David West seems like a pretty interesting guy. Originally from Perth, he played in bands of varying musical styles – from the raw hardcore of Burning Sensation and the experimental Whalehammer to the lo-fi pop of Frank & The Can I Speaklys and the blasted punk of Pauline Manson with some of the Taco Leg guys. But like many Perth musicians, he moved east. Way east. Not to Melbourne but San Francisco, where he currently plays in the post-punk band Rank/Xerox and is a touring member of Total Control.
With Rat Columns West takes on a quieter, more introspective side, with stunning pop songs that occasionally delve into more experimental sounds and murky guitar noise. While his first 7? – also released on Antipodean-loving Californian label Smart Guy (Total Control, Boomgates) – was primarily a solo affair with help from fellow Perth dude and Total Control drummer James Vinciguerra, on Sceptre Hole he has employed a solid line-up that includes Matt Bleyle and Jon Young.
The opening ‘Eastern Vibrations’ has a heavy, almost Italian psych-horror vibe going on, with spaced-out vocals amidst a slow, drone-y fog. I’m thinking something that Umberto of Expo 70 would be into, but then it jumps into the bouncy ‘Death is Leaving Me’, which sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place on a Sarah records compilation. Indeed, UK indie pop of the ?80s and early ?90s has a strong presence on songs such as ‘Flowers’ and ‘Opaque Eyes’. ‘Spectres in the Hall’ is just that: a drum machine- and synth-propelled instrumental that pushes a spookier, colder take.
Listening to the album, you can hear that West is challenging himself in creating a record that moves in different circles. You get a sense that writing music is effortless for West, but he decides against the easy route. In the past he has covered experimental New York guitarist Loren Connors, and on the brief ‘Raincloud I’ and the closing ‘Raincloud II’ he opts for a drone-y, more abstract feel.
But the best parts are when he reaches for the pop. The highlight being ‘Ashes of a Rose’, with even the song title sounding like something The Pastels would call a song. It’s a brilliant pop song. One that makes you want to jog. ‘Dying Days’ has a noisier MBV feel with layers of reverb and fuzz, while there’s only one way to describe ‘Summer Thighs: pretty. A simple acoustic guitar line strummed over West’s whispered vocals.
What it comes down to is that West crafts excellent songs. From the memorable guitar hooks and pulsing synth on ‘This Night Mocks Lovers’, which brings an ?80s New Wave dangling earring vibe, to the driving ‘Flowers’, this is a great record that showcases West’s ideas and talent. A talent that enables him to deftly meld the experimental with his ability to write a compelling pop song.
Listen to ‘Sceptre Hole’: