The Right Frame Of Grind

27 June 2012 | 7:00 am | Doug Wallen

Doug Wallen interrogates Chris Brownbill of Brisbane’s Idylls about minute-long songs, double meanings and accidental jazz.

Like many a grindcore band, Idylls are able to make a 50-second song not only stand on its own, but feel like a handful of songs in one. Yet on the Brisbane quartet's debut LP, Farewell All Joy, there's also a pair of four-minute tracks that couldn't be accused of impatience. And while short songs remain a useful arena for breakneck experimentation, some of their newer ones are much longer.

“We've got one song that's 16 minutes,” promises guitarist and regular sound engineer Chris Brownbill with a chuckle. “And another that's 50 seconds. I don't think much thought is put into the length or even the style; it just happens.” Still, he says, “I'm probably more of a fan of those quicker, grindier songs.”

Whatever the length, the songs come from simply jamming in a room together. It's always been that way, ever since Brownbill discovered housemate Tristan Agostino was “extremely good at drums” a few years ago. Several membership changes later, Idylls are rounded out by bassist James Horgan (formerly of The Vanguard Tic and Ironhide) and vocalist Jordan Pulman. Following the recent Amps For God/Plague Hell 7”, Farewell All Joy is out now digitally and set for vinyl release through Brisbane label Monolith and Sydney label Tenzenmen.

For all the hairpin turns and abrasive vocal interplay throughout the album, it's the slow and spare instrumental closer Susy that proves most surprising, if only for its unexpected restraint. You keep waiting for it to explode, but it never does. It's even a bit delayed at the start, like a hidden track. “I didn't really want the record to lose momentum,” Brownbill recalls, “so I wanted it to be an afterthought, I guess. I wanted it to be a bit uncomfortable, like a [heavier] song was gonna kick in, but really it's just a way to ease you out of the record.”

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Brownbill recorded the album at his home studio (and live venue) Sun Distortion, where he also records a few other Brisbane bands as well as some friends' bands from Melbourne. “Just enough to pay bills, really,” he downplays.

If Pulman's screamed lyrics can be tricky to decipher, Idylls' song titles are so stepped in gallows imagery – bombs, plagues, funerals, nooses – that the band seem to be having great fun exaggerating these familiar tropes. “Definitely,” agrees Brownbill. “It's cryptic, but not cryptic for the sake of it. It's kind of inspired by books like Black Spring and Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, and also earlier Nick Cave stuff. And other things, like The Locust records.”

San Diego grindcore vets The Locust are a good reference point for Idylls, who change tact with freakish agility while never sacrificing kinetic impact. But just because their songs often have multiple titles separated by back slashes, that doesn't mean they're several songs conjoined. “There's so many different ideas and premises going on within songs,” Brownbill says, “it was hard to pinpoint it with one word. We'd just end up having double meanings and triple meanings.”

A prime example would be the channel-surfing Swine/Virgins/Utopiates, with its contrasted multiple vocals and almost funk-lodged licks of guitar. Or better yet, check out the jazz-like twists and flourishes on Paradise Of Blood, which even turns into a robust rock anthem in its second half. The cymbal work alone points to drummer Tristan Agostino's time studying jazz, but it's not some attempt at fusion. It's simply natural for this style of music that things are always shifting and keeping wildly in the moment rather than fussing over a greater meaning.

“It's an accident that we stumbled across that,” Brownbill argues. “A lot of technicality in the drums is just out of boredom. We write a song and think, 'Let's try and make it as interesting as possible, without thinking about how cohesive the song's going to be.' Just making it so we're not bored.”