Hydroplane - Selected Songs 1997-2003 2xLP
Label: World Of Echo
Selected Songs 1997-2003 compiles some of the finest moments in the recording history of Hydroplane, the Melbourne-based indie-pop three-piece that operated alongside The Cat’s Miaow through the second half of the nineties. It’s the third release in what feels, now, like a loosely planned series by World Of Echo, documenting the music made by this group of friends in Melbourne sharehouses (The Cat’s Miaow’s Songs ’94-’98, 2022), or in the case of The Shapiros (Gone By Fall, 2023), while traversing the International Pop Underground.
Hydroplane would be familiar to anyone already following these breadcrumb trails – Andrew Withycombe, Bart Cummings and Kerrie Bolton were the group’s core, all members of The Cat’s Miaow. With Cat’s Miaow drummer Cameron Smith itinerant, having moved to London, the trio used this opportunity to expand their music. It’s a subtle, but important shift. If The Cat’s Miaow was about the perfect, minimalist, two-minute pop song, Hydroplane’s music was far more open-ended, embracing the loops and drones, sampled house-y shuffle beats, the burbling of a Roland Jupiter-4 synth, all of which the trio joined, effortlessly, to their endless capacity for moving, elegant melodicism.
They may have only planned to release one seven-inch single, but the sound Hydroplane created was so bewitching, so compelling, that the project’s lifespan ran for around half a decade, and they ended up releasing three albums, including a self-titled debut recently reissued by Efficient Space, and seven singles. There are all kinds of compelling things happening in the music compiled here – the hazy repetition of the gentler side of Krautrock is in here, somewhere, which also suggests Stereolab at their most intimate and disarmed; the gently drifting guitars, gauzy and oneiric, set the songs adrift and floating, each one lost in its own imagined, distracted world. Songs like “The Love You Bring” set indistinct tonal floats across dance rhythms, in a way not quite heard since My Bloody Valentine’s “Instrumental” – but with the added gift of Bolton’s gorgeous voice.
This loose coalition with dance music, and the quiet experimentalism at the heart of Hydroplane, also gestures towards peers like Hood, Acetate Zero and Other People’s Children, and releases on renegade labels like Wurlitzer Jukebox and Enraptured. Like those groups and labels, The Cat’s Miaow were reconciling independent pop music’s past – sweet melody and melancholy, chiming and droning guitars – with the futures promised by DIY electronics and nascent digitalia, the interface of indie and IDM that led to some of the underground’s most blissful, texturally swoonsome music. All that is here, but also, the poise of the melodies is pure Cat’s Miaow, though, with Bolton’s voice sailing, pacifically, over some of the most pared-down, gorgeous music made during their decade.
It was a time, too, when such music could make waves – “We Crossed The Atlantic”, one of their early singles, was picked up by John Peel, who played it repeatedly on his legendary radio show, the song reaching #13 on his 1997 Festive 50. That the song itself was a cover of a tune by 1960s Australian beatnik-pop-poet Pip Proud felt even more perfect – a group of outsiders paying tribute to another outsider, played on the radio one of the few broadcasters brave and human enough to take a chance on this music. But it was a time where everything was up for grabs, and genres were flowing into each other: folk songs went drone; indie re-discovered noise; ambient pop floated, again, out onto the dancefloor. And while they may have been sequestered away in Melbourne, Australia, Hydroplane felt core to that scene, a quietly driving force.
Compiling material from across their brief but mercurial career, this double album perfectly captures the magic and mystery of Hydroplane’s dreamlike, perfect pop songs.