Gravel Samwidge, Complaints, Australia, Swashbuckling Hobo Records, SH043 CD (2021)
Since forming in Sydney way back in 1989, alt-rockers Gravel Samwidge have travelled a long road that took them through many line-ups and changes of residence – the band is currently based in Brisbane – but the two consistent things about Gravel Samwidge are (1) founding member Mark Spinks (vocals, guitar) has always been the core around which the band revolves, no matter how many people have passed through the band’s ranks, and (2) Gravel Samwidge’s music remains strongly rooted in experimental noisy lo-fi grunge / psychedelic rock with Spinks’ singing (strongly influenced by The Fall’s Mark E Smith) dominant. As far as I can tell, Gravel Samwidge released their first album back in 2013 and “Complaints” is their fourth album and eighth release.
Over 16 short songs, the album is very minimal post-punk alternative rock with saxophone on some tracks giving them a free-jazz feel. The album’s production is clear and endows the songs with a lot of dark space and a strong blues rock ambience is present. Bass guitar melody adds a brooding aspect to the songs. While Spinks’ vocals are very declamatory in the style typical of Smith, his singing does get better (for me anyway) when he strays from that style on songs like “Seventh Heaven”. All songs have their individual musical quirks and eccentricities and the ones that stood out most were “Family Stone” for its rhythmic introduction with the guitar squiggles, the stridently noisy “Hangover” and the psychedelically etched “Tell Mum”.
I did get the feeling listening to this album and reading past articles on Gravel Samwidge that the music presented on “Complaints” gives only a glimpse – and a sketchy glimpse too – of what the band is capable of and has done in the past, and that live performances are where Gravel Samwidge really shine. Obviously the album needs to be heard in its entirety the first few times to find the songs that appeal the most but there’s too little variation in the music and the haranguing becomes tiresome over 16 songs. My personal opinion is that the long album format does not really suit the band and shorter EP-style releases with a more scummy sound are better.