October 2012

Arts & Letters

The Best of Australian Popular Music 2012

By Richard Guilliatt
The Pigram Brothers. © Helen Jedwab

In a more just universe, ‘Nothing Really Matters’, a sun-kissed paean to Australian indolence by the Pigram Brothers and Alex Lloyd, would have been a global hit to rival Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, and the seven Pigram brothers would all have bought beachfront mansions in Broome by now. But life rarely works that way, so instead you’ll have to seek it out on the soundtrack album to Brendan Fletcher’s Kimberley blackfella drama Mad Bastards.

The song opens with a strummed ukulele, an instrument I always thought should be banned under the Geneva Convention, and it’s co-written by Alex Lloyd, whose power ballad ‘Amazing’ never fails to make me feel homicidal. But putting Lloyd together with the Pigrams in Broome’s Pearl Shell Studios turns out to have been a stroke of genius: when Lloyd’s gift for pop melody meets the brothers’ languorous subtropical rumba, resistance is futile.

The Pigrams rarely leave the Kimberley, and thus have managed to invent a genre all their own, weaving country, reggae and islander music into a breezy hybrid that’s the flip side of the dark social-realist school of indigenous songwriting. They didn’t change their tune for the Mad Bastards soundtrack, which sounds like it was recorded on their back porch, and exalts the joys of fishing, the play of moonlight on the ocean and the scent of frangipani.

‘Nothing Really Matters’ is about a guy on the run from the cops, but he’s chilling by a billabong, crashed out “on a cyclone bed … in the season of the lullin’”. Stephen Pigram sings it in his husky, careworn croak over uke, mandolin and a bassline that rolls along like the swell hitting the sand. Then Lloyd’s high voice rides in on the chorus, for a sweet moment of black–white harmony. Being a fugitive never sounded so good.

Richard Guilliatt
Richard Guilliatt is a Walkley Award–winning journalist. His work has appeared in the Independent, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. His books include Talk of the Devil: Repressed Memory and the Ritual Abuse Witch-Hunt.

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