I’m sure everyone feels like this about their own local music scene when they were of a certain age. But in my unapologetically biased opinion, the music output of Brisbane, Australia peaked in the mid to late 90s. Bands like Custard and Regurgitator got all the indie radio airplay. Pangaea got their deserved (if a little late) 15 minutes in the spotlight thanks to their ‘Gurge connection.
But there was another Brissie band, plugging away then, and still plugging away steadily all these years later, who never quite got the exposure they should have. That band was Screamfeeder, and their height of indie darling success came in 1995 with the album Kitten Licks.
Tim Steward’s jangled, indie guitar and awesomely strained vocals… Kellie Lloyd’s rumbling bass and sweetly girlish backing vocals… Dean Shwereb’s schizophrenic drums… These ingredients are pure Screamfeeder, and they’re on fine display in Static and Bridge Over Nothing.
Dart, a single that got solid Triple J airplay back in the day, is a perfect example of that other Screamfeeder signature… Weird timing signatures and trade off vocals. Steward has a real strength for coming up with multiple vocal melodies that can be used with the same musical background. Individually, these melodies keep the listener on their toes in a great way. Then, when they combine to be sung at the same time, it’s a whole new dimension to an already original sound.
Things take a turn for the punk rock on Bruises, 90 seconds of attitude and snarl. Which makes it a great juxtaposition to the slow, moody Explode Your Friends. After the first third of Kitten Licks being on a similar indie rock track, this mixing up is a great little aside of different sounds.
This mixing up is also what makes Down the Drinker so great when it pops up. The first track with Lloyd taking on lead vocal duties, it has just as much energy as Steward’s rockers, but it’s a different energy.
And after a spotless first half, Kitten Licks hits its first speed bump. The inessential Dead to the World is B-side level stuff at best. Compared to all of the songs that precede it, it’s just downright bad. But that dip doesn’t last long, because next is Gravity, another one of those Screamfeeder-at-their-best songs that makes Kitten Licks their seminal album.
From then, it’s a great run to the finish line with the half punk rock, half mood piece of Ant, the guitar rock of End of the Wire which is everything I love about 90s, Australian alt rock, and Broken Ladder with its deliberate, dark dirge that show’s Steward at his most earnest. All before the slow, aimlessness of Pigtails On a Rock, as was required of these kinds of bands at the time.
I have no perspective on how relevant or dated Kitten Licks would sound to someone listening for the first time today. It’s my first time listening to it from beginning to end, but I have the context of so much other similar music of the time from Screamfeeder and others, that me liking it was all but pre-assured. I love this era, I love the bands it spawned, and Kitten Licks lived up to that. If you weren’t a Queensland teenager in the 90s, I have no idea what you’ll think of it.