The opening bars of Wives‘ Whipping Boy cassette quiver with the menace of a startled wildcat, and the starkness of the following three and a half minutes does nothing to calm the immediate sense of unease you get from pressing play. In fact, there is rarely a moment across the 6-track cassette that do anything to placate this hovering sense of dread. In many ways, it becomes almost a sadistic experience listening to Whipping Boy Cassette, where you find yourself thoroughly enjoying its entirety, only to realise that the whole thing is kind of evil. This is its magic.
Wives take a dip in the sombre ocean of sound made popular in the 80’s by acts like Joy Division but bring it to a unique and spooky new level
There seems to be a bit of a resurgence of the humble cassette happening at the moment, an offshoot of the ever-lingering DIY culture that one could say has always been synonymous with punk and its sub-genres. While vinyl has been making its glorious comeback for a few years now, the cassette has also seen a spike in popularity. Canberra’s Wives are by no means the only ones tapping into this renaissance (last year saw the first ever Cassette Store Day in Australia), but Whipping Boy Cassette is surely one of the most alluring EPs put to tape we’ve heard in a while.
Spanning six tracks – three originals and three remixes – Wives’ Whipping Boy Cassette dabbles in sinister textures and unsettling melodies. It’s got a post-punk heart, and a nightmarish brain. Side A is made up of three tracks, Set Sail, Whipping Boy and Eucalyptus, each of which play with different formulas that say the same thing. There is this unrelenting, modulated tone from bassist Gus McGrath that crawls under each track with absolute menace. You can’t help but think of Joy Division as it slinks its way into the opening seconds of Set Sail, and each time it pokes its head up you can’t help but feel like the spectral eyes of Ian Curtis are lurking behind you.
The centrepiece of side A is Anja Loughhead’s yelping vocals. They are vexing as she sings indecipherable words that you can only imagine stitch together to tell some horrific tale of loss and corruption. She’s a fascinating singer; testing but also incredibly rich and vibrant.
Loughhead is the perfect accompaniment to the melee of instruments that lay under her: b-grade horror film synths and spiky guitars, plus some nicely weighted rhythms from drummer Tim Gutherie. Everything is simple and in its own place, much like the arrangement of Joy Division’s tunes. Nothing overlaps or strains to get attention. Each element just looms, waiting for its moment to pounce. The scratching guitars on Whipping Boy feel like spiders crawling through your hair and the keys on Set Sail are just light enough to make you look over your shoulder. Although none of this sounds overly appealing, the execution is seamless, vying for love from the sadist within us all.
Side B is reworking of side A by some excellent local producers, including Shoeb Ahmad, who gives Set Sail an even ghostlier atmosphere; ASPS, who turns Whipping Boy into throbbing, tribal, chaos; and Enderie Natual, who stretches Ecalyptus into a nine-minute marathon mind-fuck. Then it’s time to flip it over and start again.
You will be able to buy the Whipping Boy Cassette on June 3rd through Cinnamon Records. Meanwhile you can stream the whole thing here.
You can also catch Wives at the following launch shows for the Whipping Boy Cassette (and the band’s recent LP Devoted To You):
Friday 03 June, Tote, Melbourne w/ Lakes, Wives, Masses, ASPS and Mnemonic Hexes
Thursday 09 June, Phoenix, Canberra w/Ciggie Witch, Wives and Zone Out
Saturday, 11 June, Blackwire Records, Sydney w/ Diecut, Wives, Burlap and Cat Heaven