Sea Scouts: Beacon of Hope
Unstable Ape (1998)
Tasmania is a strange place in many ways. As part of Australia it’s too big to be an island but separated from the ‘mainland’ nonetheless. Tasmania is home to one of the country’s most horrific killing sprees; it’s filled with the most astonishing, dark wilderness and in the 1800s it’s where they sent convicts to die. It gets fucking cold in Tasmania too.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the state gave birth to one of Australia’s weirdest, most amazing bands ever. The Sea Scouts. Big call, I know, but it’s fucking true I tell you.
Over an ep and two albums during the 1990s, Sea Scouts gained a cult following in the underground with limited album distribution and some ear shattering live shows. Adored by art school nerds, obsessed over by noise snobs, Sea Scouts made a racket that can barely be described. Sometimes their bass player would dress in Black Metal attire when they played live, although metal is as far away from the band’s sound as you can get.
With distorted bass as the driving instrument, tribal drumming and shimmering blown out guitars, their noise was punishing, beautiful and dripping with emotion. On Beacon of Hope, their final and most mature release, they pulled these elements into a masterpiece.
The album channels the raw terror of Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising, and rinses that out with a My Bloody Valentine fuzz. It’s all about shifts in pitch and dynamics; each of the eight tracks generally opens with a jangly strum and crawls along in ebbs and flows, towards a thrilling crescendo of bass so distorted it threatens to blow your speakers while floor toms kick in your ears. It’s loud and messy, but within the din lie secret melodies and nagging hooks.
With song titles like We’re all Gonna Die it’s easy to dismiss this band as depressive weirdos making downer music. Yet there’s a weird sense of hope when singer Tim Evans asks “Will I dream when I’m dead?” and the passion driving this record refuses to let you slip into the cold.
Sea Scouts toured Europe on the back of this record and disbanded on their return to Australia. Testament to the diversity of their sound, singer Tim Evans went on to form the drug addled rockers Bird Blobs; drummer Monika Fikerle now plays with local art poppers Love of Diagrams; and bassist Alex Pope is a founding member of Tasmanian Black Metallers Ruins.
It’s impossible to do this album justice via written words. It’s that very mysteriousness that makes Beacon of Hope so intriguing. This album has long been deleted but if you ever stumble across a copy, don’t let it pass you by.