Live from the Convenience Store

Live from the Convenience Store

In their new live film and EP ‘When Soft Voices Die’, Naarm indie couplet Convenience Store take a handful of their standalone singles — and a crew of live instrumentalists — to the stage

Image credit: Claire Giuffre

Convenience Store have always been hard to pin down.

In the four years since their debut track, the Naarm group has whittled down to two key members, embraced an eclectic sonic philosophy, and released a long string of singles unfettered by genre and sound. In pushing Convenience Store outward at every turn, Jack Hill and Nick Baker have built left turns into their artistic identity. It was an unsurprising surprise, then, that after years of honing their craft, the group announced their debut EP would be an ambient soundtrack for Drehmomente, an independent short film from Germany.

In some ways, it makes perfect sense: the visual has always been a central part of Convenience Store’s creative mission. Their first single, Time to Enjoy, came complete with a hypnotic clip crafted by Jack and Nick themselves. Nearly every single since has found some form of visual accompaniment, with those clips more a chance for further experimentation than a means of sculpting some overarching aesthetic. That variety has brought forth the cinematically stunning and aurally sumptuous Carousel, the labyrinthine liminality and instrumental heft of Lathe, and the synth-laced shoegaze of Fan Death, which comes complete with the duo’s own lo-fi Grecian odyssey. Their new and live EP and concert film, When Soft Voices Die, eschews their long-awaited debut record even as it builds on their thoughtful union of light and sound.

A 29-minute black-and-white rendering of their 2023 show at Naarm’s Evelyn Hotel, When Soft Voices Die blends narrative, performance and performance art. The stage is set as an antiquated recording studio, kitschy lamps splashing light against the amps, fixtures, and spinning tape reels. The harsh white insulation reflects live footage of the players themselves, showcasing the troupe as they take to the stage and launch into the harsh roar of Label.

In the studio, this cacophonous sound is carefully manipulated; on the stage, the pair alone can’t possibly hope to evoke the richness of their songs. In the pursuit of those textures, the duo are joined by a formidable quintet of talent: Vincent Barker plays bass, Hamish Bloom handles the synthesizer, and Vindi Ferguson brings violin, with Alex Siderov on drums and Spencer O’Leary contributing percussion.

The result is an expansive set that fully renders their sound, even as it looks to recontextualise them. In a live setting, Convenience Store hew closer to the live dynamics of Big Thief or Alex G, though still replete with the little idiosyncrasies that make the show their own — as Nick takes centre stage on the solitary Wake, a quiet figure sitting stage left sketches the band. These detours aren’t limited to the actual gig itself, with the film frequently breaking from a straight telling to incorporate wholly separate embellishments. The performance is occasionally intercut with cinematic scenes set in the rugged bush, with Jack and Nick playing prospectors in some undetermined past. Toiling with pickaxe and shovel under the oppressive Australian sun, they search for buried treasure with a song in their hearts.

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Even more frequent are the brief phrases that break up the individual songs themselves, related only by their pithy poetic wisdom. These sharp interruptions, bolded white on black background — “PEOPLE RUN THROUGH MY LIFE LIKE WATER,” “I AM THE FRAYING SEAM BETWEEN WHAT DOES AND DOESN’T HAPPEN,” “I AM THE PNEUMATIC POP SCREAM OF IDOL WORSHIP” — are emotional rorschach tests, provoking little more than a split-second reflection. In a sense, they call to mind Story of the Face, the narrated tale that closes out the group’s Lathe video: where that telling flanked an instrumental track with an outright story, these bite-sized tales are fully integrated into the musical experience.

That’s not to distract from the terrific performances at hand. The uplifting Sand calls to mind UK guitar rock of years past, while Lathe channels a grand, cinematic strain of indie rock. Fan-favourite Bruise is a natural choice for the closer, opening with Ferguson’s taut violin before sinking into searing guitars and swirling effects. Fury and tranquillity take turns on the almost six-minute cut, a wandering excursion through the group’s gamut. The feedback has hardly faded when the final track cuts, stopping short of the frenzied applause that closes many a live record.

It echoes the downbeat conclusion to the short prospecting film within: Nick and Jack, exhausted, pull their treasure chest from the earth to find it’s already empty. They collapse on the dirt, defeated, but slowly find solace in a simple song. The spoils are a mere McGuffin, the illusory motivating force that drive us onward. The same point breaks through on the brisk Drake Interlude, which sees the pair revisiting the wisdom of Jimmy Smith, the legendary jazz musician sampled on Drake’s classic Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2. His charismatic affirmation — “only the real music’s gonna last, all that other bullshit is here today and gone tomorrow…” — cuts to the core contention.

In the feckless pursuits, on the road to riches, it’s the authentic expressions that really endure. When Soft Voices Die is a new achievement for Convenience Store, but it’s not just some rung on a ladder: it’s a moment in time, frozen, distilling one night of heartfelt creation and all the stories that swirl about it.

Four years down the track, prone to the paths less travelled, Jack and Nick have roamed the Naarm scene with an insular indifference to tradition. When Soft Voices Die celebrates that trail, using those musical moments to drive home their one enduring tenet: the unabashed, unapologetic pursuit of something real.

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