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Record Reviews

Mum Smokes
Easy/House Music

Mum Smokes make the magnificent out of the mundane on their new double LP 'Easy/House Music', writes SHAUN PRESCOTT. Cover art by MARK RODDA.

In a world full of excuses to be angry and demonstrative, it’s a feat to pull off one album like Mum Smokes have here – let alone two. Rather than make blatant coruscating statements, this music provides a meditation on the day-to-day, rarely resorting to confrontation or bombast. Domestic set pieces riddle both of these albums, and along with that tact comes the idle sunburst philosophising and 20-something minutiae that has dominated this form for most of its history.

It’s a subtle craft, moulding the mundane into something faintly exotic. Those who fail at it do so miserably, purveying a desperate sense of privileged self-entitlement, the type of naval-gazing that sets all but the participants’ teeth on edge. Far from that, Mum Smokes render the smallest, most petulant trials, such as cleaning your house for a visiting lover, or fending off schoolyard bullies, into heartrendingly touching pop songs that prefer to show rather than tell.

It’s there in the album titles really: Easy and House Music. Easy is the standout of the two, recorded between January 2006 and March 2007. It best showcases the distinct nuances that each member brings to the table, and Mum Smokes is at a clear advantage when it comes to adept songwriters: founder Jonathan Michell, also of The Ancients, stands alongside Karl Scullin of KES fame, Julian Patterson of Minimum Chips and JK Fuller of ZOND. It’s amazing - considering the apparently disjunct parameters involved - how precisely these songwriters fit together. They don’t so much blend in together – because who could blend into Scullin’s voice, for example – but each personal touch compliments whatever follows.

Take Scullin’s ‘These Fish’, for example: an upbeat jaunt complaining of (or perhaps dryly celebrating) the baffling distance between polar opposites. Michell takes the reign thereafter, delivering two of my favourite songs. ‘Cheese on Toast’ is a funereally-paced piano ballad, vividly evoking dusty corners and overgrown backyards in inner-city share houses. It contains a melancholy that threatens to flood into depressiveness with its pining for days of meagre food budgets and plenty of time spent grappling with ideas and ambition. Patterson elaborates on this theme with the following title track, a gorgeously warm low-key diary entry, drawn out by a precise bass line and lilting sonorous guitar touches. When Patterson admits that all he has is “waiting for you”, the ensemble marches inexorably onwards for minutes into an exhausted end. Indeed, in the world of Mum Smokes there’s always plenty of time, nothing is ever rushed, and Easy seems haunted by the falsity that anything will come in time - that comfort and a happy ending is something one is entitled to.

There is a wealth of material on Easy that resonates on this universal level, but there are moments of lyrical inscrutability that tie the theme together, that buoy the heavy blows with a suitably plangent respite. Take JK Fuller’s ‘1949’ for example, a wry and sardonic rocker replete with dryly distorted guitars, coloured with choral keyboard chimes. It’s jaded and aloof like Sonic Youth circa Goo. Elsewhere, Michell offers a figurative and malleable love song in the form of ‘Cathy’.

Easy is the type of album that could provide months of aural stimulus, so full it is with tiny hidden epiphanies, so it’s rather excessive that another fully-fleshed album should be packaged with it. House Music is much looser, more musically effusive and, in some cases, determinably upbeat. It’s as if sometime between these albums, Mum Smokes came to terms with whatever they were grappling with on Easy and decided to lay down a more spontaneous set of tunes. House Music is let down by a fairly perfunctory beginning: after a short droning instrumental, ‘Jazz Tiger’ veers into jam band territory filtered through a lethargic indie-rock backbeat. By the time Michell begins singing it already feels as if they’re stranded between ideas. A soaring keyboard coloured finale saves it from becoming tiring.

The album improves from there and peaks at ‘Gypsy Joker’, returning to the themes explored on Easy but delivered here as a wisened anecdote. ‘Health and Girls’ is the highlight, and perhaps most exemplary, exhibiting a side of Scullin’s persona that his own project has rarely – if ever – revealed. It’s an ominously drifting soundscape walled by airy keyboard drones and Scullin’s magically individual voice. Overall, House Music is the more experimental album: it does drift, weaving strange psychedelic textures through partially-formed pop songs. It’s head music peppered with pop respite. Basically, the inverse of Easy.

Both albums are remarkable though, and this is a very generous and outstanding offering from a band whose constituents already dominate over their peers elsewhere. At a time when indie rock seems to be burrowing deeper into the crevices of its own tiring, white, middle class psyche, Mum Smokes has retrieved some of the facets that made this avenue so appealing to begin with: a precarious middle ground between prettiness and confrontation, shyness and calm confidence.

It’s music for youths who are growing irreversibly older. It’s also an album that is unlikely to be bettered in 2009.


Easy/*House Music* is out now on Sensory Projects.

  -   Published on Friday, April 24 2009 by Shaun Prescott.
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Your Comments

SpringRain  said about 6 years ago:

this is a fantastic review. i finally got around to ordering this. considering how much i listen to 'railroads...' its quite surprising i don't own this yet

goldbuttons  said about 6 years ago:

It is spectacular.

I was looking for this review for ages a while ago, no wonder I couldn't find it, it's unsearchable.

adam  said about 6 years ago:

Yep, they are both absolutely life changing records. Obvious I know, but These Fish is my personal standout track.

tinafabulous  said about 5 years ago:

1949 is my current fav.
It's spacey genius.

why is this thread so short?

djblxs  said about 5 years ago:


P-joanie  said about 5 years ago:

hehe tinafab. old school

feralmedia  said about 5 years ago:

I've been listening to this pretty well non stop lately.

goldbuttons  said about 5 years ago:

I listen to it lots too. And I also love 1949, and Easy. They're probably my favourites. And maybe Cheese on Toast.

I just like this band a little too much.

goldbuttons  said about 5 years ago:

ah, title fix! wonderous.

SpringRain  said about 5 years ago:

Easy is the best song I've heard this year

mrmagoo  said about 5 years ago:

love these albums! so annoyed i am still to see them live

(man i could go a cheesburger stunner meal)

JunkiePhil  said about 5 years ago:

I feel stupid about it, but I told John they should play another show cause the last one sucked, and he said they're not going to play again
Sorry for being a rude drunk wanker if you read this.

JRB  said about 5 years ago:

I find this album (these albums?) very ''under the radar'' when I listen to it (them?). It works as background music and doesn't grab me BUT I keep on returning to them. There's something subtle going on here where the music slips under your skin and becomes a part of you. One of my favourite releases this year.

tinafabulous  said about 5 years ago:

I like your description JRB.
Somehow these songs feel like a soundtrack to my own hazy childhood memories.
Left for Dead is great too

JRB  said about 5 years ago:

Childhood memories, teenage memories, uni memories. The album seems to be dedicated to those uneventful times that make up the bulk of live. Listening to it brings back happy memroeis of doing nothing.

mrmagoo  said about 5 years ago:

so this was a bit of a once off right? or at least not too often? because of all the other involvements

realy wished i went to one of the gigs

tinafabulous  said about 5 years ago:

Listening to it brings back happy memroeis of doing nothing.
So true, so true.
These memories become beautiful

emiller  said about 5 years ago:

Here's hoping they'll play again.

poofpoof  said about 5 years ago:

This album just keeps giving. Timeless classic.

SpringRain  said about 5 years ago:

While it's very sad these guys are no longer, I am really really looking forward to the new Ancients album. Live sets have been so good lately

ScarlettOrgasometer  said about 5 years ago:

'Left for Dead' is crazy.

Them Days also a win.

pandad  said about 5 years ago:

They are no more?

basil seal  said about 5 years ago:

no more...

damn this is really good. i started re-listening over the past few days and still haven't got to house music, i just keep playing the last half dozen songs off easy over and over...

goldbuttons  said about 4 years ago:

'Brisbane' and 'Curtain Smile' are so perfect.

I keep hoping that they'll be compelled to rejoin musical forces for one reason or another and release another album.

hardtop  said about 4 years ago:

All busy making an apocalyptic/family fun television series, cross between Hill Street Blues, The OC, Blake's 7 and A Country Practice, starring Russell Crowe as the Android.

hyperfuzz  said about 3 years ago:

i love this album/these albums

proud_vegan  said about 3 years ago:

i adore mum smokes. I saw them at Hot Damn last time. It was thrilling to finally catch them

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  • 1.   Wrap Up
  • 2.   Non Commercial Lifestyle Activities
  • 3.   At The Gate
  • 4.   1949
  • 5.   Messy Room
  • 6.   Cathy
  • 7.   Sweetheart
  • 8.   One With Seventeen
  • 9.   Curtain Smile
  • 10.   Not One of the Boys
  • 11.   What You Know
  • 12.   Some Fish
  • 13.   Them Days
  • 14.   Reprise
  • 15.   Cheese on Toast
  • 16.   Easy
  • 17.   Catherine
  • 18.   Jazz Tiger
  • 19.   Left For Dead
  • 20.   Invisible Sand
  • 21.   Doubles
  • 22.   Bicycle
  • 23.   Night Peace
  • 24.   Gyspy Joker
  • 25.   Health and Girls
  • 26.   Out My Window
  • 27.   House Music
  • 28.   Brisbane
  • 29.   Meltdown Creation
  • 30.   King’s Pillow
  • 31.   Struggletown
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