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coverpic flag Australia - Full Moon 32 - 05/30/99

Ice Cream Hands
Yellow & Blue
Rubber Records

A CLEAR CASE OF CRIMINAL NEGLECT.

I have just completed an Internet search for sites that mention the Australian band, Ice Cream Hands. I have done this intermittently over the last few years and have usually come up with nothing other than the same array of ice cream recipes, personal web pages listing favourite gelatin flavours, and bizarre sexual practices involving frozen foodstuffs.

This time, however, it was different. I discovered that Rubber Records, the Australian label that has consistently released material from this superb band over the last few years, have a website. I had not seen this site before (my fool mistake - I never thought of looking up the label, and had always searched on the band name or name of their albums or singles), and it was there, in clear unambiguous words, that I read the news I had been looking for for so long -a new album imminent. And to get me into a heightened state of anticipation it hailed that "a new single is to be released on May 17th (today!). The good folks at Rubber also had the sense and generosity to offer up a Real Audio sample of the new song - Yellow & Blue. Although the sample is brief (and sounds a little thin through my cheap computer speakers), the snippet suggests that the band still have the knack of writing intelligent, catchy songs that should be, if there were any real sense of fairness & justice in the world, anthems of our age

Let me digress a little, back into the past, to give you a true sense of the neglect this band have had to suffer at the hands of those who dictate 'taste' in this country. My first taste of ICH came out of the kindness of a friend of mine, 'Red'. 'Red' was a champion of Australian independent music and played it exclusively on his music show on Melbourne's public radio station, 3RRR. (The station does not usually score highly in ratings surveys but has long been an important outlet for local musos to get their music heard.) He raved to me about this wonderful band that he had just heard and promised me a copy of their album as soon as he got his hands on one himself.

A few weeks passed and I forgot about this conversation until he fronted up to me with a cassette on which he had taped me a copy of Travelling. Made Easy, the first ICH album. I have to confess that I did not get around to playing it for a few days, and then not until Red had berated me for taking so long about getting around to it. The impetus for finally listening came when he got around to mentioning the band was based around Charles Jenkins (Chuck Skatt) whose previous band, the Mad Turks From Istanbul, had been responsible for some of the best Australian indie pop of the 80s. (Their single Lolene still sounds great today). In retrospect I can see that he was itching for me to be converted!

I played it, and, whilst the earth didn't shake then and there, I was taken by the band's classy performance and the quality of the writing. Much more assured than the Mad Turks. Here was a band to keep an eye on, and an ear out for. Over the period since my first exposure to that album I have played it many times and it stands up to each repeated listen, revealing a depth to the songs that I had first been quite oblivious to. Perhaps this was because the basic production on the album initially disguised the songs' subtleties or maybe because its engaging clarity and simplicity was not the rage at the time.

Opening with the sound of basic chunky guitar on Let's Take A Look Inside, suggesting you are in for an earnest but largely forgettable listening experience. In moments though, this expectancy vanishes as the guitar is quickly complimented by some delicate piano as a sturdy rhythm section backup provides an aurally comfortable environment for some of the creamiest pop vocals ever committed to tape. The second track, The Way She Drives, then leaps from the speakers and takes you back to the best pub gigs of your youth. Invigorating power pop. The Ocean Floor, beats Neil Finn at his own game. This track boasts a masterful song structure, immaculate vocal harmonies and a rollickingly simple acoustic base. This is the sound of a band in love with their ability to tap into the realm of the great collective melody. The sort of song that makes you marvel at the fact no-one has come up with this before while reminding you of every song you've ever declared a favorite.

I won't go through the rest of the album here - but believe me the consistency of this disc is revelatory. The sorry fact is however, I have never seen a copy of this album in any commercial record store, not even here in Melbourne - their home base - a sad indictment of the destructive monopolisation of the racks by major labels and the apathy of the casual music buyer. The Australian cultural cringe is still strong I'm afraid. Collectively, we are scared to embrace our own until the rest of the world has declared its worth.

Sad too, that every ICH release I have managed to get a copy of since my conversion has been found in bargain bins or secondhand shops. I was, I am embarassed to admit, accused of illegal doings in one store where I was caught changing price tags on a secondhand copy of the second ICH album, Memory Lane Traffic Jam. I was swapping the $4 tag for a $15 one, working on the assumption that people would see the cheaper price tag and pass over it believing that cheap price equals poor product. The sales clerk thought I was attempting to swindle the store and asked me to leave - heathen! It was a pathetic act on my part but borne out of a sense of frustration and anger at the ignorance of people, because, quite clearly, Memory Lane Traffic Jam was, and still is, a masterpiece. (Even if it has an awkward and convoluted title.) The best pop album of the 90s I believe.

Criminally, no queues formed outside of music stores in 1997 in a frenzied crush fighting to grab the (few) available copies of the disc even after every review of it in the local music press spewed forth superlatives and gushed with hyperbole about the universal appeal of the new songs. Magnificent highpoints such as Here We Go 'Round Now, Supermarket Scene and Olive (all having been released as singles in the interim period between album releases) were left to shine as lost jewels in the vaults of Australia's glowing pop past. Every track sparkled - uptempo blasts of verve and energy like the opener, Is It Your Electric Chair?; shiny pop pearls like Go When You Want To, or quiet, insightful tracks like Is It Already Too Late?. The album displays a band totally on top of their game, and should have made them headliners in the big league but instead the record company bio still has to refer to them as "the industry's best kept secret". Shame on you world.

There is no point in going through the finer points of the myriad of their other releases - singles and EPs which all invariably have 'filler tracks' that any other band would die for. In fact, I would argue that is often the best measure of a band's worth - the quality of the b-sides. ICH have never released an ordinary song, they all shimmer and shine.

So, after last year's tasty single, Dodgy (featuring some prominent Australian music talent - such as You Am I's pop god, Tim Rogers - in supporting roles), the time has come upon us all to rectify the situation that has seen Ice Cream Hands labor under the yoke of anonymity for far too long. Stamp out such criminal neglect! Let us go forth and embrace their new single, their upcoming new album, and their entire back catalogue - and revel in the sounds that will transport us all to the hallowed plains of pop rapture!

Hands - stay sticky!!

Copyright © 1999 Ken Grady e-mail address

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