A smoky, city pub: noisy punters, ringing cash registers (…or poker machines for some States) and clinking glasses. It always seems an absurd setting for Art of Fighting; the class of the Melbourne four-piece almost defying the familiar haunts of the local indie-rock scene. Wires then, takes Art of Fighting out of the pub and into a dark, private space – this alone, enough to make the debut album worth the agonising wait.
Two acclaimed EPs (each over 30 minutes in length) puts Wires in context – and with Tim Whitten’s mostly crisp production, the beautiful moodiness of some long-term live favourites (and then some) translates very well. Based around the delicate guitar and voice of Ollie Browne, keyboards and guitars of Miles and the solid, contemplative bass and backing of Peggy Frew, Art of Fighting exude their umistakable chemistry.
Sombre, melodic, introspective, thoughtful: pick an adjective. The sweetly melancholic “Skeletons” sets the mood with a soft melody accompanying Browne’s equally gentle vocals. Wires then spreads its wings in glorious style with “Give Me Tonight” – the swirling guitars soar as high as the words (“Won’t you do something with me tonight, under this pretty sky?”).
Frew has lent her unique vocal touch in the past – at times also a point of conjecture with fans and critics – but here she shines, strongly leading the acoustic and piano-tinged “I Don’t Keep A Record” with delicate, whispery singing. Frew’s backing support is subtle and strong, even if her bass isn’t as prominent as it is on the brilliant empty nights EP cut, “Waiting”.
The high-emotion tunes are the epic standouts, though. “Akula” unravels love and loss, sadness and beauty, with an aching finale; “Find You Lost” (as the band attest, possibly the quietest song ever attempted at Homebake) builds stunningly behind the ever-so-soft vocals. Both are purely inspirational, but with that trademark air of control and maturity. Art of fighting less restrained is just as sweet, however, and on the dark, determined “Just Say I’m Right” Browne lets loose, driving home the almost sinister, “I’m right beside you now,” amidst an equally explosive musical backdrop.
As the haunting and cinematic “Something New” breathes awesome space and scope to close the largely introspective record, it’s clear nothing here is rushed. Nothing needs to be. An outfit of this calibre can take all the time in the world.
Critics fell all over themselves to enthuse about the two previous EPs from this Melbourne three-sometimes-four-piece, and this debut album is further justification for more knee-bending.
Recorded and mixed by atmos-pop guru Tim Whitten, Wires is dark and delicate, spacious yet rich, anti-rock yet strangely hooky.
All of these songs rely on gradual build-up, the cumulative effect of intricate layers of guitar, bass, drums, keys and Ollie Browne’s lethargic tonsils. But just when the pot’s about to boil over, they lift it off the heat – third song ‘Akula’ is the pinnacle.
Restraint is what sets Art Of Fighting apart from their low-and-slow contemporaries. You won’t find any excess notes on this album, only sweet and sad ones.
**** (Eileen Dick)
Oz Music Project:
If were to describe Art of Fighting as a photo, I would imagine it to be a sublime picture of times of old, one which time and character has melded character and sentimentality into the composition. It would be one that emanates a glowing positivity at the same time a haunting beauty of something that is perhaps too dream like to be real.
Aptly, the band’s first full length release is just like this: an intoxicatingly delightful album in which band’s winning formula of nicely layered guitar work, the amazing vocals of Ollee Browne and the quirk of bassist Peggy Frew come under the Tim Whitten’s (Gaslight Radio, Gersey) guiding production hand.
The opener ‘Skeletons’ moves slowly into the consciousness, with Ollee Browne’s vocals gliding with an air-like wispiness to it. Subtle and sublime, this flows perfectly into ‘Give Me Tonight’. Bassist Peggy Frew takes to the vocals in ‘I don’t keep records’, which can go either way for people, but moves the dynamics of the album to slightly more positive ground.
Consequently, ‘In No Good Way’ is more upbeat as too is the more up tempo and light-hearted ‘Reasons Are All I Have Left’. ‘Just Say I’m Right’ gives the band some more grit, with the band’s full moodiness setting in building up to Browne letting out his vocals and band matching with an explosive climax.
Put quite simply, Wires is one of the best albums of the year thus far. Truly worth the wait, Art of Fighting prove the hype behind Wires is much deserved, and push the envelope of the slo-core genre quite far enough to produce a compelling and indeed beautiful release. Get it, and get it now.
Rip It Up:
Coming highly recommended by the entire Rip It Up editorial team, and hot on the heels of two well-received EPs, Art Of Fighting’s debut full-lengther was always going to be one to look out for. And deservedly so, as it is a truly beautiful event (to describe it as simply an album doesn’t do it justice).
The name Art Of Fighting is a misnomer if there ever was one, conjuring up as it does (in my mind at least) images of a hardcore band. To anyone wondering if such a description is accurate, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. (Hysterical laughter optional.) Wires is more correctly described as art-rock or slow-rock., although such labels don’t come close to doing justice to the album. Tracks such as “Akula” are simply songs to lose yourself in, dreamy soundscapes that transcend boundaries.
Guitarist and singer Ollie Browne uses his voice as an instrument as much as his guitar. Quiet yet powerful, it’s the sound it provides which matters as much as what the lyrics have to say. Bassist Peggy Frew takes on lead vocal duties on “I Don’t Keep A Record”, and while her voice is less polished, it’s no less striking or beautiful. When the two singer’s voices then join together later in the song, the result is hauntingly effective. After Ollie’s voice drops away again, Peggy suddenly seems much more fragile and delicate than before.
Songs such as “Skeletons” are subtle and demonstrate a marked spaciousness in their sound. There’s room for much more, yet the gaps say equally as much as the sound. And even when the band do get loud, such as new drummer Marty Brown’s built-up crescendo on “In No Good Way”, other elements downplay this, retaining the sense of restraint. “Just Say I’m Right” is perhaps the exception in this regard. It alternates between subtlety typical of the rest of the album and a chorus as close to raucous as Art Of Fighting get, with Ollie singing louder than anywhere else on the album. Most bands would leave off at this point, but not Art Of Fighting.
Not only do they then offer the short instrumental title piece, they also conclude the album consistently with “Something New”.
We Liked It And You Will Too!
When you’ve heard what may be the best album of the year, and it’s only March, then it’s extremely hard to justice in the review. An exaggerated claim that this is the finest record of 2001 sounds contrived and stupid considering there are nine months to go in the year, but when I first heard Wires I thought it was going to be hard for any band to beat it in terms of accomplishment and originality. It is also, I feel comfortable in saying, one of the finest Australian albums ever recorded. What sets Art Of Fighting apart from the rest is their relentless pursuit of simple and intensely beautiful sounds – something that made You La Tengo’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out one of the best releases of last year. But where as their American brethren were prepared to be tangential in homage to Sonic Youth and The Jesus And Mary Chain, Art Of Fighting keep this album consistent from track one to the end of the disc.
There is an awesome power in the music that is hinted at throughout the album, but it’s not until almost the end that this spills over with the rockier “Just Say I’m Right”. That’s not to suggest that the rest of the work is staid and boring – quite the contrary. If you’re not hooked by the first bars of the haunting “Skeletons”, then you’ve probably never appreciated guitar music or music in general. “Give Me Tonight” and “Akula” are brilliant follow-ups and both could easily stand as singles. This sounds like commonsense, but when a band have produced an album of singles, choosing a couple of tracks to put out on a 7” would be near impossible, yet the elegant refrain of these two tracks distance them from the rest of the collection. My personal favourites on Wires – the impossibly poetic and fantastic “I Don’t Keep A Record” where Peggy Frew joins on vocal sand contributes to some heartbreaking harmonies.
Not only are these songs meaningful and exquisitely executed but the mix has been deftly orchestrated by the renowned Tim Whitten. Whitten has had some amazing credits recently, and this work is easily as exquisite as the work he did with The Clouds. He seems to be choosing bands of late to which he can bring something and his sound, especially with guitar textures, perfectly suits the intelligent play of Art Of Fighting.
This won’t be the last that we hear from Art Of Fighting, but to be honest, even they might find it difficult to surpass this flawless album.
Beat Magazine: Album of the Week
It should be the formula for boring, bland, middle of the road record company rock: a boy, a girl, some strummed guitars and plaintive, soaring vocals. It should be drab, boring, predictable. It should be everything that Coldplay are: a by-the-book heart-tugger, a run of the mill three hankie weepie.
But it isn’t. Sure, Art Of Fighting have emotion (to burn), minor key melodies and big, stirring choruses to spare. But there’s more here than radio-ready record company rock.
On previous outings - their two eps - the band have been unafraid of dynamic range: one moment soft as can be, the next loud, abrasive (although always, of course, melodic). Here they abandon much of their quiet-loudisms, opting instead for a steady, moderated volume.
But the undercurrent of unease remains. It’s there in Ollie Browne’s lyrics, in the cross-strum of he and his brother Miles’ guitar. It’s there in the ever-more-confident vocal delivery of Peggy Frew. It’s there everywhere really, and it’s what stops this band being just like all the other bands.
Where most music is about tension and release, Art Of Fighting have developed, here, a different concept. It’s all tension and no release. The relative lack of dynamic range doesn’t flatten the emotional impact: it’s a device that hightens it.
A while ago I wrote a live review that said that this band should be on TTFM, because your mum deserves to listen to good music too. And, if there was justice in the world, they would be. But who in commercial radio - in commerce, generally - wants to take the risk this record represents? The risk, that is, of letting the listener work it out for themselves.
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