erasing clouds

Inner City Sound: Australian Punk & Post-Punk

reviewed by dave heaton

Three cheers to any record label that reaches into the past, takes music that isn't receiving widespread praise and acknowledgements in the present, and puts together a release that presents it well. Laughing Outlaw Records' Inner City Sound, designed as a companion to the recently reprinted 1982 book of the same name by Clinton Walker, is a fantastic overview of Australian punk and post-punk music of the late '70s and early '80s. I say "fantastic" not from any real position of knowledge about the era myself, but because the 2-cd, 47-track collection presents adventurous, raw, and varied music in the well-crafted format of the best mix tape. Plus the liner notes offer a detailed "family tree" map of the era, offering a context to understanding where this music was coming from and how the various groups were inter-related.

Facts and diagrams are a nice supplement, but in no way essential to comprehending and enjoying Inner City Sound. All you need is to put it on, and let yourself be carried away. Organized not chronologically but by feeling - what song leads well into the next - the set smoothly takes us on a wild, dizzying journey. Disc 1 kicks off with some great energetic punk songs right up there in quality with the best output from elsewhere in the world. But as it continues on the music travels many roads, getting more melodic and "pop" at times, and then getting spacey and bizarre at others. Disc 2 is even more varied, with beautfiul detours like Essendon Airport's strange art-pop creature "Talking to Cleopatra" and the leaning-toward-new-wave dark bounciness of Machinations' "Average Inadequacy".

There's only a handful of bands in the whole set that I'd expect your average music listener, even your average die-hard music fan who isn't from Australia, to know about: Saints, Birthday Party, Go-Betweens, Hunters & Collectors. The bulk of the set is likely to blow upon walls and generate interest in a host of new names for most listeners (like me) who aren't well-versed in this era...or, at least, in what was going on in Australia during that era. And in many ways that last point is the key. The story of punk, and of post-punk is still being told through a relatively narrow lens, without taking into account how much creative energy pulsed through places and scenes that haven't been fully recognized. The biggest names on Inner City Sound have made their mark on what's generally accepted to be rock history. But this compilation shines a light on so many other musicians that, judging by their tracks here, appear to be equally exciting and worthy of attention. This is a snapshot of a time, containing small pieces of what was going on; it's exciting in itself but also stands as a mark of a bigger story, making one wonder about all the other scenes and subcultures, then and now...

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