Every once in a while an independent album receives only minor critical praise, and yet develops a strong cult appreciation. What is it that the critics or mass media don’t see in the record that dedicated music lovers do? At the time of release it may appear loveless, but like a fine wine, it ages better. Groups such as Slint, Neutral Milk Hotel and Slowdive weren’t as fondly realised in their time as they are now. Brisbane’s own Roku Music seem to fit this category as the group have made a debut that even surprised them. Jake Wilton was lucky enough to snag guitarist Donovan Miller on the phone.
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While the Brisbane music scene is an eccentric mix of indie prowess and the occasional rock or metal act, it seems one thing lacking is a shoegaze community.
“I don’t think we’re out of place. It just seems like there aren’t any real scenes based around what particular bands sound like,” said Miller.
Roku Music’s members all come from other musical outfits: No Anchor, Pastal Blaze, The Madisons to name but a few. Yet it was the core love for exploding shoegaze music of Donnie and Innez, which catalysed the band. In a classic tale of bedroom recordings to four-piece studio band, Roku Music have tossed many a demo tape in the trash before settling on the powerful shoegaze and dream-pop heard on their debut Collider.
“There’s a song on the record called Primitive which we eventually released on an earlier cassette. That’s what we decided to build the band’s sound around,” he said.
That sound being a blend of My Bloody Valentine’s propulsive and extreme textures combined with the aesthetics of the Pixies’ loud-to-quiet reformed technique. My Bloody Valentine’s signature sound is smeared all across Collider. Donnie and the rest of the band have constructed a shoegaze record worthy enough to grace Kevin Shields’ ears. They just don’t entirely know it yet.
Miller questions the comparison with My Bloody Valentine in terms of song-writing but sees the similarities with big, swirling guitar sounds and vocal techniques.
“I don’t even think MBV pioneered that sound,” he said. “There were a lot of bands before them in the ’80s that are in influence.”.
While some new-wave shoegaze bands have mixed storytelling into the game, Roku Music play it classic with minimal and barely audible lyrics. Retracing emotional experiences through the genre is not a new concept. Shoegaze, of course, isn’t everyone’s go-to genre, but if set in the right mood and mind frame the music can tell you things you thought you would never hear.
“A lot of the lyrics are transparent. When it comes to playing it live, I mean, there are a few words that set the theme but most of the time I just make it up. There’s a particular idea that goes with each song but I’m not necessarily the greatest at memorising lyrics,” he said.
Through the release of their debut, these Brisbane locals were able to travel around Australia dosing out some heavy tunes and enlightening a fan or two along the way. And boy did they go they far and wide. Alice Springs, Darwin, Fremantle and the list, staggeringly, goes on. This is in part thanks to a grant the band won to tour the release.
“Touring all these places isn’t always an option but because we got the grant we thought we should probably take full advantage of that. In saying that, we thought it to be a good idea to play at rarely visited places. Especially for a band of our size; a virtually unknown band.”
In March, Roku Music also found themself a rare support slot with Georgian sludge-metal makers Kylesa on their Australian tour.
Gold is Roku Music’s epiphany moment from their debut. The dense, layered guitar tones whirl over Innez’s comparatively tiny voice. It builds to an arpeggiated monster of a chorus that could break down any emotionaly-fragile human being. Instead of me regurgitating Roku Music facts, I’ll let their bandcamp be the judge of their debut.
“Collider lilts and conjures in a weary gaze. It is a transcendent whole of stirringly beautiful sounds and a collection of songs that are the most crafted the band has ever produced. There is a path less traveled here; a presence and lightness that, while familiar, offers a new and shifting perspective. Dive in; bliss out.”
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Collider is out now via Sonic Masala records
Catch Roku Music at the Sonic Masala FEST, 21 June with Cobwebbs, Tiny Migrants, No Sister and more at Greenslopes Bowls Club.