“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest is a two-for-one offer – a band called Mess Esque which is the beautifully interwoven work of like-minded Australians Helen Franzmann of the band McKisco and Mick Turner of Dirty Three. They’d resolved to work together before the litany of lockdowns meant they couldn’t be in the same place but despite the geographical distance between Franzmann’s Brisbane and Turner’s Melbourne they could always be together in electric dreams, sending audio sketches back and forth through the internet ether, almost like an exquisite corpse of dream-thought lyrics (literally written down after Helen’s waking) and mellifluous effortless melody played with Mick’s sweeping guitar and lightly skittering drums.
The result is not so much a zoom as a beautiful meander, a winding river that slowly reveals its bends and vistas with a deliberate ebb and flow and atmospherics hitherto unheard since the later albums of Low and left field lyrics leaning towards the isolated musings of Cate Le Bon. “Mess Esque” the resultant album on Drag City is a grower like creeping ivy, once it’s taken it’s root, it’s all over you, wilful and weaving and I love it. Which is why it’s a great thing to get the two minds behind it together (even if not together IRL – they’ve not managed to meet up since finishing the record) to pick not one but two ace “songs for ewe”. Welcome Helen and Mick aka Mess Esque!
Check out this “Sweetspot”…
Here’s the fauna focused, perhaps coral-esque art of the album cover (painted by Mick T himself) which seems like an apt visualisation of such a fluid project and free-flowing sound.
Given its organic musical give and take, push-me, pull-you, Mess Esque is almost an accidental band, but there’s nothing accidental about the often long songs (“Jupiter” clocks in at nearly 11 minutes) which slowly reveal their majesty. Helen’s vocals are sometimes half-spoken, intrinsic utterances of quiet introspection but can also be delicate like birdsong. At times they remind me of Cat Power who interestingly has been a foil to Turner in the past. Intriguingly many of the words were recorded in the middle of the night, streams of 2am witching-hour-plus consciousness, which adds a certain moonlit intimacy. You might not always know what Helen means but you know she means it deeply. Mick’s deceptively effortless musician-ship adds to it a sense of drift, a blurring of time and space so apt given the unique circumstances of a life turned upside down in 2020 and beyond. But for all the chaos, the music of “Mess Esque” is the salve.
But what tunes permeate their consciousness, without further ado here’s the double bill of Mess Esque’s song(s) for ewe starting with:
Jordan Ireland With Purple Orchestra “No Place For Rain”
“The soft circling and layering of instruments and vocals in this song pull me under every time I hear it. I’ve heard Jordan play this live and whether it’s solo or with a band, it always stops me. There’s a certain magic to it.”
Caroline No “Little Snake”
from Swimmer EP (King Crab Records)
“Very obscure track from a few years ago, I produced this indie hidden gem and played guitar on it, but it is Caroline Kennedy’s song writing, rhythm guitar and vocal that hold the magic.
Sultry and moving this is a hidden indie pop classic that sweeps all in its path.”
THANKS SO MUCH TO HELEN AND MICK, AND ALSO TO FRED SOMSEN AT DRAG CITY
You can get the album here:
Here’s another highlight from “Mess Esque”, the aforementioned far-reaching epic “Jupiter”