Ross McLennan

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Mistletone Records is proud to share “Selling Good News” by Ross McLennan, the first single from his forthcoming album All the colours print can manage, out October 6 on Mistletone / Inertia.

Ross McLennan and his 10 piece band The New World will preview the new album in a rare live performance at Melbourne’s Post Office Hotel on Sunday September 24 at 4:30pm.

  • “McLennan puts a lot of himself into what he writes, each record is a reasonably accurate snapshot of his mental health; (and) his fourth solo record sees him balance his love of pop with some of the darker themes that naturally find their way into his songs. Anyone who has followed McLennan’s post-Snout work knows that the quality of his output hasn’t deteriorated in the slightest. Perhaps that’s because McLennan knows he must remain true to himself. It’s what McLennan has done throughout his entire career, and we’re all the richer for it” – DOUBLE J

A singular and illuminating songwriter, Ross McLennan dives deep into the collective subconscious whilst touching raw nerves which reverberate the anxieties of our times, giving his songs a revelatory and prophetic aura. The Ross McLennan hit factory has been open for business since 1991, when he formed Melbourne indie trio Snout and made an indelible impression on the Australian musical landscape throughout the 1990s. As Double J recently commented in their retrospective of Snout’s career: “Their shrewd handle on pop in all its forms meant that they could employ diverse influences into their sound – sometimes heavy, sometimes groovy, sometimes jangly – yet emerge sounding completely cohesive”. Since disbanding Snout, McLennan has made three unfailingly excellent solo albums and been shortlisted for the Amp (Australian Music Prize). Accompanied by his ensemble of strings, woodwind and a choir, Ross McLennan has manifested magical performances at Melbourne Festival, Brisbane Festival, Queenscliff Music Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse and the Famous Spiegeltent, and supported artists such as Cass McCombs and Matthew E. White.

ross mclennan web

All the colours print can manage is the title of the forthcoming Ross McLennan album and a phrase from the song “Selling Good News”. As McLennan explains, “it refers to very human visions of paradise: pictures fleshed out in hues from a colour matching booklet. The colours have corresponding numbers. The colours might look different depending on the paper stock they are printed on, and the light in which they are viewed. The people in the pictures are wearing clothes in a modern neat casual style. Complete families have died and are strolling peacefully through paradise with all their limbs intact. This is not so different to how the narrator views the world.

“Some of the songs on this record are hopeful, some not”, McLennan reflects. “This album took five or so years to make, and there Is a whole other album on the cutting room floor. But I needed to get the balance between light and shade right.

“I wanted to make a charitable album. To have some things that you could dance to and smile about, but not sell out sadness and despair. Across the record, there is a corresponding tension between physical reality and the mental drift to abstraction/distortion, the connected and the dissociative. There are the iron clad rules of the rotating earth and then there is a banana peel. The narrator has foot in each camp.”

PRAISE FOR THE NIGHT’S DEEDS ARE VAPOUR by ROSS McLENNAN:

      • “By name and mercurial nature, The Night’s Deeds are Vapour is about the thrilling transience of impulses and ideas, from eerie woodwind that slides around tonal certainty to lyrics seemingly on their own journey of discovery moment by moment”THE AGE
      • “These unapologetically wayward songs are top heavy with canny wordplay, sharp hooks and subtle menace… McLennan resembles nothing less than a black-clad Burt Bacharach” – ROLLING STONE
      • “Bubbles over with the Snout legend’s droll delivery, biting lyrics and snuggly, quirky, softly embellished psych-pop… The album ranges from the rock ‘n’ roll homage ‘Get This!’ and the orchestration-flooded lead single ‘Clarity’ to the world-weary yet puckish yarn ‘Sunkissed’ and the whisper-from-the-next-pillow finale ‘Travel Arrangements’ – all of it imbued with the man’s sleepy wisdom.” – MESS + NOISE
      • “McLennan can engage with his voice alone, but again surrounds himself with lush orchestration and a choir. The best songs start simple and then let the backing vocals play a key part in reaching a joyous peak”BEAT
      • “A one-man pop factory… McLennan has got his own glorious thing going on” – STACK
      • “The wordy songsmith has established a back catalogue that represents a level of quality rarely rivalled in the Australian musical landscape”INPRESS
      • “(The) much revered Ross McLennan (is) back after five years with a new solo album of intriguing widescreen pop . . . A unique take in the Australian suburban experience”2SER
      • “Essential Album of the Week”3PBS-FM

Songwriter of uncanny depths, Ross McLennan is a quiet achiever on the indie-rock landscape. The former front-man of Australian 90s indie-pop band Snout brings his soft, drawly, breathy vocals and clever melodic hooks to create and intriguing daydream of sound sequences. Delving into the most vexed and heartbreaking issues of our time, Ross McLennan delivers live performances that are both rare and riveting.

Feature interview in The Age:

Snout man on vapour trail

Michael Dwyer

Exploring new musical vistas, Ross McLennan continues to surprise.

The ever-creative Ross McLennan.
The ever-creative Ross McLennan. Photo: Maria Poletti

THERE’S a portrait of a ”National Geographic Mexican” behind Ross McLennan’s kitchen door. Under the paint, several older works are lost forever, including the colourful carnival of stoats that graces the cover of his new album, The Night’s Deeds Are Vapour.

”I was spewing I painted over that cause it was the best painting I’d done for a long time,” he says, ”but I wouldn’t have painted it if I thought I was going to keep it.”

If that sounds odd, wait until you hear the album. The former Snout tunesmith has followed his stream of musical consciousness into new vistas of choral/orchestral abstraction beyond his AMP-shortlisted Sympathy For the New World album.

”I have poor boundaries. I just meander,” he says of his process, which has occupied four years between his backyard studio and the church at Sydney Road Community School where he is a teacher’s aide.

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”I’ve been reading home recording magazines about wearing too many hats in the studio, how to stop yourself drifting off and concentrate on a good, strong song. It’s good advice but maybe the industry perspective of a good strong song is not all that important. It’s not important for me to make albums quickly any more. I like to drift …”

McLennan makes no secret of his attention deficit issues. His studio is an explosion of half-unpacked possibilities. A solitary ”ironic” egg carton is glued to the wall. Odd wooden objects – he has a box of them – act as random acoustic diffusers.

By name and mercurial nature, The Night’s Deeds are Vapour is about the thrilling transience of impulses and ideas, from eerie woodwind that slides around tonal certainty to lyrics seemingly on their own journey of discovery moment by moment.

”That’s what the recording process is like,” he says. ”It’s what reading a book is like, for me. It just exists on this ‘now’ line, where the moment is all there is. It’s not actually a positive thing, because you don’t really have any perspective on anything.”

What you do have are albums that sound like nothing else and demand a unique approach to performance. The New World is an 11-piece choir and orchestra that McLennan hopes to keep busier after four years in pieces.

”It’s just incredible, the focus I’ve got for the next album,” he enthuses. ”It’s funny, I keep thinking I want to get more out-there sonically but I keep coming back to this Kinks kinda stuff. In my mind I feel like I’ve hit on something for the next one where it’s all going to knit together beautifully.”

PRAISE FOR ROSS MCLENNAN’S SYMPATHY FOR THE NEW WORLD (SHORTLISTED FOR THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC PRIZE 2008)

      • “There is genius among us” – MUSIC AUSTRALIA GUIDE
      • “Ross McLennan excels with this stream of musical consciousness, forging a new strain of languid psychedelia from off-kilter strings and spidery guitars, all spilling harmonic colours outside the lines” – THE AGE A2
      • “Sheer unadulterated godhead genius. A melancholy psych/folk masterpiece.” – RHYTHMS MAGAZINE
      • “Like Beck, Brian Wilson or Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, McLennan’s musical vision is unimpeded by predictability or tradition… As time passes, McLennan asks more of his listeners but all parties can take that as the highest compliment.” – THE AGE EG **** four stars
      • “If you want an Australian album that will still be causing you glee and aural wonderment in 2050, hunt down this gem” – HERALD SUN **** four stars
      • “McLennan’s voice is like a lone man walking through the night with a lamp, so it doesn’t tread heavily but it does find a way to inveigle you along. This is an album in the mould of Scott Walker but with its pop heart as valuable as its head.– SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
      • “A sweeping vision… one of the finest local albums this year” – DRUM MEDIA
      • “With Sympathy For The New World McLennan announces himself once and for all as one of the few truly original pop songwriters in the country, and trust me, you’ll be hard pressed to hear a better album all year.” – BEAT
      • “A bit of a masterpiece, frankly” – MESS + NOISE

Sympathy for the New World is the AMP 2008 (Australian Music Prize)-shortlisted album by Melbourne’s home recording pop pundit, Ross McLennan. This stunning record charts Ross’s dizzying artistic progress following his post-Snout solo debut Hits From The Brittle Building, and delighted his many fans as well as turning a new generation of listeners on to his twisted pop precocity. The CD is available on Mistletone / Inertia and on mail order.

Written and recorded entirely in his home studio in the quietude of an inner-north Melbourne suburb, Sympathy for the New World is an accomplished production. A dozen finely crafted songs open up labyrinthine worlds of meaning, association and possibilities with every listen. Ross’s quizzical and playful lyrical and melodic smarts place him firmly in the league of other such idiosyncratic musical brains as Todd Rundgren, Kurt Wagner (Lambchop), or Stephen Malkmus – another artist who has arguably done more weighty and intriguing work after breaking up his band and retreating to his home studio.

The sophisticated production values and rich orchestration add dark soul textures and grandiose alt-rock flourishes to Ross’s sometimes witty, sometimes melancholic songs. Amongst the special guest appearances, Rebecca Barnard contributes ghostly vocals on the majestic closer, Welcome To World’s Fair, and a rousing choir of illustrious dozens from the Melbourne music community can be heard on the symphonic Sceptre Glove.

Sneakily spectacular, introspectively epic and inevitably classic, Sympathy For The New World is a must-hear. Ross is currently working on the follow up album due in 2010.

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From The Age: Subterranean songwriting blues

Read the full article here

Beyond the din of popular music, the chimes of artistic freedom can be heard. Michael Dwyer meets some of those putting meaning to melody.

No matter which way you read it, Bob Dylan’s honorary Pulitzer Prize of April just didn’t scan. To those long hip to his revolution, it was a lame apology for a sustained and deliberate insult from the American literary establishment.

Besides, what do songwriters have to do with that world any more? It’s 40-odd years since Allen Ginsberg drew fleeting academic attention to Eleanor Rigby and Subterranean Homesick Blues. Popular song has long since resumed its lowly status in the public imagination, a village idiot to the educated society of art and literature.

That perception is based, of course, on the overwhelming audibility of the lowest common denominator. Where is the legacy Bruce Springsteen identified when he inducted Dylan into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame 20 years ago? “Bob freed the mind,” he said, “the way Elvis freed the body.”

Gone to ground, is the short answer. The genie Dylan let loose can never be rebottled but, from an industry viewpoint, it’s obvious that the body remains the more attractive dancing partner. Art is ballast for music tragics while cheaply synthesised froth rises ever more thickly to the top of the charts.

If there is a silver lining to the global freefall in CD sales, it’s the palpable ascendancy of this kind of thinking in a new generation of independent musicians. Cheap home-recording facilities, the new MySpace democracy and fading prospects for mass-market penetration are redrawing aspirations at a grassroots level.

It’s not likely to be a rebirth of Forster’s “golden age of songwriting”, in which the inner monologues of Dylan, Lennon, Morrison and their ilk briefly intersected with the appetites of the commercial mainstream. But the collapsing pop market may slowly clear the air for less calculated, more individualistic voices to be heard.Melbourne auteur Ross McLennan (no relation to Grant) hasn’t been anywhere near the ARIA Top 100 with his latest home-recorded opus, Sympathy For the New World, though it has been lavishly praised by critics. Comparisons to unstable pop geniuses Scott Walker and Brian Wilson are apt: there is a kind of madness in McLennan’s motivation and process.“I guess it quietens my brain down,” he says. “I start off angry and confused and upset about something and when I come out the other side, when I have one of those moments that I consider magic, when I’ve nailed exactly what I wanted to say, even if it doesn’t make sense, I’m very happy and relaxed at the end of it.”His new album’s impressionistic theme is of a world unhinged by fear, dogma, greed and other seeds of destruction. Welcome to World’s Fair is its dramatic culmination. Its rolling rhymes and half-spoken, free-metre form recall Beat poetry, one of his recurring influences.
a solitary soul surveys the paucity of potential suitors
pushes past her fellow commuters
looks around and sits down
next to the guy with the brown tie
and the laptop computer
the heavily coutured strain under the weight of their creations
their postures wear the gravity of their special situations
and the doors groan open for the latecomers
come one, come all comers
take a seat, welcome
you are all frontrunners
The trip winds on, morphing into a metaphor for social hierarchy and aspiration, until haves and have-nots reach their mutual destination in the fire of a terrorist’s bomb. Only in the indescribable shock of the explosion does the song spiral out of literal narrative into what McLennan calls “magical thinking”.
the 8.15 rounds the corner past the everyday people
suddenly swirling up around the synagogues, minarets and steeples
a traditional lament that travels by world’s fair
encoded in its resonant machinery
cats’ whiskers and leg hairs laid flat like the scenery
and it tolls as it tears flesh and sprung fit panels
it tolls as you scan the shortwave channels
it’s kept burning in trapped flame
a crucifix filament
its pealing hand is dealing to the guilty and the innocent
and people forget that people are born
people forget
ross

Again, meaning and emotion soar beyond the realm of poetry. Lugubrious horns play the desolate traffic, sliding strings infer the slow outward pull of camera perspective. Rebecca Barnard’s husky chorus vocal is the broken mother’s plea while the narrator’s tone mirrors the short journey from boredom to confusion, disbelief and devastation.

Speaking about his influences, McLennan mentions novelist/philosophers Kurt Vonnegut and Albert Camus before John Lennon and Ray Davies, but “Dylan’s always there,” he says. “I remember reading . . . about the madness he went through when he was writing Chimes of Freedom. I feel a sympathy for that type of mind.”

It’s that type of mind, rather than anything you can notate, record and take to the bank, that defines Dylan’s legacy among his golden-age peers and countless subterranean acolytes. Maybe it’s neither pop nor poetry they’re writing but something with no practical use for a shelf label at all. It was only ever popular by default, after all, when the auteurs of the ’60s briefly took control of the vehicle and leapt the rails of teenage heartbreak and euphoria to cruise the labyrinth of imagination.

The often-asked question of whatever happened to the great songwriting visionaries is easily answered. They were simply sidelined by an industry with no time for mind games and a greed for instant gratification. Who can even wonder why pop idols are now fine-tuned on TV by expert panels and SMS voters? Commerce demands vast committees that overrule all but the most obvious keynotes of heartbreak and euphoria in songs we already know by heart. These are the tunes that play best in the mall.

“We’re not making wallpaper for people,” says Ross McLennan. “When people go shopping they want wallpaper. That sounds misanthropic; I don’t mean to be. Maybe it’s just rare these days to find intelligent people wanting to pursue pop music as their favourite thing.”

One suspects it will take more than one Pulitzer Prize to change that, but at least the chimes of freedom are still tolling out there for those with a mind to listen.

 

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