DAVE FAULKNER

Bleed­ing Knees Club’s sec­ond al­bum, Fade the Ham­mer, sees song­writer Alex Wall weave some far-flung in­flu­ences into his bratty pop punk, from Light­nin’ Hop­kins to doo-wop, writes Dave Faulkner.

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Last month, Bleed­ing Knees Club re­leased their sec­ond al­bum of melodic punk gems, Fade the Ham­mer. The al­bum comes six years after the band’s ac­claimed de­but, Noth­ing To Do – a ver­i­ta­ble life­time in pop years. But Fade the Ham­mer sounds like the work of fresh-faced teens. That’s partly be­cause, as the band’s founder and song­writ­ing ge­nius Alex Wall told me, he de­lib­er­ately writes Bleed­ing Knees Club songs from the imag­ined view­point of a 17-year-old. How­ever, the ex­u­ber­ance of the mu­sic it­self is the real rea­son this record sounds so youth­ful. Fade the Ham­mer is jump­ing out of its skin with ex­cite­ment, and lovers of spiky pop will feel that rush as well.

In in­ter­views, Wall has made no se­cret of his af­fec­tion for Blink-182, a band that is al­most as un­cool as Nick­el­back these days. A cou­ple of Fade the Ham­mer’s songs are cut from a sim­i­lar pop-punk cloth. Open­ing track “Case” even em­ploys the clichéd soft–loud dynamic to be­gin its fi­nal cho­rus – talk about chutz­pah. Tongue in cheek or not, that corn­ball de­vice still works a treat here.

Hard on the heels of “Case” comes “No Strings”, hurtling along with a dev­il­may-care swag­ger:

This morn­ing I got out of bed with noth­ing on my plate

I could get burnt at the beach or drink some beer and skate

No one to tell me what to do

Noth­ing, no one, no at­ti­tude from you It’s true

No strings, no strings, no strings to tie me down

No strings, no strings, no strings to pull me round

The track cheek­ily baits hip­sters with a ref­er­ence to Limp Bizkit, an­other band few will ad­mit to ever hav­ing liked. Wall doesn’t care if peo­ple cringe at the Blink-182 and Limp Bizkit ref­er­ences – if they do, his mu­sic prob­a­bly isn’t meant for them ei­ther. Still in his 20s, for Wall these were sim­ply bands he heard when he was grow­ing up.

I in­ter­viewed Wall last week at the cafe over­look­ing the Bondi Ice­bergs pool. He grew up on the Gold Coast and learnt to skate and surf long be­fore he thought about pick­ing up a gui­tar. The surfer-skater punk ethos per­me­ates ev­ery­thing Bleed­ing Knees Club do, and Wall is very se­ri­ous about be­ing not so se­ri­ous. “Sim­ple top­ics, sim­ple songs, and it doesn’t need to be any­thing else,” he told me. “It’s meant to be, like, you know when you’re 17 and you feel like you rule the world? You think that every­one’s wrong but you. That’s what the band is.”

Wall doesn’t like to think of any­one sit­ting at home qui­etly pon­der­ing these songs – they’re meant to be the sound­track for a bunch of friends let­ting off steam, or for singing along to while cruis­ing in a car. The lyrics sound guile­less, al­most throw­away, but that be­lies the work that Wall puts into them. “It’s a chal­lenge for me to write as if I was a 17-year-old and I like that … I don’t even party any­more,” he said with a laugh.

The next track, “Kitchen”, was most def­i­nitely writ­ten by some­one who par­ties, and not so long ago from the sound of it. Wall ad­mit­ted it was writ­ten about some wild nights he ex­pe­ri­enced two years ago while liv­ing in a punk share house in Los An­ge­les. “The whole ‘morn­ing glory’ thing is about wak­ing up and just be­ing psyched on the time you had the night be­fore,” he ex­plained. “And then some­times you wake up and you’re like, ‘Aw, I need to sort my­self out.’”

Bleed­ing Knees Club songs al­ways have strong pop sen­si­bil­i­ties – Wall is a nat­u­rally gifted melodist – but the el­e­gantly re­strained “Kitchen” ap­proaches dream pop in its wist­ful­ness. It’s a duet with So­phie McComish, of Syd­ney band Body Type, and McComish’s gritty voice per­fectly com­ple­ments Wall’s trade­mark bratty vo­cals. His dis­tinc­tive voice is un­doubt­edly one of Bleed­ing Knees Club’s strong­est as­sets. Like punk trail­blazer Joey Ra­mone be­fore him, Wall’s singing has a tim­bre that is prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to im­i­tate – a punk rock voice par ex­cel­lence.

The fi­nale of “Kitchen” fea­tures a glock­en­spiel and that in­stru­ment ap­pears again in “Be­hind”, the next song. “Glock­en­spiel is my favourite in­stru­ment,” Wall told me. “Ev­ery­thing feels good with it.” The lyrics of “Be­hind” con­tinue the theme of “Kitchen” – dis­si­pa­tion in com­mu­nal hous­ing – as Wall sings, “I’m wasted, un­wanted / A bur­den to my friends … Do you re­ally want me – do you re­ally want me here?”

The song also fea­tures a short, min­i­mal­ist gui­tar solo, which I be­lieve is the first gui­tar lead on a Bleed­ing Knees Club song, though there is an­other, equally brief one on “Burn­ing Crosses”, the stand­out track of Fade the Ham­mer. It will surely be­come a fan favourite in con­cert. It bar­rels along fu­ri­ously, pro­pelled by Wall’s in­dig­nant lyrics, which veer per­ilously close to so­cial com­men­tary, some­thing he is usu­ally scrupu­lous to avoid:

Heaven is a cir­cle jerk

Je­sus is beg­ging on his knees Burn­ing crosses, burn­ing skies Some­day, some­day soon Is any­body look­ing for some­thing? Is any­body look­ing for some­thing? Is any­body look­ing out for me?

While we can safely as­sume the singer is no fan of or­gan­ised re­li­gion, his in­ten­tion here is less pro­fane than it first ap­pears. As Wall ex­plained, the prin­ci­pal tar­get of this song is the self-con­grat­u­la­tory cul­ture preva­lent on so­cial me­dia. “All these peo­ple … jack­ing each other off, pos­ing for pho­tos with each other and shar­ing each other’s mu­sic – fuck them!” Their mas­tur­ba­tory heaven sounds hellish to him and he pic­tures Je­sus on his knees, beg­ging to get away. “I feel like Je­sus would be [say­ing], ‘Oh man, there’s all these losers up here. I wish I could just leave and go down and hang out with Sa­tan.’ ”

Gui­tars fig­ure promi­nently through­out Fade the Ham­mer, as you would ex­pect on a punk rock al­bum, but Michael Barker’s melodic play­ing has added an en­tirely new flavour to the band. His gui­tar lines shadow the lead vo­cals on “Burn­ing Crosses” and “Fist”, and else­where an­swer them with a counter melody, on songs such as “Be­hind” and “Break the Seal”. Bleed­ing Knees Club have be­come much more mu­si­cally so­phis­ti­cated since their lo-fi be­gin­nings on the Gold

Coast in 2010. Al­though he is still a huge fan of lo-fi mu­sic, Wall recog­nises that for many lis­ten­ers it is an ac­quired taste. “I wanted to make a record peo­ple could lis­ten to,” he said. “Not every­one wants to lis­ten to a re­ally scratchy, abra­sive record … Lo-fi catches en­ergy in a sense but it also hides a lot of stuff, and I don’t think these songs needed stuff hid­den.”

I men­tioned com­mer­cial pop punk bands as be­ing touch­stones for Bleed­ing Knees Club but, in re­al­ity, the in­flu­ences are much deeper and broader. Black Flag are prob­a­bly the sin­gle most im­por­tant punk group for Wall, but he also adores mu­sic as di­verse as the Delta blues of Light­nin’ Hop­kins, The Modern Lovers and clas­sic doo-wop. “You can’t be un­happy lis­ten­ing to doo-wop,” he said. “Like, driv­ing around in your car and lis­ten­ing to doo-wop on a sunny day is the best thing that you can do.”

Wall dis­cov­ered these and many other artists on MyS­pace, a plat­form he misses. “It was re­ally good for find­ing re­ally small lo­cal bands,” he told me. If he heard a band he liked he would look at their MyS­pace pro­file. “Their top eight would usu­ally be, like, lo­cal shitty bands that they thought were cool, and then you could go to those guys’ top eight and so forth. I don’t know whether you can do that any­more.” Modern stream­ing plat­forms such as Spo­tify, with its al­go­rithm-di­rected if-you-likethis-you’ll-also-like rec­om­men­da­tions, are laugh­ably out of touch some­times. “I looked at our [Spo­tify page] re­cently,” Wall said, “and, I don’t know, no one who lis­tens to those bands [Spo­tify rec­om­mends] would lis­ten to us … I wish I could pick our sug­gested artists.”

Hav­ing such a di­verse ar­ray of mu­si­cal in­flu­ences pre­vents Bleed­ing Knees Club from fall­ing into punkby-num­bers self-par­ody. The band’s big­gest sav­ing grace is hav­ing a very gifted song­writer at the helm, though. Wall’s songs com­bine pure pop melodies with punk rock riff­ing and a snotty at­ti­tude, and even when the lyrics are at their most angst-rid­den, the re­sults are ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Whether it’s the beau­ti­ful, shoegaze­in­flu­enced “Cherry” or the tough-as-teak “Break the Seal” or “Fist”, all three of which sur­pris­ingly fea­ture syn­the­siser – a punk rock no-no – this is mu­sic that al­ways cuts to the chase: sim­ple top­ics, sim­ple songs and, just like the man said, it doesn’t need to be any­thing else.

Bleed­ing Knees Club could have played it safe – and played it cool – by mak­ing a lo-fi record that would only ap­peal to hard-bit­ten punk fans. You know – the kind who cry sell­out if the mu­sic sounds too ac­ces­si­ble or, the big­gest sin of all, be­comes pop­u­lar. Given the un­ad­ven­tur­ous mind­set of com­mer­cial Aus­tralian ra­dio

WALL’S SONGS COM­BINE PURE POP MELODIES WITH PUNK ROCK RIFF­ING AND A SNOTTY AT­TI­TUDE, AND EVEN WHEN THE LYRICS ARE AT THEIR MOST ANGST-RID­DEN, THE RE­SULTS ARE EX­HIL­A­RAT­ING.

and the Lo­gan’s Run carousel that is Triple J, that’s not likely to hap­pen for Bleed­ing Knees Club any­way, but in a mu­si­cally just world, it would. In any event, Wall isn’t los­ing sleep over any of this. As he told me: “I can make a lo-fi record in my bed­room and lis­ten to it my­self … I have, and I don’t need to do it again. I’ve made plenty of those.” This time, he said, “I don’t care. I wanna do stuff for me.” On Fade the Ham­mer, Bleed­ing Knees Club sound tougher and tighter, lusher and brighter, than ever be­fore. To bor­row a phrase from Nick Lowe, this is pure pop for now peo­ple. So, what are you wait­ing for

• now, peo­ple? Go and get some.

DAVE FAULKNER is a mu­si­cian best known as front­man of Hoodoo Gu­rus. He is The Satur­day Pa­per’smu­sic critic.

Bleed­ing Knees Club: (from left) Nick Leighton, Michael Barker, Gio Alexan­der and Alex Wall.

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