Track by Track: Mess Esque takes us through their atmospheric self-titled album

Mess Esque is a recent collaboration between iconic 90’s band Dirty Three‘s Mick Turner and McKisko‘s Helen Franzmann. The music and instruments are provided by Mick, and the lyrics and vocals by Helen.

Probably best known for his work with Dirty Three, Mick has been making music for more than forty years. His most recent album was the 2013’s Don’t Tell The Driver, which included a foray into having a vocalist on board.  With the time to record a new album looming, and with some tunes under his belt, he was of the mind to again incorporate some lyrics and vocals into his songs.

Through a mutual acquaintance, he was introduced to Helen Franzmann, who has recorded under the name McKisko. With Helen in Brisbane and Mick in Melbourne, they started trading ideas and made plans to meet up and start the recording process. With the inevitable lockdowns, the collaboration continued from afar, and a record was born. To this date, they still haven’t met face to face, which is hard to believe, given the intimacy of the songs on the album. It feels like they are finishing each other’s sentences.

The album is a moving collection of atmospheric tracks. With an artist such as Mick Turner who is used to recording instrumental tracks, the musicianship is of the finest order and classy. There is space for the impeccable vocals of Helen. It’s polished, it’s a trip and it’s a solid listen any time of day.

Helen has written for the AU, a track-by-track breakdown of the album. Read on and listen to what is a very special record.

Mess Esque from Mess Esque – Track by Track

“Take it Outside”

I recorded these vocals in the early hours in my bedroom at home. This song was unusual in that it started with the ah ahs you can hear in the background. No words, just the melody and harmonies. Mick played the instrumental over the top and the song came together really quickly from there. Lots of fleeting moments in it. I was in the habit of walking along the creek near my home. An old Jacques Cousteau book on my shelf in front of me while I sang, it bled in. Feeling underwater in lockdown. Standing on Jacaranda flowers. My sister Caitlin and I performed in an improv thing once where we did big extended sighs from high to low over and over. With the parts at the end I played around with that idea again, laughing half of the time. We liked how it sounded and kept it all in there. Mick received a lot of warts and all recordings from me because I would get up at 2am, give it a couple of passes, press send and fall back into bed. Had the sense I could trust him pretty early on.

Mick adds “Helen emailed me acapella vocals down from Brisbane to try and work into something. They were in between keys A#+7/12 or something so I had to retune my guitars by ear to fit. It came together quickly, I was feeling The Slits and X-ray Spex, two of my favourite bands from the late 70s, but of course it came out sounding like Mess Esque.”

“Beneath the Rain”

A daydream in a tired way around 2pm every day, the sleepy drift. There is an old pool near the hospital where I work in Brisbane and I used to lie on the bottom of it after my shift. Always wanted to put it in a song somehow. Mick’s guitar part was already complete for this so I did my best at tiptoeing through and around it, echoing and countering.

“Wake up to yesterday”

The cyclical nature of life in lockdown, blurred edges of the days, turning inward, the facing of truths. Tried to keep the momentum of the accompaniment in the vocal part.


Had this thread of an idea from a conversation about wrapping loss in gold and tucking it away in your body. Mick went to work layering my parts over some guitar changes, and the drums. We went back and forth quite a bit on this one although it seems quite a simple song.


There are two releases of Jupiter. The album version is longer and has Jim White on drums. There is another shorter mix with Marty Brown on drums. The melody and words came very quickly for this, recorded into my phone as soon as I heard the guitar track while walking along the creek. There is a reference to an E.E. Cummings’ poem which was lying on the floor in my room. Also had a postcard of the painting ‘Monk by the Sea’ by Caspar David Friedrich tacked to the wall in front of me. This one took the longest to finish, we have many different versions tucked away in our computers. Mick worked tirelessly on it for months.

“Sweet Spot”

One of the first songs we did together. I was talking and thinking about dreams a lot at the time, thinking about subconscious messaging and the things we suppress. I’d scribble down any dreams straight away when my alarm went off into a book beside my bed and then improvise over the guitar and drum track you can hear. The first half of the song was pretty clear and then Mick went to work layering and sculpting my improvised parts and playing around with the form and instrumentation. This is a favourite of ours from the record.

Justin Stewart Cotta

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Bruce Baker

Probably riding my bike, taking photos and/or at a gig. Insta: @bruce_a_baker