15 August 2006

Hancock Basement - CD and launch review

| johnboy
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Hancock Basement EP Cover
[Album cover]

Friday night saw a significant development in Canberra’s music scene, it was the launch of Hancock Basement’s EP (sparsely titled “Hancock Basement EP”). They were supported by the Henchmen and The Guests. Aside from the CD launch the main significance was that a relatively major show featured three bands who have all featured on our Insatiable Banalities Podcast. OK, we never did manage to get the Henchmen, but we have had Tom Woodward and James Nicholls and that’s half the band.

The night was a considerable blast. Everything live music is supposed to be with sweaty snarly bands blasting out their music to an appreciative and sizable audience, but without the venue being so crowded as to be uncomfortable. I heard an estimate of 250 in Toast and I’m sure the bands would have loved to squeeze another 50 in, but for the audience it was ideal.

It was a rare and brave thing for a band to book two acts as supports who gave away nothing in quality to them. It could be argued that the dynamic of the night suffered by not reaching a recognizable climax. But I would contend that was more than set off by the consistent quality of all three acts.

It was the best show, of any size, that I’ve seen in ages.

Moving on to the CD now…

Reverse of Hancock Basement EP
[Reverse of album]

Hancock Basment are a daunting band. They’re very young, very smart and very talented. If they come across as arrogant from time to time I suppose they’ve got plenty to be arrogant about (to say nothing of their amazing hair). Possibly they’re as scared of me as I am of them and it’s a defensive reaction, but I doubt it.

Superficially their music can be taken as good-time party tracks, but after a few glasses of scotch, and a few listens, a dark underbelly makes an appearance. With the perpetual risk of interpreting unintended meaning to the lyrics I’m going to assume the guys were clever enough to put in what I’ve been taking out.

1) Tempest

The hardest song to write about in the absence of a lyric sheet, and the first one on the EP. I think it’s about falling in and out of wild and crazy love. If The Doors were a rock three piece (bass, drums, guitar) they could have written a song that sounds a lot like this. Dark brooding lyrics and extended guitar solos belie a band famed for their party sets.

If I’m right on it being about doomed love then the whole song structure is a metaphor for the emotional journey of meeting, mating, and parting. The pacing, the moods invoked, it’s really very clever. Starting up with a breathless blur of excitement it turns to brooding disappointment regret, and parting.

2) Computer

Aww cute, a boppy pop song about having trouble with a computer. I hear ya, we’ve all been there…

Hmm, wait a minute. I’m 99% sure the computer is a metaphor for a woman. (“I keep on searching, for that little green light”).

This is interesting social commentary. To most young men a woman IS their computer for the early stages of a relationship. I’m not talking about pornography. I’m talking about instant messages and emails, a high intensity communication which is probably the closest two people can get intellectually, certainly much closer than any conversation they’ll have later in a more physical relationship.

This track is less brooding (in style anyway) than Tempest and more a classic rock-pop song.

But once you take on the metaphor of the computer as a woman it gets pretty disturbing in there:

“I took her down to the basement,
I opened up my ranch(?),
I pulled out my screwdriver,
I strapped her to the bench
Then I saw the problem
She didn’t have enough RAM
She was slow, so I let her go,
And found another man.”

There could be a comma in there indicating getting another woman, with “man” used as an exclamation. (i.e. “So I let her go and found another [computer and/or woman], man!”)

3) A Hint of Madness

My personal favourite song on the EP. The interplay between the vocals kicks arse. I think it’s another song about love gone wrong. This song is the heaviest on the album with extended, skirling, guitar work.

4) Are You Party

Somewhere around 1649 Andrew Marvell wrote one of the greatest poems in the English language, “To His Coy Mistress“. A loquacious attempt to rush a woman into bed with pretty words and imprecations. (incidentally I recommend Australia’s A.D. Hope and his reply to the poem).

In 2006 Hancock Basement reprise the theme with interplayed lyrics holding the tone of instant messaging, and making reference to MSN Messenger.

Where Marvell said “Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run”, Hancock Basement asks “are you party?”

For $5 this is a really good EP. It can be enjoyed as straight up modern rock and roll, but it rewards some thought if you give it multiple listens.

You can hear it for yourself on their myspace, or email them to get a copy via hancockbasement@hotmail.com

Hancock Basement are: Nick Beresford-Wylie, Nick Craven, Tom Spira.

RiotACT (particularly johnboy) would like to thank them for an impromptu complimentary entrance to the show after The Henchmen promised one but failed to deliver (and didn’t let me know).

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I only saw them once and that was enough to buy a whole album.

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