The poetry of Adam Gibson is raw and intimate. It reflects the harsh sunlit terrain of Australia through his epic widescreen portrayal of the environment and the compelling forces of nature, while somewhat antithetically delving into the minutiae of everyday life with crystal clear observations grounded in hope, love and compassion. In the company of his fellow band members, The Aerial Maps, this quintessentially Australian lense is delivered through half spoken, half sung vignettes: lyrical poetry in verses that erupt into the most anthemic and uplifting chorus replete with melodies that sends shivers up your spine. ‘Intimate Hinterland’ is a sumptuous feast that fills the listener with an euphoria that emanates from the aching beauty in the word and the music.
I have already premiered the opening track ‘We All Need To Know There’s Someone Out There In The Night’ earlier this week when The Aerial Maps unveiled news of this surprise album. I wrote it is at heart a gospel song holding out a beacon of light in the most dire of times, expressing solidarity for those locked in isolation and despair. The Australian vernacular and the melancholy infused in the part spoken storytelling is cinematic, bold and achingly beautiful with its layers of harmonies in the anthemic chorus.
The sparkling and the jagged slashes of guitar and muscular bass in ‘The Heart Isn’t Made for Earthquakes’ launches into a sprightly effervescent reggae lilt with the beautiful theme expressed the repeated lines:
The heart isn’t made for earthquakes, the heart is made for love
There is a ragged quality to the track with the backing singers joining in to the carousing chorus with an abandoned sense of joy. Gibson’s poetry is delivered with passion: a quavering intensity, the trumpet sounding out over the clamouring voices in the background is celestial and euphoric.
‘Aurora Australis’ captures the obsession many of us have the with jaw dropping beauty of auroras mixed in with the alienation of being far from home traveling and working around the globe (a post high school rite of passage for many antipodeans). The Aurora Australis – a far more mythical and elusive creature than the northern lights – almost becomes a palimpsest for the desire for being home in this short piece with its haunting trumpet in the distance (and a delightful reference to Hobart). The hopes and desires to catch a glimpse of the southern lights – a quest ultimately achieved in this story – give a sense of homecoming and rest.
The Aerial Maps’ connection to the landscapes and fine detailing of a sense of place and home continue in ‘Back In The Northern Country’ with its depiction of the minutiae of relationships. This track is an epic tale that smoothly moves from a spoken lyricism depicting love and intimacy to a wide expansive chorus. Gibson’s expressive words are filled with a mundane but yearning romanticism that captures the details of an easy gentle love: simple but so evocative: I love it when you say ‘OK! I’m cooking! I shall be cooking tonight…’ The haunting backing vocals provide a dreamy reverie to Gibson’s list of the things he loves about the object of his desire – a list of tangible, earthy pastoral delights. The mention of the cattle and cane and remembering everything in the outback is a clear nod to The Go-Betweens and ‘Cattle and Cane’ but rather than an air infused with sadness and nostalgia, this is affirming and optimistic, looking forwards.
And in a fitting segue, The Aerial Maps cover The Go-Betweens track ‘Surfing Magazines’. Written and sung by Robert Forster from ‘The Friends of Rachel Worth’, this was always to me a curious track and not what you would expect from Forster with the reference to surfing culture (expressed more in terms of being aspirational – a sort of ironic nod to more of what is expected of youth growing up in a beach culture). If you’ve caught Forster recently in his solo performances, this track has morphed into a set ending rousing anthem, and the Australian vernacular and tone fit nicely into The Aerial Maps’ album. I do detect, as with the original, something fey and tongue in cheek about the tone.
The depiction of a languorous childhood by the sea – the memories of things as mundane as blu tack, juicy fruit gum, the Corolla breaking down with a cracked head gasket and dodgy dealings with mechanics – forms the epic themes behind ‘Definitive Return to Lighthouse Beach’ – a ten minute journey through life. The recurring theme remains: the acute sense of place and the need for home, wherever that may be.
The contents of a soon to be wrecked car define Gibson’s beautiful eye for the mundane: his geographical journey through the streets of Sydney epic and nostalgic as he recounts drink driving tribulations and a relationship breakdown that leads to a Odyssean journey by his partner. Gibson’s tales are filled with pathos and normality; acutely capturing the vicissitudes of everyone’s lives. The eye wateringly funny tales are backed with a cinematic instrumentation – Alannah Russack’s singing in the far distance like a hazy Blue Mountains, yearningly chanting I’m coming home, with crystalline jangling guitars. Breathtaking and beautiful.
The album ends with the title track: combining the recurring themes of the album: geography and relationships, with musical memories and a life on the road as a guiding force and common thread. The song has a sepia-tinted colour: a recount of memories infused with vagabond travels and intimate relationships that strain and coalesce like the scorched bitumen of outback highways. Saxophones and trumpets form a billowing undercurrent for Gibson’s immersive words: evoking a smoky, jazzy, dimly lit space that augment his unique delivery.
‘Intimate Hinterland’ is an instant antipodean classic: an essential and vital piece of expressive art that captures the widescreen, cinematic and endless horizons of the Australian landscapes and infuses them with raw and honest vignettes of a mundane life – sometimes filled with pathos, sometimes hilarity but at all times compassionate and kind. In that mundanity, it becomes breathtaking beautiful: honest and poignant. As exhilarating poetry, this album would be magnificent alone, but The Aerial Maps are more than a mechanical delivery machine for the images: the instrumentation sends out moody, emotional, haunting and melodic shapes that carry the words with a stately grace.
‘Intimate Hinterland’ is now via Bandcamp (see link below) and all the usual streaming services.
The members of The Aerial Maps reads like a who’s who of the Sydney indie scene. Originally formed with the late legendary Simon Homes of the iconic The Hummingbirds, members are currently Adam Gibson (Modern Giant, The Ark-Ark Birds), Simon Gibson (Disneyfist, Sneeze, Modern Giant), Peter Fenton (Crow), Alannah Russack (The Hummingbirds), Mark ‘Na Na’ Hyland (Disneyfist, Handsome Young Strangers, and many more) and drummer Jasper Fenton (Decoder Ring, The Laurels).
The Aerial Maps will be launching Intimate Hinterland at HiWay Bikini Bar in Enmore, Sydney NSW on Saturday, November 20th, with support by Froggy Prinze. Details here.
The Aerial Maps members contributing to the album are:
Adam Gibson – lead vocals, saxophone, piano
Alannah Russack – guitar, vocals
Mark ‘Na Na’ Hyland. – bass, vocals
Peter Fenton – guitar, vocals
Simon Gibson – drums, guitar
Safari Lee – trumpet, backing vocals
Pete Colquhoun – backing vocals