ASSEMBLY is a subterranean sonic journey into the worlds of the creative + pioneering characters who are part of the cultural fabric of the Illawarra region of Australia. Taking a genre-less tip, we learn what inspires them, fostering connections between each curator + the listener.
ASSEMBLY is a mixtape + interview series, that pulls back the curtain on a creative haven + how the mountain + coastal region of New South Wales inspires their work, in their own words.
Originally from Toronto, Canada, Medard moved from the eastern seaboard of the USA to Australian ten years ago. Making his way down the pacific southeast of Australia to finally find the perfect location and inspiration in the northern village of Wombarra, where he has settled with his family since 2016.
Best known for his solo work as Arc Lab and Tyyson, and as half of Hidden Shoal’s electronic duo Down Review with Tim Arndt (Near The Parenthesis), Medard Fischer’s eponymous solo work that are thematically driven compositions. They orbit the intersection of modern classical music, textured ambient soundscapes and music for film, creating undeniably moving instrumental works.
Every place he has lived has evoked a unique set of self-reflective questions and these form the major thematic notes of his music. His latest EP, Breath Patterns, for example was heavily influenced by a reflective dissonance between the deep sense of comfort felt living in this beautiful place during the initial uncertainties of the pandemic, juxtaposed against feeling extremely far away from family in the global north and being unsure when he would see them again. The E.P. album cover picture, above, he snapped one early morning at the Wombarra ocean pool near to where his studio is based.
"Dream pop is a dicey genre – never more than one breathlessly whisper-sung vocal away from the “lofi vibez” playlist at Zara; never more than one over-filtered lens flare away from a van life influencer reel. But yet again the change of the clocks has moved “rosé time” squarely into the hour when the Illawarra darkens under the escarpment and the pinkish sky is the brighter for it. So, I can’t help but get a bit wistful. And besides, living in this magnificent place who could blame us for feeling a little Endless Summer? Naturally, for balance we’ll need to cut our dreamy indulgence with some picks from the darker end of the shoegaze spectrum. But no need to go full Sunn O))) or anything – just a bit of the rougher stuff to remind them that just cos we’re floating doesn’t mean we’re high."
(Just press play + read the about the chosen tracks below. No sign up required.)
RHEYA – “Gold”
It’s hard to be a RHEYA fan. The guy released a fantastic EP in 2017 and then pretty much disappeared. He surfaces to reply to a comment or two on his Facebook (?!?!) page every few years, makes vague references to maybe recording some new music, and once posted some unreleased stuff to his Soundcloud profile (which he later deleted). Then…nothing. Regardless, more people need to hear his pitch-perfect Scandinavian dreamgaze vibe – melancholy without being weepy; sweet but not saccharine; gauzy without being washed-out. This one is my favourite. There’s something about the way it glides back into the verse after the first chorus that gets me. Maybe if we all listen, he’ll come back.
Have a Nice Life – “Bloodhail”
Death of Marat cover art – check. Vague, muttering lyrics about killing God with arrows – check. Hailing from Connecticut – double check. We’ve got a certified gloomfest on our hands. But in our quest to find a screamo-less, pre-latest-shitty-album Deafheaven, it seems we must steel ourselves and dive into the abyss of meme-gaze if we expect to surface pearls like this one. By my maths, the album cost something like one two-hundredth of what MBV spent on Loveless, which surely qualifies as pretty good fuzz+reverb-for-money, even if you do have to look past a bit of angsty melodrama to get to the evocative guitar lines and soaring, multilayered vocal swells.
Blonde Redhead – “Sit Down for Dinner, Pts. 1 & 2”
When I first moved to New York, I was just sure I’d get the chance to see Blonde Redhead play in a local neighbourhood dive. It would be somewhere in the LES – intimate, dark and smoky in an inimitably-cool, Lou Reed’s New York kind of way. This was the dream. In the event, I ended up living in midtown across from a Citibank building and the band was on some sort of extended hiatus the entire time and I still haven’t seen them live. Someday. Anyway, they’re back! This two-parter exemplifies the best of them. Pt. 1 is all arpeggiated guitar and gentle synth/string crescendos – Kazu’s duo-syllabic phrases squeakily jumping fourths and fifths. Pt. 2 ups the tempo slightly into a bossa nova groove anchoring a bed of plaintive synth pads, keys and something like whale sounds to Kazu’s now double-tracked vocals addressing you directly in stereo. Do yourself a favour: If like me you’ve chosen to live far away from family, don’t read the lyrics.
Belong – “Perfect Life”
First let’s revisit a universal truth of modern musicianship: Given enough time, the likelihood that you will try to create a “wall of sound” track approaches 1. Now its corollary: Your “wall of sound” will sound like utter trash. So then let us celebrate the good chaps from Belong for their tilt at violating the second of these axioms in Perfect Life via the gradual build of a fuzzy underlay to a distorted roar at the outro. Let’s also commend them for their embrace of standard bitrates – these are the guys that distributed their first album at 192kbps and (seemingly begrudgingly) their sophomore release at 320kbps. If that’s not punk in the era of streaming compression, I don’t know what is.
Postiljonen – “Atlantis”
Now I will walk the line between credibility and Majestic Casual. Why? Because although I don’t have wind-swept flaxen hair, and indeed I am not seated in the sand, facing the setting sun with back turned to the faux-retro camera, I cannot resist a tasteful saxophone solo, and even less so a perfectly-placed “C’mon!” To me, this is the “pop” in dream pop at its finest – melodic, catchy and unabashedly heartfelt. It’s devilishly hard to write music like this, at least for me anyway (and I’ve certainly tried). I first heard this album while travelling in Nicaragua on my phone’s speaker amplified in a drinking glass. It sounds a heckuva lot better in my headphones now, but I’ll always remember it as I heard it then.
Emeralds – Goes By
Of course I was going to sneak in at least one ambient track. Among some strong contenders from Helios and Fennesz, I settled on this sunny, gentle cascade of pulsing drones and blips from Ohio-based Emeralds. Layer in some dreamy, processed guitar and it’s got me feeling the fresh, bracing joy of an early morning swim.
Slowdive – Kisses
I was too young to appreciate Slowdive in their early 90s heyday. I was caught up in grunge and industrial at the time and would’ve dismissed them as way too soft. But for everything there is a season, and my Spring of Slowdive blossomed with their spectacular return in 2017. I’ve gone back to their older albums like Souvlaki, and while maybe not as unique or groundbreaking, I like their new stuff more. They wear their maturity extremely well. Everything sounds more polished, but without losing any vibrancy or authenticity. Kisses is the most immediate track on their newest, and it’s tied with Ben Howard’s Days of Lantana for biggest earworm of the year for me (sorry!).
TR/ST – Iris
I had intended to include a different TR/ST track here - Destroyer – that fits the genre focus a bit better, but honestly I just prefer Iris, and it’s more reflective of his typical darkwave sound which I love. If you don’t know Toronto-native, LA-resident TR/ST, imagine vocal styling akin to a more nasally Ian Curtis dropping suitably mopey lines over propulsive 80s industrial inspired synths and mid-tempo percussion. Describing him like that makes me realise how incredibly derivative TR/ST could’ve turned out to be but, happily, he’s legitimately awesome. (If you like this and are ever in the mood to wear all black and dance with the lights out, big recommendation for either of his first two albums TRST and Joyland.)
The Japanese House – Still
There’s pretty good reason to worry about algorithms and decry their seeming near-dominance of taste-making, but I must give credit where it’s due. I owe one to the bots over at Spotify for introducing me to Amber Bain as The Japanese House a few years ago. Almost immediately she became my “best new thing” and I spent too much time daydreaming myself reinvented as an electro/dream pop influenced singer-songwriter; that is, until I sat down with my guitar to write my perfect pop/ambient/electronic blend and crashed back to reality very quickly. Apparently, we can’t all be Amber Bain. That’s OK. We only need one. And discovering her catalogue has been terrific. This is one of her earlier tracks, and for sure there’s been a noticeable progression and maturation of her work over time. But there’s something compelling about the anthemic-lite choruses and the almost DIY quality of the production (but, like, very good DIY).
The Radio Dept. – The Worst Taste in Music
Along with RHEYA and Postiljonen, the third entry from Sweden! I’m not sure how this jibes with my whole “feeling Endless Summer” thing – summer most definitely has an end in Sweden. But maybe there’s something in its ephemeral long evenings, or like other northerners maybe the Swedes just really appreciate going to any beach that isn’t heart-stoppingly cold. But whatever it is, they’ve got the whole 80s-ballad-in-soft-focus, works-really-well-at-the-beach thing down pat – a basic pulse bassline and unassuming quantized percussion let the jangly guitars and reverb-drenched synths take centre stage. But above everything it’s the simple and direct lyrics that really get me on this one – “a kiss is half promise, half warning”. Sheesh! I can’t write stuff like that.