After six albums and over fifteen years fronting Bluebottle Kiss, Jamie Hutchings has released his third solo record, ‘Avalon Cassettes.’ As Max Easton writes, it’s another excellent release by a man involved in so many quietly admired recordings.
Bands like Bluebottle Kiss have pockmarked the last decade of Australian music like stray blisters; bands who silently released stunning records only to die in quiet obscurity. Deloris were one of them, The Fumes another, Bluebottle Kiss are the example that’s topical. When I was first handed a Bluebottle Kiss record with an accompanying description of their career, I was sequentially uninterested, curious and shocked. These were the kind of sounds that appealed to me; a band wringing out the soundscapes that I’d missed amongst the sheen and synth-pop of last decade’s Australian obsession. What the fuck went wrong where I was forced to hear so much of the Presets, yet not even know this band existed?
Bluebottle Kiss may be a lost relic, but the voice and mind behind their recordings is alive in the form of Avalon Cassettes, the second solo outing of front-man Jamie Hutchings since that band’s demise. Avalon Cassettes is an unexpected and alluring record that draws you into its odd beauty, playing host to an ever-present idle threat. Tracks like the seeming romance Slack Magic lay flourishes of chiming piano under folk-pop guitars for what begins and ends as a tale of mundane innocence. Yet wedged almost invisible in the second verse is that idle threat again; “And I felt my body turn to dirt /Like being woken from a dream / Where everything is rosy /Just as you idealized it to be.” Nothing is as it seems on this record, an ominous air almost always breathing through the most innocent of stories like crossing paths with a stray dog. The sweeping introduction to Smoky Dawson is sharply struck away by its opening lines; “Chained up and beaten with a lamp, by a father who fought with distinction.” It’s the compelling early highlight of the album, a eulogy of a man who most will only ever know by name preceding Hutchings’ displacement of a more prominent feature of Australia’s past on Ned Kelly Indoors.
Avalon Cassettes may be the first album to challenge Gareth Liddiard’s Strange Tourist as one of the most quintessentially Australian albums released in the last few years. Sprawling and tortured, it has a sense of space and laziness, evoking the imagery of those endless stretches of land that connect our major cities. Even that balance between threat and beauty is surely a trait that our country portrays; a snake on the riverbank, a crocodile in the mangroves. Hutchings’ voice is broken and confused, toeing that accent line between England and America where the Australian timbre sits. At first, the imperfections and flaws are off-putting, but like all the most intriguing voices of music’s past, it quickly becomes irreplaceable.
Avalon Cassettes is at its best in its minimalist moments. The stunning solo opener Invisible Coat (with the hypnotic repeating line of “I’m swimming with sharks”) carries an intrigue that some of the busier moments lose. Conversely, the percussion heavy Ways To Fall pounds and shakes with gorgeous clarity before the stilted and busted album closer Cicada Symphony.
On this album, Jamie Hutchings has found himself a worthy avenue for his creative force outside of his Bluebottle Kiss lifeblood. It’s a feathery slice of Australia stalked by a looming shadow, at once as beautiful as it’s ever dark. Avalon Cassettes is a reminder of what’s been missed of Jamie Hutchings, a superb release by a prolific musician that isn’t just a highlight within his discography, but a highlight for Australian music.