WHAT I’M LISTENING TO: ‘Black Opal’ – Shining Bird (October, 7, 2016 – Spunk Records)

Some albums appear at the right time. Life and music has a way doing magical stuff like that, and 2016 is leaving me wanting a Shining Bird t-shirt. How I feel about a band or artist, usually ends up with me wearing their name around, and apart from my beloved Neil Young Tonight’s the Night shirt, which  drastically needs replacing – incidentally, as does my Midnight Oil Head Injuries shirt – I don’t wear many band shirts. These days I have a preference for plain coloured t-shirts, but a humble band from Thirroul has done it for me this year. With their second album, Black Opal, they’ve been able to shine some light on an otherwise challenging year.

black-opalRecent years have been challenging: terrorism, political and global instability, refugee crises, racism, desire for equality (gender / marriage), global warming and the environment, mental health, domestic and alcohol related violence, are on the long list of issues for much of western society – especially in Australia. And now, the western political front seems to be entering its most problematic and uncertain period since the Cold War – people are anxious.

For me personally, depression moved further and further into my life, which had been developing towards the end of 2015. By May I found myself broken. Really, it was life telling to stop – it was too noisy, which is why Shining Bird’s sophomore effort has been a welcome entity as 2016 prepares to say goodbye.

While it could be said ‘Love Shadows’ is the weakest track on the album, I find it has me catching a gentle current in my mind and drifting away to a safe place. But it’s a bit like comparing a good strong whiskey to a lime soda spider – and I like both. As I’m typing this out, I’ve played ‘Morning Light’ about twelves times in row. The layers of sound and the dreamy guitars are just immaculate, really, and that’s before I’ve gotten to ‘Utopia’. No, not the place, the fifth track on the album.

Black Opal’s opening track, ‘I Can Run’, seems to hint at the current state of desperation and anxiety gripping western culture. ‘We won’t break, we won’t leave, we listen to empty lies …’ Dane Taylor sings, which seems to bemoan the current state of western politics.  And we are living in desperate times. People are worried about the potential impact of climate change – it’s arguable we’ve already seen its devastating effects already. ‘My head keeps on spinning / while the ozone disappears / the end is getting closer / we’re getting closer to the end,’ is the lament coming from ‘Helluva Lot’.

‘We’ve got a helluva lot to lose.’

Not only that, current Generation Y are finding it difficult to buy a house as easily as their Baby Boomer forbearers were able to, and those angsty Gen-Xer’s are wondering how they’re going to pay the Boomer debt off!

One of the disheartening aspects about the current state of popular music these days is had a band like Shining Bird been around in 1983 or 1987, or even 1991, they would receive far more attention than the spoilt brat music that seems to hit us these days. The Bird are far from being behind the times; they’re probably way ahead of their time, like many Australiana bands before them have been: the Triffids, the Church, the Go Betweens, Goanna, Midnight Oil, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Tumbleweed are just some of them.

The Bird are not alone either, satirical indie rockers, You Beauty, the very intriguing Summer Flake, Melbourne’s DARTS, and punk metal band DISPOSSESSED, are part of a new wave of Australian bands and artists shaking it up at present. It’s music that is speaking, but who is listening?

Shining Bird has been gradually been becoming a band people care about, simply because from what I have heard in their music, seen in their shows, and what I get whenever I chat with any of the band members, like leader Dane Taylor, is an encounter with a very genuine, humble and quiet spoken guy. It makes their music seem real, the issues they write and sing about are issues these guys deeply care about. Whether its indigenous affairs, environmental or social, the Bird are presenting as a quiet voice I believe many will tune into more as they develop. Shining Bird are becoming one of Australia’s most important bands, probably the most important since Midnight Oil.

bird-at-anitas

The lead single off of Black Opal ‘The Rivermouth’ is a work of genius – reminiscent of Brian Wilson during his Pet Sounds and Smile days. The environmental themes flow right through the album – in many ways what Shining Bird are giving us is a soundscape of Australia, literally, as can be heard in the instrumental ‘Charlie’. You can virtually see the baked red sand of central Australia. It’s a very haunting and spiritual piece of music. It makes you wonder about our country, for the many great things about it, there is much we take for granted. There are people who are forgotten, like the original owners of the land. There is damage we have done to our environment. There is damage we are doing to ourselves and each other.

The Bird are almost anti-rock, which really, Brian Wilson was like that too. While he was a big Chuck Berry fan, he was into sounds. Even if he spent a good portion of two years trying to outdo the Beatles, he didn’t try to be the Beatles; he just made the music he knew he could make and did it well. That’s what Shining Bird do. The wall of sound, the nature aspect to the music – the use of Australian indigenous percussion, native Australian birds (koels, wattle birds, kookaburras, butcherbirds, lorikeets, rosellas etc) in the background, time signature changes and polyrhythms, and the songs within songs – this is something Wilson made his own in 1965. There is no pretention in them either, just like there wasn’t in Wilson – it’s what made him so endearing, back then and now.

In some respects, when I listen Black Opal, I feel like I’m listening to an Australian Pet Sounds. And with that, there’s not much more that needs to be said. Only to say, just when you think humility is a missing ingredient in western pop music these days, along comes a band like Shining Bird and they give it to you in spades.

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W.P Cooper's site is about sharing and writing about stuff: music, art, life, society and culture, and whatever else comes to mind. Email: contact@wpcooper.com