Spartak in Singapore, July 2014.
For one reason or another, by the time I walked in the door Power Moves was just finishing their set. Given the quality of the debut EP of earlier this year, I could easily believe the positive comments about the set that I overheard.
Vale Mornings. Another Cinnamon Records band, another farewell show. Originally starting out as Jordan Rodger’s solo bedroom project, Mornings evolved their way through a couple of albums and a few other assorted releases. For their last show, they went out with a bang and not a whimper, with a blend of hypnotic post punk and slashes of frantic fury. Mornings seemed to save some of their better song-writing until near their end with tracks off Liquid Ill such as ‘Milo and Otis’ and ‘Don’t Wait Up’ proving to be stand-outs on the night.
Headliners Spartak have long been known for tempering traditional song structures with a sense of free-flowing experimentalism, however the last year or two has seen a fair shift for the band. Swelling out to a four piece and contracting back to three, Spartak have foregone some of the more eccentric elements for more formal pop structures. The launch of the Five Points EP was the focus of the gig and much of the material from that release got an airing on the night. Spartak don’t play bangers. They do something a touch more impressive, with a variety of moods and motions, with a mix of live and electronic instrumentation. This felt like a culmination for Spartak, a show of what they have been building towards. - Cody Atkinson, BMA (Mornings photo by Megan Leahy)
One of the few interstate acts gracing the Greenslopes Bowls Club stage is Canberra’s own purveyors of minimalist electronica, Spartak. The glitchy mantras on latest EP Five Points throw out miasmic tractor beams to hypnotise and hold sway, before the vocals creep out from behind, seeping in synapses… The band are the perfect example of the type of innovation that percolates under the surface of Australian music, a rich seam that the likes of HelloSquare and New Weird Australia have spent their efforts unearthing. Its a pretty big deal getting these guys on board. They play a show the night before at The Waiting Room (Friday June 20) with excellent support from Spirit Bunny and Naked Maja (whose own newly minted EP The Vagrant is all kinds of great also).
It’s Five
SPARTAK seem to never stop moving. Over the last few years they’ve managed to maintain a steady rate of recorded releases that puts many local bands to shame, whilst also opening for everyone from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez to Candlesnuffer and somehow squeezing in extra time to perform overseas as well. They’ve also recently expanded as a band, with new member Matt Lustri (bass/guitar) joining the founding duo of Shoeb Ahmad and Evan Dorrian. If anything, Spartak’s new EP Five Points, their first release since last year’s ‘Catch/Control’ single, sees the band’s shift towards melody continuing.
When I catch up with Ahmad, he confirms that the increased use of melodic elements wasn’t a conscious move. “In terms of writing the songs, there definitely wasn’t any preconceived thoughts about leaving certain elements of the music,” he explains. “Rather, I would suggest that the songs have taken on our interests at the time of writing and recording. Certainly, we were listening to a lot of analogue synth and electronic music and that led us to use more key-oriented instruments, but the guitar I guess pops up in different ways texturally and in particular, to service the music more than the notion of having guitar.”
“A lot of the songs on this record were created between Evan and myself on our computers and creating arrangements that way,” says Ahmad. “But many of the sounds were created through accidents and then choices were made to keep them or leave them. Jamming was a part of the process to come up with the final recorded versions of these songs.”
Given that the band have recently spent time touring overseas, I’m also curious to ask Ahmad whether these experiences have fed into the new tracks. “Maybe not touring directly, though this release does follow from a tour we did in Japan where we purely improvised after a year of long distance computer based composition while Evan was living in London,” he replies. “If anything, the distance and ability to work on music away from each other made us more productive so when Matt came on board, we were already prepared with ideas to take forward.”
I suggest that many of the lyrics on Five Points have an almost mantra-like feel to them and ask whether Spartak approach writing with a definite concept in mind. “We like to look at the words and use them in all contexts possible – as impressions, as sound and for wordplay,” explains Ahmad. “On ‘Conditions’, I guess I wanted to use the vocal as texture and harmony more than a direct narrative, but then other points during the record, like ‘Locked In Three’, there is that certain stream-of-consciousness element you mention.”
Spartak launch their new Five Points EP at Transit Bar alongside Mornings (final gig) and Power Moves, Thursday June 5. Free entry.
Read a bit about us over at adamNOTeve.
How tempted I was to give this 5 points. I was hoping it was my rubbish record of the week but unfortunately the first track on this wee EP is so good that even if the rest of the music contained within its digital grooves was absolute Kenny Loggins it would still muster respectable grades from Sir. ‘On Conditions’ is the real culprit here. A minute in and I had this large neon-blinking, rain-saturated Hotel HOOD sign looming increasingly into focus on the horizon of my dog-wet, drowsy mind. Driving all night, I need this song more than my coffee right now. Based initially around a moderate beat pulse, in comes gliding a wavering one-note synth drone and a glassy metronome before a juddering shuffling see-saw-esque midrange explosion arrives to give the track its irresistibly giddy momentum. It’s about the vocals though. Anyone missing Hood/Bracken linchpin Chris Adams’s voice will glean some real comfort from the gentle yearning sing-song lyrical trail here. A heart-break treasure that has a really moody, propulsive grace to it. Glancing at the press release it appears this Australian unit are indeed Hood fans and have expanded to four members, the original core of Shoeb Ahmad and Evan Dorrian having their quite disparate vocals augmented by some quite fabulous contemporary IDM pop.
Punchy, catchy yet brittle indie/electronica is the order of the day here with wistful well-placed vocals varying between these two guys, all resulting in a magnetic listen. Reluctant as I am to rely on clichés, I cannot help but be smitten by ‘Five Points’ and their use of old familiar tropes such as glistening post-rock shapes, old glitchy-sounding drum patterns and lugubrious vocals draped over this thoughtful, atmosphere-drenched bedroom pop; a wonderful, personable organic set that will appeal top anyone who enjoys the likes of Notwist, Mount Kimbie, Silver Pyre, Epic45, Disco Inferno and of course the brothers Adams’ hugely missed vehicle. Being five songs long you really do feel compelled to hit repeat. Much more accomplished than other Spartak material I’ve laid ears on, support this cool under-the-radar Aussie label we’ve been dealing with for years and buy this hand-stitched affair.
Brian at Norman Records gave Five Points 4 stars - you can grab the record from them now and check out the other goodies they have too!
Spartak’s journey from freeform soundscape makers to abstract pop makers continues unabated on their new EP, Five Points. From the opening of ‘On Conditions’, it’s something special. A droney, vaguely industrial loop sets in and doesn’t give up for the next 7 minutes. But it’s the layers applied over and under this loop that turn it into something epic. Wasted vocal incantations, lysergic analog synth washes and building rhythms bring the whole thing to a percolating boil. And the quality over the course of the EP doesn’t let up.
One of the distinctive features are the vocals which eschew both current cliches in indie male voice delivery – atonal lo-fi and sickly blue-eyed nu-soul. By remaining both melodic yet not over reaching, they come across with a humanity often missing in the songs of the current waves of alternative. Melodically, they inhabit a similar field to, say, Joy Division, where monotone sections contrast with leaps into earworm hooks.
Shoeb Ahmad’s guitar, which he often wields with noisy or extended technique abandon in improvised contexts, is here used in slightly more traditional manners. Lead guitar filigrees swirl around here and there, while single chords are cut and looped to simultaneously create the rhythmic and harmonic foundations of some tracks. Elsewhere, simple drum loops never feel underdeveloped as they underpin the processed glitches and bubbling, abstract loops which provide the rhythmic complexity. The moods across the five tracks are sometimes tense, as in ‘On Conditions’, and at others, brooding, as in the closer, ‘Consistence’. But the mood remains consistently on edge across all five tracks, providing a bite that holds attention. The most pop moment, ‘Nighshift’, brings all the contrasts into one. A minor key key verse makes way for a slight major key shift into the chorus, with the contrasts between the two voices of Ahmad and Evan Dorrian.
The move into more accessible melodic terrain has been a deliberate one for Spartak. What is most pleasing, however, is that they have left behind none of their exploratory sound worlds, none of their abstract tendencies, they’ve merely added new layers to their established ones, creating a release with incredible depth and consistency. New things jump out with each listen, while the hooks, sonic and melodic, remain after it’s all over.