If, like me, you were a teenager in Australia in the early 2000s, the album everyone was listening to at house parties, on the radio, and on swapped burned CDs was the debut record by The Avalanches. Stacked with samples and danceable beats, ‘Since I Left You’ was the gateway into a new sound that was trickling into the Aussie mainstream, eroding the stranglehold of rock bands and Top 40 pop.
Prop were nothing like The Avalanches, and much less well known, but to my impressionable young ears they also slotted into the beguiling world that I was too naive at the time to know was electronic music. Released in October 2001, with the promise of school holidays just around the corner, the Sydney-based group’s ‘Small Craft Rough Sea’ still sounds like a long, hot Australian summer. It’s a near-perfect album – voiceless, self-contained and utterly reverie-inducing.
The gentle chimes and languid bassline of ‘Nebula’ are as dreamy as it gets, before the jazztronica beat of ‘Landing’ kicks in and melodies weaved from keyboards and vibraphone drift over you, as comforting as a lullaby. ‘Small Craft Rough Sea’ could be the Antipodean equivalent to ‘The Virgin Suicides’, the hazy, astral-sounding score composed by French duo Air for Sofia Coppola’s 1999 film of the same name. With whispers of krautrock rhythms among the downtempo and ambient atmosphere, it’s an album that captures the tension of being a teenager, that feeling of promise tinged with an undercurrent of frustration.
Prop were Julian Hamilton on keyboards, Kim Moyes on vibraphone, Jeremy Barnett on marimba, David Symes on bass and Jared Underwood on drums. ‘Small Craft Rough Sea’ was their first and only album (not counting a remix offering, ‘Cook Cut Damage Destroy’, that came out in 2003) before Hamilton and Moyes split away to make harder-edged music as The Presets.
Along with the likes of Cut Copy, Pnau, Van She, and Midnight Juggernauts, The Presets became the core of the massive indie-dance/electro explosion that gripped Australia in the mid to late 2000s. Driven by the Modular label, it’s a scene that is now widely considered Australia’s golden age of electronic music. But back in 2001, kids like me were listening to this album in their bedrooms, backyards or on sunny beaches, dreaming of what might be.