Dec 292008

Charles Jenkins
Blue Atlas

LP (2008, Dust Devil Music)
Charles Jenkins.

If you’re looking for buzzwords to remember 2008, “change” and “hope” will probably figure highly. But if you’re looking for musical accompaniments for remembering the year that was, it’s unlikely Charles Jenkins will even rate a mention. That’s something of a tragedy, really. Blue Atlas, his latest solo record backed by The Zhivagos, might just be his masterpiece.

It’s a record of simple, plangent, acoustic pop. As with every record Jenkins releases, the influences are immediately apparent – The Beatles, Alex Chilton, the Beach Boys, The Byrds. But Jenkins voice is always a singular, original, Australian one. He combines the sly melodic ease of the greatest pop music with narratives of languid nostalgia stretching from Houston to Johnston Street, Fitzroy back across the Nullarbor and up to Brisbane.

‘Shelley Winters’ charts the cinematic history of its namesake buttressed only by an acoustic guitar, a voice and a cavalcade of swooning, desperate strings. It’s easily the best opener to an Australian album I’ve heard this year. ‘Autumn Fall’ betters any recent Ryan Adams record for maudlin self-loathing and ‘Maria Van Diemen’ goes toe-to-toe with Glenn Richards and Gareth Liddiard on the grim, unremitting excavation of Australasian history. A string section surrounds every moment on the record, but it’s never the stable bollard supporting shonky songwriting ala The Whitlam’s nadir ‘Love This City’. Instead, it’s just the final touches on perfectly realised songs, rendering them nothing short of epic.

In a year where most popular Australian music oscillated wildly between trenchant dance revivalism and brutish primitivism, Blue Atlas is a welcome respite. It’s an exceptional collection of classic songs crafted by the underappreciated leader of a perennial gang of “losers” (Melbourne’s Icecream Hands).

There’s no better soundtrack of hope to close 2008.

by JP Hammond