The Town is not a nostalgic book but in order to write it I had to get a little bit nostalgic. And while I’m listing the things The Town isn’t, it’s not an autobiographical book either. But I did grow up in the Central West of New South Wales where the book is set, and in order to place my mind in that location for the purposes of writing, I often resorted to music which followed me around while living there. So I’m afraid this mixtape is both nostalgic and autobiographical, while the book isn’t.
The tracklist features songs that fit into two categories: one category is the songs I listened to in order to conjure specific moods and memories of the Central West, most of which won’t be universal. Don’t complain to me if ‘Believe’ by Cher doesn’t remind you of the Manildra Easter Show or the Molong disco – it does for me, and it also reminds me of going to the Wyangala Dam one weekend when I was fourteen. This is the category which is “nostalgic” and I’m sorry in advance.
The second category is music that I think has contributed in some way to the book or my writing it. If you end up reading The Town you’ll notice that music plays a prominent role in it, though it’s usually music that doesn’t exist. This non-existent music was sometimes inspired by music that does exist. Otherwise, this second category might contain songs that simply don’t have any discernable connection to the book, other than that they vividly remind me of writing it.
So those are the raw facts. Truthfully, I don’t think listening to this playlist will help you enjoy or hate the book with any more fervour. It has some good songs in it though. Apologies for the harsh shifts in mood.
Cher – ‘Believe’
I mentioned above that this song reminds me of a) the Manildra Easter Show b) the Molong disco c) going to the Wyangala Dam. But it’s also just one of those ubiquitous FM hits from the ‘90s which, for many who were coming of age during that period, might sound really comforting and warm and sentimental. That was a mood I searched for when preparing to write certain parts of The Town. That feeling among lucky youths of being safeguarded, of being young and protected and immune from the harsh world, was an important feeling to remember, as I wanted to feature it in parts of my book. Commercial FM music from the ‘90s contains that feeling for me.
I hated this song when it came out but now it makes me cry sometimes. The little reverberated guitar flourish during the chorus is especially beautiful. Maybe ‘Believe’ by Cher is terrible by most dedicated Cher fans’ measure, but it’s one of my favourite songs.
Icehouse – ‘Great Southern Land’
Included for roughly the same reason ‘Believe’ is. Though in a dangerously late draft of The Town there was a chapter dedicated to a character expounding on the “meaning” of this song. Even though that chapter is gone now, this song is still one of the few to be directly referenced in the final version of the novel, alongside ‘Electric Blue’ (also by Icehouse), and ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers. Both very FM and AM songs respectively. I was going to include ‘What is Love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)’ by Haddaway and some Ronan Keating song too, but it was getting too long.
Pantera – ‘Walk’
I hated Pantera when I was a teenager. Nowadays I think Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display Of Power are good records, even though Phil Anselmo is a chump at best, flagrant racist at worst. The unrepentant masculinity of Pantera is frightening, I think more so than any other metal band. But it’s enjoyable to imagine how intense this band must have seemed in the early ‘90s. Some might find this song empowering but for me it’s terrifying.
The reason I’m including it is because metal, and especially Pantera and Sepultura and Slayer and Metallica, was something I listened to a lot in order to remember being a teenager in the Central West. I’m probably forgetting some important subtleties but in my high school you either liked country, commercial stuff (usually rap and R&B) or you liked metal. I liked metal as a teenager so I heard a lot of stuff like this, even though I preferred more gothic, European stuff: face-paint, operatic vocals, piano interludes etc. Also there’s a chapter in the book with lots of off-the-chain metalheads.
That’s enough blatant nostalgia for now. Let’s thinly disguise it from now on.
Pet Shop Boys – ‘Love Comes Quickly’
This follows quite nicely after Pantera, don’t you think? It’s a good way to segue to the latter part of this mix, because while the sound and production of Pet Shop Boys definitely reminds me of listening to FM radio as a child, the songs themselves are very much rooted in the present for me. When I finished the first draft of The Town I wrote a short story called ‘Erica From Sales’. It was about a person who wants to live inside, or become, the music of the Pet Shop Boys in order to escape themselves. It took me a long time to realise that this idea was spread throughout The Town also, even though it appeared in a different way. Writing that short story really helped me along the path to finishing The Town.
I’ve listened to Pet Shop Boys almost constantly for the past three or so years and certain songs, especially ‘Love Comes Quickly’, were like fantasies I would resort to when my story or just general life was being a pain. This is one of the most luxurious sounding pop songs I’ve ever heard, you can get lost in the pillowy thickets of it. Neil Tennant’s voice is full of warmth and uncertainty and longing, I feel like he’s my close friend. The other guy seems pretty nice too.
Sex Tourists – ‘Home World’
This song has a really potent feeling of isolation. Sex Tourists is a group from Sydney. They released a good cassette on Paradise Daily a few years ago. I don’t know much about them but this song seems to reference the Central West, so I would often listen to it while thinking about my book on the train to and from work.
Circular Keys – ‘Eurogrand’
I listened to this song a lot during the period when I was finishing up the first, aborted version of what would become The Town. Circular Keys is an Australian duo which, I think, hasn’t been active of late. They released an LP through Bedroom Suck in 2015 and before that, in 2012, this song digitally. The vocals sound like they’re coming from another oceanic planet, and the whole thing is so murky and sad. The previous version of The Town was a lot more nonsensical and it still depresses me to think about it. Thankfully I still love this song.
Angel Eyes – ‘Do Away With’
I’m not going to bother writing too much about Angel Eyes. It’s just perfect music to me. If there was a musical artist whose mood I would most like to emulate in writing, it would be Angel Eyes. It’s so enveloping and detailed and beautiful, but also a bit arch at times.
Castings – ‘Entremes’
Castings was a Newcastle six-piece which operated from around 2003 until around 2009. They used to run a performance space in Sydney called Yvonne Ruve, a small, ramshackle, airless room in Hibernian House on Elizabeth Street. Seeing Castings in that environment was transformative for me. I had just moved to Sydney from rural New South Wales and was getting into noise music, really focusing all of my efforts on understanding noise and why I should listen to it. I wanted to discover the pleasure which could reportedly – as unlikely as it seemed – be found at the centre of it. This was usually only achieved at shows, where at high volumes noise can have a tranquilising effect. Castings were different though. They seemed so strange. They were aggressive and ugly and terrifying one moment, and then they’d collapse into really sad and beautiful passages. These passages would always sound like they occurred right before breaking point, like the ensemble was really trying to squeeze something of profound importance from a dying phenomenon. Their music always crackled like a distant radio signal. I think some of the music in my book, which is only described and doesn’t really exist, owes a lot to the way Castings used to make me feel.
The Caretaker – ‘Lacunar Amnesia’
Burial – ‘Shell of Light’
These two artists make music that sounds like some kind of utopia sailing off into the sunset, growing ghostlier and murkier as it shrinks on the horizon. There’s a great sense of loss in this music: irretrievable dreaming, irretrievable optimism. The Caretaker and Burial sound heavily nostalgic but in an almost panicked way, a reminder that we can barely hope to change course as we move further away from our perennially “idyllic” pasts, illusory or otherwise. Music in this mould can be blamed for inspiring The Town.
Gas – ‘Konigsforst 5’
Variant – ‘The Setting Sun [Live Version]’
Gas is like those supplements that bodybuilders use to get more muscular, except for day and night dreaming. This track in particular is like a second home for me. It serves a dual purpose: it can be engaging and overpowering but it can also act as a nice tool for blocking the world out when that’s required. Variant is a producer on the Echospace label. The label is very prolific and produces the kind of soft, analog ambient techno which soundtracks about 80% of my life nowadays. I don’t think my story has inherited any moods or feelings from this music and it wasn’t really meant to. It just calms me enough to be able to write.
The Town is out now with Brow Books. You can purchase a copy by clicking here and at all good bookstores.
Shaun Prescott is a writer based in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. He has self-released several small books of fiction, including Erica From Sales and The End of Trolleys, and was editor of Crawlspace Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Lifted Brow, The Guardian, Meanjin, Australian Book Review, and other places.