Picture an idyllic location near Avalon beach. A run-down shack where friends and family dropped by to contribute to the proceedings. Jamie Hutchings’ third solo album, Avalon Cassettes was created in this place; one that seemed predestined to offer unforgettable memories for all involved. Needless to say, this can also be heard on the LP’s ten tracks.
The Bluebottle Kiss frontman said he wanted the result to be beautiful and ominous like the simmering heaviness found in a summer storm. While other albums are often described as the perfect summer soundtrack this is generally because they boast buoyant and warm sounds. But Avalon Cassettes seems to have been written for the current summer even though it was released earlier this year. This is because although things appear to be good overall, if you scratch the surface you’ll find the darkness and clouds. Like Melbourne’s four seasons in one day you’ll notice that Sydney has gone troppo and was fine ‘til the rains and this music set in.
Avalon Cassettes is a stark contrast to 2009’s opulent, His Imaginary Choir. Produced with Hutchings’ friend, Chris Colquhoun, it references Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers but there is also a uniquely Australian twist to it. Sounding like a cross between the melancholy narratives that Cass McCombs makes but with Paul Kelly’s brand of sensitive and evocative glimpses of our homeland, the listener gets a taste of everything from a cicada symphony to tales of an outlaw and lilting acoustic guitar pedalled by an authority figure (“Invisible Coat”). And that’s not to mention tracks littered with field recordings from trains, storms and a typewriter to boot.
This is one very real album brimming with atmosphere and honesty. Hutchings again wanted to use the Bluebottle Kiss template of thrusting a relatable, everyman into alien-like or extraordinary situations. The result is 10 minimalist songs peppered with sounds that range from the mundane ones usually heard around the house or backyard to those lurking deep in nature (for example, an overgrown forest). Dotting the lyrics are signposts to Australia with nods to Ned Kelly and Geoffrey Rush and places like Sydney’s Taylor Square and Tamworth. When coupled with a wavering masculine and fragile voice, this can make for something as engaging and goosebumps-inducing as a perfect piece of prose from Tim Winton.
On “Smoky Dawson” we get some poppy piano combined with the kind of distorted guitar-work made famous by Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. “Ned Kelly Indoors” sees a change of tact where the song showcases the story behind the infamous vagabond and combines this with what appears to be a Crystals-like choir of angels doing “Da Doo Ron Ron”. The feminine vocals are reprised in “When It’ll Blow” with Hutchings singing a duet with his wife, Erin before declaring that the world is a giant wedding in the shimmering, “Gimme Failure”. The “Cicada Symphony” brings things home with a cacophony of tin and an almost religious chant that is equally intriguing and idiosyncratic.
Avalon Cassettes is a splendid offering from one of Australia’s most gifted and underappreciated songwriters. Jamie Hutchings is more like a master craftsman than a musician because he weaves sentimental and descriptive narratives into songs with just the right amount of drama and tension and achieves all this while retaining his unique voice and culture.
Quintessentially Australian and thoughtful, if there was ever a case to update the national anthem then this record and Hutchings’ impressive back catalogue prove without a shadow of a doubt who should get the gig.
Review score: 8.5/10
Originally published on 28 December 2011 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/albums/jamie-hutchings-avalon-cassettes-2011-lp
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