Music for Librarians
asmania is cut off from mainland Australia by the rough waters of Bass Straight and when the island comes up in conversation it’s inevitably for cheap laughs—conjecture on inbred families right through to the simple fact of Tasmania’s shape—but most visitors to the island come back converted. The natural environment is spectacular; in fact, it forced the birth of Australia’s environmental movement to stop damming and logging on the island.
“There isn't that much going on in Tasmania,” says Anthony Rochester on the Stereolab forum. “I don't know of any bands releasing stuff overseas or touring much, but then again I don't get out much. Oh yeah, there's me, but I don't go on tour, I just release stuff on overseas labels. Today I'm semi-rushing to get a stupid bonus track for a Japanese re-release of my first album finished. Last night at the uni bar, I overheard a guy telling someone else how good my music is, but no one knows what I look like, so I was sitting right next to him and he didn't know. I was too shy to introduce myself.”
I don’t often use quotes in a review, but with Rochester I think it helps.
Tasmania’s population makes it difficult to get decent live exposure and it takes a lot of paddling to get to more of them. Although Rochester’s first album got an Australian release on Gifted (since renamed Popfrenzy), the latest one is yet to be released locally. With the rise of the Internet, it’s no wonder Rochester bypassed the mainland.
He is well established internationally, having picked up distribution through an extended online network. His first album was released on America’s Dogprint, he’s released an EP on Japan’s Motorway, and had songs on compilations from Café 2001 (Norway), Motorway, and Beikoku Ongaku (Japan). He even made it onto a compilation of Norwegian pop.
More than two years after his debut, Music for Librarians bears witness to his time in the studio. Rochester plays just about all the instruments on the album, from violin to drums, with no samples, and barely any guests. Still it’s no million-dollar compound: he boasts that the new album sees a step up from built-in sound-card, cheap mic, and four-track on the first album to a better mic, a Behringer mixer, a proper sound card, and a faster computer. Despite the basic set-up, he gets a great sound.
Chanson and the French ‘60s are an obvious influence. However, like so many of his contemporaries, it’s viewed through the prism of Stereolab and the High Llamas. In interview, he’s almost completely unaware of the groups you would suggest when describing his music. While not quite as trendy a name to drop, Blur have left their mark on Rochester too. “Intentions of Fergus” sounds like his take on those awkwardly lethargic songs you find at the end of just about any Blur album (cf. “Blue Jeans”).
Rochester says his lyrics just come out when he has to sing something: “There’s no intended message to convey or story to tell.” But for all that, they evoke a wistful melancholy, and on a lighter note, a sense of whimsy too: “Into The Stars,” asks you to “Turn left after Andromeda / Don’t stop ‘til you get there / Don’t look back or regret / Remember your purpose.” But for all the quirky lines, there is usually an emotional hook, near the end of “Into the Stars,” Rochester’s plaintive “Where have you gone?” hints at an undercurrent to the song.
It makes for an odd blend. Rochester paints outside Stereolab’s sharp lines with a childish fervour. And while that may make his message-board rants seem fairly obnoxious, on record he’s far sweeter.
Reviewed by: Matthew Levinson
Reviewed on: 2005-07-28