If the way that the industry has changed in the last decade and change has shown us anything, it’s that the surrounds of a record label are no longer ivory towers and suits in cigars – it’s bedrooms, postage bags and hand-written thank-you notes. Consider that of Milk! Records, the Melbourne DIY label headed up by perhaps the biggest commodity in truly-indie rock in Australia, Courtney Barnett.
At a time when many bigger and more financially-viable labels would have been tripping over themselves in order to align Courtney with them, she has remained fiercely independent; using Milk! as a platform to showcase the talents of her friends, peers and partners in the Melbourne music community. It’s admirable, and moreover important, that Courtney has made this move – as it stands, it’s our best shining example of the triumphs that can come with doing things on your own terms.
Good for You is the fifth compilation to bear the Milk! title. It’s only the second, however, to feature songs written by artists on the roster specifically for the compilation itself. This alone is a unique concept, one that also doubles as a challenge to each of the six artists to each bring their respective A-game – think of it as friendly competition, rather than high-stakes rivalry. By working together, the Milk! Records collective uniformly better themselves; and this much is all too apparent by the end results of Good for You.
You may well have already heard Barnett’s contribution, the sweetly-simple “Three Packs a Day.” Like one of the key lyrics from “Kim’s Caravan,” its lynch-pin is a bait-and-switch – the packs in question aren’t ciggies, but rather mi goreng. The thing about songs such as these – and, by extension, Barnett’s canon itself – is that it makes something constructive of its influences. The carefree strumming recalls The La’s or the Lemonheads; its harmonica solo pure alt-country – and, yet, its execution is unmistakably Barnett. Elsewhere, veteran strummer Jen Cloher offers up “Famously Monogamous,” all playful and polyrhythmic jangle for one of her more striking, upbeat numbers recorded in recent years. For all the deep and meaningful moments in Cloher’s discography, it’s nice to have it complemented by the times she properly lets her hair down.
Making their return from the previous compilation are Fraser A. Gorman and The Finks, both newer acts looking to properly prove themselves amid the roster. Their efforts – “Skyscraper Skyline Blues” and “Moonlighting,” respectively – both indicate very promising things to come; serving up sharply-dressed, warm and catchy slices of countrified indie-rock. Gorman, in particular, appears to be channelling Paul Kelly’s 80s output in a big way – and that’s in no way a put-down. There’s also a new offering from East Brunswick All Girls Choir, who debut with the swaying, lush “Red Wine Lipstick,” further strengthening their foundations of hazy guitar and wandering, jammy detours with the nice touches of organ drone and subtle horns.
It’s here we shift our attention to Ouch My Face. The band’s leader, Celeste Potter, is responsible for a lot of the label’s graphic design work – and many others in the realm of independent Australian music, for that matter. Her output in Ouch My Face, however, has always served as the comic book hero to her mild-mannered reporter. It’s within its confines that she has pushed musical boundaries and explored the heavier and more avant-garde side of things. “Nice Haircut,” as a result, sticks out like a sore thumb – and proudly so. Its authoritative, distorted beats and warped vocals couldn’t be further from its labelmates’ offerings; which ultimately serves to its benefit. You might need a few extra listens to get on board with this one, but the end result is more than worth it.
Good for You is a celebration of the creativity, energy and spontaneity that exists not only within the Milk! Collective, but within the music being released independently in this country. It will strengthen your bones and expand your mind.
Good For You is out February 14, you can grab it here.