ice Cream


Sian Alice Group - Contours

This blog isn't normally a simple recommendation site, but I couldn't let this one pass up. Contours is one of the most beautiful, consuming songs I've heard. Working off only a few elements - the interplay between Sian Ahern's ethereal, sky-thin vocals and the insistent drums, both under a bed of lush resonance - this track is yet spacious and warming.

They are releasing a 7-inch, 'Nightsongs', on The Social Club - a six-month record series courtesy of The Social Registry - which is limited to 750 pressings. Find it.

Before you do that, however, listen to 'Contours', and begin to float on the musica universalis.

Sian Alice Group - Contours


Handsome Furs - Plague Park

“We hate this place here / its our home” (Sing! Captain!)

How do you come to grips with the place in which you live? How does the environment set up your outlook, and vice versa? What happens when you find yourself, depressed, in a cold, bleak city? Handsome Furs, the duo of Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade co-vocalist) and his fiancée, Alexei Perry, answer these questions on Plague Park, their first album.

The band found their sound when the couple stumbled upon an archaic drum machine, and their stated point was to be as repetitive and minimal (as pop will let you be) from then on. Lyrically, the album revolves around the place of its title – a city square in Helsinki, Ruttopuisto, that was originally a burial ground for victims of the plague in the late seventeenth century. Helsinki expanded of course, growing around the cemetery – Now, says Perry, “it’s just this sunny little anomaly where people – families and teenagers – in the summer time go there and drunk and have barbeques and good times on top of all these buried victims”. That contrast between fun on the surface (and Handsome Furs make it seem like that might be the only place it can ever exist) and decay below speaks volumes of the album’s theme.

Handsome Furs insist that this idea of urban decomposition, and its related bodily/moral decay, wasn’t initially planned. Says Boeckner: “we didn’t really start out with this stuff, but the songs all seemed to have a lyrical theme of urban decay or rural stagnation even, and the balance between those two things. And both are kind of hard on the mind, like if you’re going to live in a place that is really isolated and small, it can totally drive you crazy or it can be a release. And then just living in the city – the amount of options for things to do are kind of balanced out by the fact that you’re dealing with like, municipal corruption, poverty, crazy people.”

A kind of cold picture emerges from this, something which the sparse instrumentation perfectly matches. And in terms of its concept, Plague Park is amazingly integrated, its hard to think of a better album where music, lyrics and mood are articulated so cohesively. The album centres itself around repetition, sparseness and alienation – not only lyrically but in the composition of scrappy, shot-through drum machines, buzzing synth effects and recurring parts. This sounds like the bleak streets of the hostile city, or the equally empty and menacing landscapes of the countryside.

Lyrically, however, is where Plague Park shines most. Boeckner has already penned some of Wolf Parade’s best songs, but here, when foiled with Perry, a short fiction writer, both spurred by such a specific ambient and idea, the lines that emerge are amazing. The lines are both straightforwardly bare and symbolically rich, twisting around their bleak themes with passion and worldweariness.

Whilst every track on this album is worthy of description, I’ll stick to Handsome Furs Hate This City. Fuzzy, stumbling keys open up the song, and then Boeckner commences his eulogy for the city and those within it, a layer of hiss persisting underneath:

“Woke up with blankets and buildings with jaws
Stuck to the sheets clammy with noon”
We wished for night-time, the darkening screen
Open the heart, it’s just a machine
Oh, it was home”

Perry then introduces a bruised programmed beat, evoking grey buildings and twisted metal, its incessant repetition mapping out the homogenous urban landscape. Acoustic guitar remains hollow; the melodic elements buried by percussion’s stranglehold. Boeckner then reaches the refrain, which in any other song simply wouldn’t sell:

"Oh, life is long and hollow"

Here it’s sung as if by a weathered man, reflecting on the parenthetical nature of existence, “all the blank little minutes of life” (Cannot Get Started). Everything comes crashing about soonafter this and Boeckner sums up the utter fucking meaninglessness of choice: “Baby we can get you anything you want / Anytime you want / But you won’t know what it’s for”.

I suppose the only trouble with a concept like this one is how much thinness can you take? Sure, Boeckner’s rich, amazing vocals and amazing riffing lift the mood on occasion, but the repetition and spareness of it all sink you towards the end, and even though only nine songs long, Plague Park leaves you feeling hollow and worn. Then again, weren’t you already like that?

Handsome Furs - Sing! Captain!