It’s a hard thing to sum up in words the importance of a band like Screamfeeder when so many of the independent rock music critic 101’s have already lathered them in acclaim. I would love to speak about the songwriting genius of Tim and Kellie and their overall influence across many different generations of indie guitar rock bands – past, present and future – but it has been well documented and celebrated already. Not that having a unique angle is a strict requirement of the album review narrative but it seems like an exercise in the pointless unless I am offering a different voice in the choir. The only power I can yield in the economy of the “album promotional cycle” is to talk about the passion and sell the love. I adore Screamfeeder as a musical group, artists, community servants and human beings. It is this love – for their collective history – that makes their latest album “Five Rooms” such an engaging listen because it not only pushes their sound further but it also acts as a big warm hug and a high five from a much trusted source of divine musical healing. Finding accurate ways to describe that joy is still a daunting challenge.
Perhaps the joy of “Five Rooms” comes from the recent universal suffering we all faced and due to our surviving of said “historical dirge” it has given us a deeper appreciation for the community service provided by artists of Screamfeeder’s calibre. That’s certainly a very “now” narrative to use as a description for the power of this music but historically Screamfeeder have always been the joy to our suffering and offered a rapturous escape route from the weight of this existence. This ability to tackle the emotional complexities of modern living and to use the catharsis of pop skills and intelligent rock guitar sounds is at the heart of any Screamfeeder record and “Five Rooms” is no exception.
Maybe it is the Lennon and McCartney level of melodic interplay that Steward and Lloyd have been carving out for the past 30 plus years that gives this record and band such creative breadth. You can glimpse this across many of the tracks on “Five Rooms” with “No Past Tense” being the finest example in the way it twists and shouts its way into a cool Westerly Breeze of blissed out pop song glory. It hits deeper and deeper every time no matter what kind of mood you are in.
Then of course there is always the epic Kellie Lloyd masterpiece that tends to act as point of difference to their solid pop aesthetic and again “Five Rooms” drips with a few examples of this with early album highlight “Late to The Party” the biggest main character of them all. A track like “Late to The Party” demonstrates that the band are still able to thrill and push the dynamics into darkness whilst playing around with more experimental song structures. To have a song as epic and progressive as “Late To The Party” sit side by side with the power pop of “Day Crew” and “Deidre” and have it all stick together with a cohesive sound speaks volumes of the intense sonic architecture and attention to detail that has helped create that unique Screamfeeder musical experience over the last three decades.
All this talk of Tim and Kellie, while important, can sometimes overshadow the full picture of the Screamfeeder sound which has been once again complemented and enhanced by their long standing drummer Dean Shwereb and second guitarist Darek Mudge both of whom give world championship level performances all across the “Five Rooms” tracks. As a guitar player, Darek plays with the ferocity of a human who understands the thrill of a Seven String Ibanez “fuck yeah” payoff riff whilst also interjecting subtle Greenwoodesque moods and atmospheres. This attention to texture and tone make him the perfect guitar player because everything has purpose and intent no matter how much expression is required via the instrument. This ability to provide explosion and restraint to compliment the communication of the emotion of each song is why the music of Screamfeeder takes on a new level of complexity and depth when he is present in the creative process.
In the same way, Dean Shwereb has been the essential weapon to completing the Screamfeeder sound. His arrival in the band back in 1995 and his performances both on Record and in the Live arena gave a boost to the band the way Grohl did for Nirvana, as cliched as that is. The myth of punk rock is clouded by many examples of a lack of musical discipline as being key to the joy of the self-expression it brings but nothing can push the power of band like a good drummer. If Fugazi had Brendan Canty, Nirvana had Dave Grohl, Sonic Youth had Steve Shelley then Screamfeeder had Dean Shwereb and he has been the power in their pop for over 27 years and on “Five Years” he is in career best form.
Like all good drummers he provides power and discipline, pushing the dynamics of the music and serving the mood by locking into the deep emotional groove being brought forward by the authors of each track. For those who just love a good beat, Dean definitely facilitates this across each song but for those who love the mechanics of what a rhythm section can do to radically shift a moment within a song then hearing Lloyd and Shwereb on any Screamfeeder recording is a masterclass with “Five Rooms” being a fitting swan song moment for their dynamic and Dean’s very important role in their overall sound as a group. So much of the joy of “Five Rooms” comes from the intelligent forward movement of his beats. It is powerful stuff and the perfect full stop to his time with the group. New drummer Phil Usher has a lot to live up to but his experience as a songwriter and local underground hero shows they have picked the best person to replace such a big part of their sound.
All of this magic is captured so wonderfully by Anna Laverty at Airlock Studios, which is a sacred space and a real artists cathedral that we are blessed to have courtesy of Ian Haug and his vision to create the ultimate recording studio experience. In terms of the sound of “Five Rooms” and we’re talking purely the science of it all then the production work of Anna Laverty has given Screamfeeder the room to offer up a record with a live “in the room” feel without sacrificing a full all encompassing cinematic experience. There are flourishes of lush layered instrumentation and vocals but the overall sound remains raw with enough DIY dirt and dust to beautifully spoil the polish. It is a gold class production job captured by a Producer who not only understands the importance of tone and dynamics but the need to capture emotionally real performances. You can tell that Laverty cares about Screamfeeder the way we all do and is a humble servant to making sure that “the moment” is caught with pin point accuracy. In short, Laverty is another one of the secret weapons in the effective communication of “Five Rooms” as a piece of art.
To label it the “best sounding” Screamfeeder record would also be accurate but such success in this arena comes from years of experimenting with their tone and structure. It sounds so complete and the most Screamfeeder sounding record ever because the band have spent 30 years pushing and pulling at the possibilities of their music that now we land at a new year zero moment where they can do all of that and more in under 46 Minutes. It is the benefit of their maturing as humans and songwriters that has allowed them to be so experimental and so precise the further they progressed as artists. Not everyone learns these lessons and plenty of their peers remained in a state of arrested development but Screamfeeder’s curiosity allowed them to go beyond genre and give rise to their unique sound.
All of this genius, as mentioned above, is well documented and if you are reading this review you already know the healing power of Screamfeeder as a group. I promised to offer a unique take and although my story and connection to the group may share similar ground with other fans I feel it is vital to me finding the middle and end of what I need to express with this review. Now I have told this story before so I apologies if you have heard it but it’s important for my conclusion to include what I am about to say.
The first time I heard Screamfeeder was late 1996 / early 1997 during the school holidays. I was 13 years old at the time and living in Mackay but was about to move to Bundaberg. One morning (feels like it was potentially a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday) I was waiting in the car at Canelands Shopping Centre listening to Triple J. A song came onto the stereo that floored me and I’ll never forget how cool the opening line of “I’m going to build a radio with Static from the Stars” was. From here the song exploded into one of the most perfect rock songs I had ever heard. The song I’m of course referring to is “Static” from the amazing “Kitten Licks” album. I remember going home that day and writing down the name of the band and song in my Diary. I added the band to a list I was compiling of bands / artists I must buy. It was not long after this that I saw the film clip for “Static” on RAGE. This was the first time I saw the band in a live context and it was a film clip that was made up of footage from when they played on Recovery.
Here is the clip:
I fell in love with this band and thought they were one of the coolest things I had ever seen. I was even more blown away when I found out that they were from Brisbane. That just blew my mind that a band this good came from Brisbane. At this point I was already into Powderfinger (who had only just released Double Allergic) Regurgitator (who had just released Tu-Plang) and the amazing Wollongong band Tumbleweed (who had just released Return To Earth). Screamfeeder had something else though and they were like fucking rock stars to me. When I finally moved to Brisbane in 2003 at the ripe old age of 20 bands like Screamfeeder, Regurgitator, Powderfinger and Not From There were bands that I still had up on very high pedestals. Like I said, these people were like Rock Stars to me and when I would see Tim Steward or Kellie Lloyd out in the Valley I would be absolutely star struck. I was always too scared to talk to them because I admired them so much. The first time I did get to meet them was backstage at a Brisbane Sounds gig in 2009 and Tim, Kellie and Dean were three of the nicest people that I could have ever met. They also rocked the fuck out live and still remain one of the greatest live bands from Brisbane. So in 2011 when I got the chance to have Tim Steward produce – along with Darek Mudge – the debut album for the group I play in (Galapogos) I was once again very star struck. Through this recording process I got the chance to become friends with Tim and Darek and for that I feel blessed as I value their music and wisdom. This was also the period in time where I also got to meet and know Kellie Lloyd a bit better who was also kind enough to play at our Album launch.
This experience of getting to know Tim, Darek and Kellie on even a small scale helped me feel part of the local music and arts community I so desperately wanted to be participate in. I always felt intimidated by the hip cool things that dominated the independent hype circuit within the Brisbane Music and Arts scene. Working with the Screamfeeder humans was the first time I felt welcomed and like I was able to participate in the diverse music community of Brisbane. Their warmth and understanding of who I was and the group I was in speaks volumes about their humanity. I learnt so much from each of them and it was a life changing moment to have the band that in my mind shared similar territory and influence to culture the way Fugazi and Sonic Youth did welcome me into their world and champion something I had been part of creatively. It was the full circle moment I had been searching for my whole life and it made that young 13 year old in me complete and legitimised and gave me confidence that my creative expression had worth – it is still a feeling that I still can’t explain but I am grateful to have experienced.
That’s why I love “Five Rooms” as an album – because it is a victory lap for those of us who are here still committing their lives to art and music no matter the reward. It’s a tribute to taking the long road and learning how to survive and thrive as an independent artist and that success in the arts is not about fiscal reward or critical acclaim but the amount of influence you have on the aesthetics of the community. It’s the sound of a band who still resonate deeply with that 12 going on 13 year old all those years ago who needed an escape from the emotional hell he was navigating in his coming of age era of life and how that band has grown with him and showed up with life altering music.
Let’s hope Screamfeeder get a bridge named after them because the City of Brisbane owes them big time for all of the lives they have saved and humans they have influenced across all sections of the community. I always felt guilty that I wasn’t as emotionally connected to the go-betweens like everyone else in Brisbane but after a conversation with my friend Kobi Blake-Craig recently I realised that for my generation, Screamfeeder are my Go-Betweens and with time I suspect the rest of society will be ready to acknowledge that. That may be a bold claim and history has a way of adhering to a strict diet of established hierarchies but in my emotional infrastructure Screamfeeder are one of greatest forms of pain relief and the only proof I need to provide you is the flawless experience that “Five Rooms” delivers time and time again.
May they live for a million years and beyond
Words by: Daniel James Newton
Listen to “Five Rooms” via Spotify
Official Website – https://screamfeeder.com
Screamfeeder band photo by @ummagummamumma who you can visit on the below links:
Thank You for your support – please go and support these artists that I share – don’t just stream them or save their work without credit – buy tickets to their concerts when you can, buy their merchandise and buy their albums on a physical format or book them as photographers, recording studios, producers, engineers and album art creators – respect the artists you consume by paying for it and investing in your arts community