There have been rumours circulating all year, but it’s official now: a collaboration between two giants of the Australian indie scene – Steve Kilbey from The Church and Glenn Bennie from the Underground Lovers has resulted in a new album, ‘Sakura Flower’ under the name of Bennie’s side project GB3.
‘Sakura Flower’ has added input from Steve Kilbey’s brother Russell Kilbey (of the legendary The Crystal Set) as well as Maurice Argiro on Bass Guitar, Lisa Gibbs on Keyboards and Rowan Smith on Percussion. It was recorded over five years and across two cities, the project beginning at Bennie’s home studio in Melbourne between 2017-2018.
According to Bennie, the initial recording process was reminiscent of his time in the early 80’s, working alone on ideas with his four-track portastudio cassette machine. He says:
The first stage of this album was in isolation (pre-lockdown)…experimenting with sounds, riffs and melodies. I was getting to know my new recording equipment and naively piecing together ideas. Through a process of editing and refining, and then through the contribution of Steve (and others), the songs took on new structures and meaning as each layer was added…I always wanted this album to have the feel and simplicity of a home recording. Every component was created in someone’s bedroom or spare room…from recording, to mixing, to mastering…it’s the way of the world now with recording I suppose but the similarities to my early development in recording to cassette tapes was a nice parallel that I used as inspiration. Steve’s own early solo recordings (especially Earthed) were a big influence on me too, with their DIY aesthetic.
The result is something quite magnificent: an amalgam of two artists at the very peak of their game producing some sparkling aural magic. Bennie says of the inspirations for the album:
One of my…musical reference points for the album was early Eno…the records he sang on…I was so thrilled when I heard some of the layered vocal ideas that Steve and Russell came back with. They had a real 70’s feel which is what I had envisaged and hoped for…it was like Bowie, meets the Beach Boys with a drum machine.
Of the result, Kilbey says:
It sounds like Kraftwerk, colliding with The Church, colliding with Underground Lovers, colliding with New Order.
Opening track and single ‘When I Come Calling’ blasts off with Bennie’s iconic guitar sound – a slightly distorted thick rumble – Kilbey’s deep sonorous vocals and a haunting synth drone in the distance. Argiro’s bass has that distinctive, rolling melodic thrum he does so well. There is an insistent movement and haunting aura to the track and it is pure full frontal shoegaze attack that is thrilling:
‘Hey You’ has a dreamy fugue and a sweeping string undercurrent below the ringing guitars. Kilbey’s melody is spine chilling – dry and wry with a blunt force as he sings I blame you for everything – leavened by the delicious melodies that are ascendant and bold.
‘Synesthesia’ puts Kilbey’s vocals to the fore (shadowed by brother Russell Kilbey) while an ambient stream trickles and bubbles underneath the psychedelic flow. This is a slowly flowing and imperial track: posed and assured.
‘La Musica’ injects a ragged edge to the dreamy aura with its muscular bass and Kilbey’s voice urgent and exhorting while ‘Compliance’ has a Bowie-esque quality to Kilbey’s vocals, with a deep scything synth bass rumble that is ominous and haunting.
The title track is another hauntingly beautiful track with a gorgeous instrumentation that rings sofly underneath the vocals, a recurring motif indelible and celestial. Kilbey’s voice is urgent and yearning, flushed with a sense of melancholia. This is heart achingly beautiful – mesmerising and transfixing, pure dream pop.
The sibilant and pulsating bass pop of the instrumental ‘Synesthesia (Reprise)’ awakens you from the reverie: it is a buoyant and bubbling track with swirling synths, painting a brightly coloured soundscape.
‘This Is The Future Calling’ dives deep into a psychedelic Beatlesque flavour: a melody with more range than the Himalayas and a circular blazing bass line and distant choruses ringing out. Like Kilbey’s work with Martin Kennedy, there is a space age feel to the track: cinematic storytelling with a sci-fi edge that engrossing and hypnotising. The shoegaze Velvet Underground buzzing drone reaches a crescendo as the intensity build up to a magnificent chaotic conclusion.
‘No Goodbye’ rings out with a motorik beat and jangling guitars but again Kilbey and the backing vocals are extra-terrestrial – melodic and shimmering. The entire track is a perfect mix of classic The Church with slice of Bowie and a sprinkling of the Underground Lovers. What more could you ask for?
Kilbey and Bennie together is truly a magical collaboration, and augmented exponentially by the other members of GB3 who add a frisson to the mix.
‘Sakura Flower’ is a shimmering piece of incandescent dream pop/shoegaze with a mesmerising ambient undercurrent. Kilbey’s voice is distinctive: deep, evocative, velvet with a barbed wire spine and the music has the gold-plated imprimatur of Bennie with his ability to create celestial ambient sounds that are immersive and cinematic. The album is out on Friday, 5 November and you can pre-order through the link below.
This album is the love child of two of Australia’s best bands (The Church and Underground Lovers). My album of the year? It’s jockeying with Kilbey’s other work.
Out on 5 November 2021, you can access the single and pre-order the album as a digital download or special edition CD through the link below:
It goes without saying that Kilbey has been incredibly productive this year. Kilbey has released four monumental albums under various guises (read my reviews of ‘Chryse Planitia‘ with Gareth Koch, ‘Jupiter 13‘ with Martin Kennedy, ‘Eleven Women‘ as a solo effort) and the double album ‘The Hall of Counterfeits’ with his band The Winged Heels. All this while working on another album by The Church and undertaking an intensive series of live performances both solo and with various bands across the Eastern Coast of Australia (including The Church).
‘Sakura Flower’ is the fifth album by GB3. When Underground Lovers had their hiatus in the early 2000’s, Glenn used that time to team up with a wide range of musical friends to create new work under the moniker GB3, and the magic continues.
Feature Photograph: Glenn Bennie by Stephen McKenzie, Steve Kilbey by Lisa Gibbs