5 Existential Environmental Songs Perth Art Rockers Shock Octopus Love

Published in Music  
Perth art rockers Shock Octopus' new EP is titled 'Enter The Exit'. Perth art rockers Shock Octopus' new EP is titled 'Enter The Exit'.

A decade into their career, Perth cult art-rockers Shock Octopus are back with their fourth EP, 'Enter The Exit'.

Overall, the EP remains true to the band's activist values, with songs based on environmental issues, climate grief and existential crisis.

Due for the release at the end of July, the band have already shared a taste of the EP with lead single 'Life On A Pier'.

After reading the Philip K Dick novel 'Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said', central songwriter Michael Bayliss was blown away by the imagery of the book title alone. This inspired the writing of 'Life On A Pier that is part sci-fi apocalypse and part environmental eulogy.


Here, Michael shares 5 songs the band love that deal with existential environmental issues. 

1: Bruce Cockburn - 'If A Tree Falls'

'But this, this is something other / Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world / Where wild things have to go to disappear… forever.'

Have more crushing words been ever written about our species in the role of the great annihilator? Such existentialism is put to one of the most gently lilting '80s pop productions ever and the juxtaposition is (almost) hilarious.

Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian singer-songwriter, activist who knocked out many similar, pithy tunes in the '70s and '80s that I believe fell completely under the radar in Australia. Perhaps Australians thought we already had our own Midnight Oil.


2: Pixies - 'Monkey Gone To Heaven'

'And if the ground's not cold, everything is gonna burn / We'll all take turns, I'll get mine too / This monkey gone to heaven.'

Released in 1989, can you believe this song is more than 30 years old? The song has a reputation – not least from the band themselves – as nothing much more than stream of conscious nonsense. I disagree.

It packs in so much for a radio song: Ocean pollution, ozone depletion, climate change, extinction, and the place of homo sapiens in the cycle of divinity as we come to the verge of wiping ourselves out – monkeys gone to heaven indeed.

After the bushfires, there was a renewed interest in Midnight Oil's 'Beds Are Burning'. Now don't get me wrong, this is a great song, but also worth remembering that the Pixies stepped up the ante a little. It's not just the beds that are burning but, well, EVERYTHING!



3: Lou Reed - 'Last Great American Whale'

'Well Americans don't care for much of anything / Land and water the least / And animal life is low on the totem pole / They'll sh.t in a river, dump battery acid in a stream.'

Was there something in the (polluted) water in 1989? The same year as Pixies release 'Monkey...', Lou Reed goes all environmental on us with this this pithy nugget.

I always loved Lou – he was the grumpy misanthrope I always aspire to be and never afraid to say things as they are. It made sense he would turn to environmental and first nation issues eventually.

Too tempting in the end for anyone who specialised in a thorough examination of humanity's underbelly. RIP Lou – us monkeys will soon join you in heaven. You are probably not anticipating the company with much fondness.


4: Anohni - '4 Degrees'

'I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze / I wanna see the animals die in the trees / Oh let's go, let's go it's only four degrees.'

Speaking of Lou Reed, I first game across Anohni years ago when she joined Lou for an utterly crushing rendition of Velvet Underground's 'Candy Says'.

Since then I have been totally wowed by her activism, including visibility for the LGBTQIA+ and the Australian First Nations communities (remember her appearance on 2015's 'Q&A' performing with the Martu Elders). She also has a lot of scathing things to say about neo-liberalism, which I love (which also happened on 'Q&A' – great episode).

And wow. . . this song. A sarcastic, seething sadomasochistic black celebration of the 4 degrees we will probably hit in most of our lifetimes. The bombastic song sounds like the end of the world; and we thought Lou couldn't pull no punches.



5: Martha Wainwright - 'Proserpina'

'She has punished the earth / She has turned down the heat / She has taken away every morsel to eat / She has turned every field into stone!'

Speaking of 'Q&A'! Martha performed this dazzling track on the programme back in 2013 and it blew me away. Part Greek myth, part tribute to Martha's mother, the folk legend Kate McGarrigle.

I remember when I first saw Martha perform this on stage; I couldn't help but feel there was something else being channelled, something along the lines of mother Gaia's furious revenge being played out.

This could be very well be a misinterpretation on my part, however the feelings of retribution/ forgiveness from the great mother herself kind of stuck.

Plus, it is funny how the existential dread of those ancient Greek myths tend to creep up with their meta-relevance during these oh-so troubled times. Having said that, ANYONE offering to turn DOWN the heat deserves a second hearing in my books.


Shock Octopus' new EP 'Enter The Exit' is slated for release 31 July.

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