Bluebottle Kiss - Doubt Seeds
Review by Andrew Rammadge
Like Gerling’s 4 earlier in the year, this could be the first record by an established but sometimes patchy Australian band to make a broader audience stand up and listen. For ten years Bluebottle Kiss, led by the enthusiastically individual Jamie Hutchings, have been experimenting with genre and form. On their latest album, the double CD Doubt Seeds, the band consolidate their talents into a distinct identity.
Mind you, this mightn’t have been the intention. Doubt Seeds is structured as a type of musical autobiography, documenting and paying tribute to Hutchings’ wide-ranging inspirations. The liner notes come with a nostalgic introductory essay, written by Nonzero label head Nick Carr (in the absence, it is jokingly remarked, of famous writer and critic Stanley Crouch). “Jamie’s objective was to approximate key musical ideas and build them into original songs,” it explains. The infamous double CD format works relatively well on this release: each disc represents a different recording session, and added together the material only clocks in at an hour and fifteen minutes.
For all the conceptual deliberation, Doubt Seeds’ beauty lies in its chaos. The sounds themselves are nothing unique – a standard four-piece rock setup with occasional brass, piano and violin – but their execution is simply wild. During Nova Scotia each instrument seems off on its own tangent, flailing and pounding about the recording studio and somehow, almost by accident, coming together into a song. The quieter numbers are only barely more kempt: Fire Engine features Ben Grounds’ guitar scratching, like frantic scrawls on a chalkboard, hanging over its dreamy female choir.
Hutchings’ lyrics are as literary as ever, with inspirations ranging from the stories of DH Lawrence to Thurston Moore’s memoirs of New York. There are a few sly winks along the way; on Sheffield Brides, the narrator’s attempt to woo a local girl earns the response “Look, here’s not a place given kindly to strangers with Smiths tribute bands,” while Harold Holt is an ode to loss somewhere between cheeky and poignant, named after the Australian Prime Minister whose body was never recovered from the ocean after a casual swim in the late 1960s.
Disc II kicks off with the same derailed momentum of the first – Dream Audit does the sprawling Sonic Youth thing rather well, Little Black Dahlias never lets up – but it winds down in tempo around the half-way mark. The Women Are An Army is a twangy country ballad with another backing choir, followed by a eulogy to one of Hutchings’ friends, The Black Birds. Unusually sweet sounding, it’s a mixture of imagery (dead birds on the beach) and stunned hope (“I thought I saw you in the street and by some strange chance we’d meet and begin again…”) which turns overcast upon the last breath of vocals. A stark and abrasive guitar solo rises from the drumbeat thereafter, only to be cut suddenly, jarringly short after exactly two minutes.
As a tribute album (of sorts) there are some obvious reference points, but rarely the type of imitation so brash as other recent groups. As anything else, Doubt Seeds is rich, artistic rock of a wonderful standard. Don’t be surprised if it winds up on this year’s Australian Music Prize and J Awards shortlists.