The Hummingbirds have a permanent place in the annals of indie rock history in Australia, shining brightly but altogether too briefly for a period in the late eighties early nineties (check out their single ‘Blush‘). The band’s singer/guitarist Alannah Russack, along with her magnificent Entropy Band, has been laying a glorious trail of breadcrumbs over the last year in the lead up to her new album, ‘As Memories Pass Each Other’: a series of shimmering and moving singles that are soaked in a radiant light and that sparkle and glow with a sense of change and mutability, loss and regret while blowing gently on a spark of hope.
The title gives the theme away – founded on the indelible imprint of the past but fueled by a forward motion that points towards growth and resolution. There is no doubt that the early death of The Hummingbirds enigmatic founder Simon Holmes is a thread that winds itself through the album – a profound sense of loss within the strains of nostalgia. In Russack’s own words,
The album title is a line in one of the songs – Drive On. The concept is about memories that seem to float in and around old stomping grounds. Our memories are so subjective but every now and then they must cross paths in the ether. When I return to certain places or drive familiar streets its like clusters of memories still survive and have never left.
I imagine everyone’s memories of same places passing each other in the street….on their way or mingling just like they did when they were reality.
Russack says the album began with a phone call:
It all started with me calling producer Marc Scully after years of not seeing him and asking him to do a remix from my EP, Lesser Mysteries of Love. He mentioned he was starting a studio and so it goes. No remix…..but an LP!
That organic studio process of writing, completing and recording songs allowed Russack and the other musicians the freedom to explore the music and take it to where it needed to go.
I feel like I had the luxury to work on the songs till I felt their tempo, arrangement and feel were all on track. This is the advantage of no deadline. Making art in and around life. This is why I love writing, arranging and recording. It’s challenging and the knowing when to resolve a piece and leave it be is a tenuous thing.
Opening track ‘Places You Love’ puts on display Russack’s indelible ear for melody, with her vocals that have a velvet soft shine and jangly crystalline guitars that ring out and linger long in the mind.
Russack says of the track:
It was written when reflecting on years gone, that feed the urge to continue on with hope. It jangles, pops, yearns and drives headlong into summer.
The song is about past relationships and the impact on memories and places. With the swirling organs, dancing piano and layered harmonies, the track sparkles brightly with a blush of yearning and sadness.
It is indeed just the panacea for a nation emerging from months of COVID-led deprivation as the antipodean summer launches: a breezy sweeping track that induces swooning and reverie.
‘Tend Your Fire’ is a languid, slow burning fuse of a song – ambling along with a bluesy flow and a dixie swing, highlighted by mournful horns and harmonies (from Russack’s sister Kathryn).
The southern sound is redolent of Tom Waits with its swinging intensity and also recalls Nick Cave and The Triffids in full tilt with their wild cinematic outback sound. It is a vital and energising waltz.
Like her earlier single, ‘Place You Love’, Russack imbues the track with positivity and hope – much needed in our current climes:
Tend your fire
Into the night
Tend your fire
Keep it burning bright
And if the embers
Die down to rest
Trust in your warm hearth
Now don’t you fret
Russack says of the song:
This song was written as a call to be lead by your heart and the tools of survival: breath, awareness and self inquiry. I imagine a crowd of people, carnivale style, marching, dancing, playing and singing in celebration of being alive. Yet the evolution of this piece was… alone in front of my wood fire in the Wollemi wilderness…
Indeed, despite the call for resilience, there is an underlying melancholy and an air of a faded carnival world: weary yet resolute, worn down but with a steely spirit. Russack is adept at reflecting the vicissitudes of life, observational and candid yet burning with a steadfast and uplifting optimism.
‘Movement’ is just over three minutes of unadulterated melodic joy. Featuring musical contributions by her Entropy Band (which includes Ratcat’s Marc Scully, Sidewinder’s Shane Melder and keyboard legend and music academic Jadey O’Regan) the track is a vibrant and melodic jewel in the firmament. it is a track that seems to grasp the baton from The Hummingbirds with its brand of joyous jingle jangle indie pop.
The Hammond organ sound provides a sparkling layer of sunshine and the harmonies are ethereal as Russack sings of vulnerability and doubt while celebrating the inspiration and love that people can provide:
I wanna give you movement
I must be scared for myself
Shadow lying still
Can’t quite believe it
Would I be angry?
Would I blame somebody else?
There I go again
I’m back to talking about myself
The rousing chorus and high-stepping pace create something indelible and joyous.
‘Embrace’ has steel guitars that add a weeping sweep to the melancholy reflective track – gently tinkling pianos add to the yearning, measured pace as Russack sings it feels like home with a heartbreaking chorus backing her up.
The weeping guitars return in ‘Drive On’ – an epic, stately anthem that is epically beautiful and poised. This is a delicate and gracious song – a six minute paean to resilience and survival with a strength and power that is stirring. ‘You Came Around’ initially floats on a bed of guitars and piano – almost free from percussion – until the rhythms kick in and the song reaches a crescendo. The song is another exposition of Russack’s emotive power in her songwriting – wrenching emotion from your heart.
Russack’s alt country core shines through in ‘She Leapt’ – augmented by the steel guitars and the naked and raw emotions in her vocals and the backing chorus that tug on your heart strings.
‘Love Beast’ is sprightly indie pop at its glorious best that harkens back to The Hummingbirds. The celestial melodies skip over a bubbling, splashing guitar with Russack’s voice distant, observational as she challenges the love beast to go on catch me.
‘Trouble’ is seven minute long gentle and reflective song with dappling guitars and slide guitars etching sweeping lines in the distance. Russack’s distinctive voice is at the fore: wracked with emotion and roaming over a wide range, etched with gentle subtle harmonies. It’s a bluesy, blousy swagger down a country and western path with a brown-bagged bottle of pain, reminding me of a meeting of Dolly Parton and The Triffids in some darkened alley way.
The harmonica edge and jangling furnishings to ‘House Of Stone’ create the sense of stability and comfort that forms the theme to the track, a dreamy fugue of a song. The album ends formally with ‘Massive Sun’ (there is a thirty second hidden track entitled fittingly ‘Hell Space Guitar’), another sparkly journey with warm guitars that coasts like a yacht in the breeze in the bright blue sky: with a touch of melancholy and achingly beautiful.
This is a beautiful album – it feels close, personal and intimate, journeying as it does across a lifetime of regret, loss and reconstruction with a sense of resilience and a spark of hope. The instrumentation gathers in its arms a suite of glorious, raw emotional instruments and sounds that gently gambol and play under Russack’s powerful vocals, encompassing a country twang and indie sensibility and imparting a certain sense of grandeur.
‘As Memories Pass Each Other’ is out tomorrow and will be available on all the usual download and streaming sites. You can have an early listen through the link below.
The album will be launched on 25 November 2022 at the Golden Barley Hotel in Sydney.
Feature Photograph: Alison Stewart