sonic garage 3
Sonic Garage.  

prison columnWhen I first was approached to vote in Australian elections, the government agency sent me a letter, with a form. I recall the form beginning something like, “I wish to enrol as a voter...”

But I didn't wish to enrol. At all. All I could see were wankers playing at some artificial game of one-up-manship, kids in a schoolyard, without a great deal of integrity or affection for their constituents and no moderating teacher in sight. 

Perhaps, 40-what years ago, I was being unfair.

Anyway, I read the instructions, which - bizarrely - insisted I complete the form in black pen.

So, not really knowing how to deal with this - I thought I'd get into shit if I didn't complete the form - I did complete the form, but in blue pen, and sent it off.

A week or so later came another form, explaining that I was required to complete the form in black ink. I dutifully completed the form in pencil, and sent it off.

A week or so later came another form, explaining once more that I was required to complete the form in black ink. So, now chortling, I completed the form in clumsy red crayon, and sent it off.

Never heard from them again.

Some 15 or more years later I was shamed by a couple of friends into voting, and still do so today.

However, by that stage I'd had a little more life experience. Including seeing posters explaining “types of jobs” at the local employment office. One of the posters showed a host of jobs and listed the educational requirements. There were two jobs which seemed quite unusual, because they required no experience and no educational requirements. One, I recall, was a “road sweeper”. (I've never ever seen a road sweeper).

The other, I, really...horrified to see, was “politician”.

Now, every day these folks appear before us in feeds, mags, tv news and so on, banging on about whatever it is. And we all seem to accept that they somehow know what they're talking about. But they can't, can they? I mean, there's so very, very much knowledge and information you need to have access to to do the job of representing the public in anything like a decent fashion, and you have to be able to develop a constant comprehension of subjects normally utterly beyond you.

I won't cite any specific examples from 'Yes, Minister', but watching that show should be compulsory for teenagers in my view, along with 'The World At War' and Ken Burns' 'Jazz'.

But surely, if we can elect baconheads like Scotty From Marketing (and His Amazing Umpty Ministries), or Shouty Jacqui Lambie ("... you've got terrorists out there. You can either go in there and ... let them rebuild again, or you can go ahead and finish them off...") - rather missing the point that people get angry for a reason, and unless that reason is addressed, or unless you actually commit genocide, the endless cycle of violence repeats) or someone who strikes me as deeply suspicious, such as Bruce Lehrmann, surely surely surely we may as well elect our own local Trump, or perhaps a goat, or a brick.

What I'm getting at is that in order for democracy to work (and I'm not a fan) we need to have a thumping majority of people who are educated and smart enough to understand whatever issues keep bouncing up in the normal course of the business/ economic cycles. And in order for that thumping majority of people to have confidence in their government, the folks in the bad-but-expensive outfits need to be - surely - both better educated than most, and more able to make decisions ...

Just take a moment to imagine a few of our current pollies. Now select a couple that you find spectacularly dumb. How would they handle a general knowledge quiz? Or a maths test without calculators? Chemistry? Physics? Rather important subjects to have a working knowledge of in some ministries. Can't you just see their faces, screwed-up in panicky concentration, sweat popping out on their brows and dribbling down their backs? 

Now, cast your mind back to your school years, before you heaved the bloody books into the bin. Ha, school's over, I won't need to pick up another book! 

See, it's that point, I think, that we should all be checked - rigorously - to see whether we'd make a reasonable politician. An even temper. An ability to solve problems, and to anticipate problems and solve them before they pop up. Not this, 'aha, let's get the French to build subs for us' and then 'oh, by the by, working with you lot is fucking horrible, you can fuck off, here's a wodge of wonga'.

And speaking of wodges of wonga, have you heard Sydney band Sonic Garage's new album “Dark Country"? 

Dedicated to the memory of Violet Jones and Jenni Green, “Dark Country” is a fine, strong album (which would fit in most FM radio playlists) lit with cadence and shot with firefly guitars courtesy Pete Bourke, Pete Trifunovic and Phil Van Rooyen. I confess I've no idea who's on bass on the given tracks, as both Petes share that role, mixing it with Ronny Walsh on on a rock-solid kit. There's a maturity to the songwriting, and a series of deep textures from Russell Parkhouse on piano and organ. The production's big and shiny as well. 

“Dark Country' opens the album, a sharply-strung lament with a country lilt (“don't you come down here, make a hole in the ground”); the second song, “Final Fall” features one of those lovely rising guitar lines which offsets the breakneck pace - I'm sure you'll recognise a style familiar to Sydneysiders - but the beauty of this piece (and several others) is the piano shift before turning on a cent and roaring back into the beyond. 

Don't change me
Don't save me
Save me
Save me

There are a veritable raft of musicians aiming at this style - Sonic Garage live up to their name, and they're one of the few you can listen to over and over - and when I say “listen”, you know I mean dance by the pool until you topple in, tipping rum and Coke all over the neighbour's kids.

Perhaps I don't need to explain that “Dark Country” does not indicate that Sonic Garage have suddenly turned gothic folk, but the album is essentially Australian, with a suitably American fracture running through it – “country”, “Detroit” and “folk” are all expertly blended ingredients here. 

The controlled feedback slicing through the songs reminds me of trucks passing on a red dirt highway in the middle of nowhere; take “Violet Jones”, for example. 

Strangely, “Before the Dawn” reminds me of Michael Plater's songs (and he's a folk guitar warlock, if nothing else). 

There's a peculiar loneliness to “Dark Country”, a sense of isolation in a huge land; and while Americans like to claim this sort of thing, it could equally be said of the inhabitants of anywhere from Iceland and Greenland to Romania and Siberia. 

The thing is that there's a lot more dry dust and scrub here in Australia than pretty much anywhere. That's not a good thing, though.

Sonic Garage are coming along nicely, as they say; they're on the boil right now and if you haven't seen them, give 'em a wodge of wonga and book 'em Davo.

Lastly - I fuckin' love Phil Van Rooyen's glorious golden voice, and he lets it loose in full force here. 

Get it here in Australia and here in the Rest of the World..

Dark Country is also reviewed here