Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Album Review: The Boat People - Dear Darkly [2010]

Somewhat ironically, in a week where our new supreme leader cracks the whip on asylum seekers, Brisbane indie-pop group The Boat People release what is probably their most accessible album to date, Dear Darkly. This is the group’s third record and comes on the back of two critically acclaimed records, Chandeliers (2008) and yesyesyesyesyes (2005).

Generally, this record doesn’t disappoint. Dear Darkly advances musically upon the base constructed by its predecessors but doesn’t stray to far from a winning formula; that of Australiana pop music. In fact, there seems to be a streak of Australian melodic tropes, common to popular 70s and 80s Australian groups such as the Triffids, INXS, Australian Crawl and the Church, that permeates the Boaties music on Dear Darkly. Have a listen to ‘Dance to My Pain’ to get where I’m coming from on this point.

Opener ‘Under the Ocean’ explicates themes that seem to resonate strongly in Australian music. We love the beach, we love the ocean and, thus, we will identify, at least on the surface, with the aesthetics of this song. Well, that’s a pretty good formula because it works to great effect (though, I have to admit, the chorus melody keeps reminding me of Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’ every time I hear it).

The lyrics of ‘Soporific’, presumably written by someone with medical training, may have you reaching for your dictionary (it’s a drug that induces sleep by the way), but that shouldn’t put you off what is a strongly structured tune with a rather surprising bridging section that sounds similar to the dungeon level in Super Mario Brothers. The fact that I was humming the tune to the song on my nightly jog can only mean that it’s memorable enough to warrant endorsement as one of the best songs on Dear Darkly. ‘Echo Stick Guitars’ conjures technocratic images of futuristic rock bands armed to the teeth with digital samplers and some beat-machine rifles. I’m not sure what ‘Echo Stick Guitars’ are but I think I want one.

If those songs were not enough, the record is peppered with even more highlights. ‘Damn Defensive’ features of a cascade of sounds that combine well to produce what is probably the standout track of the record. There are simply so many interesting textures being painted simultaneously that it is difficult not to feel moved. ‘Hidden Buses’ is nothing more than lower fidelity recording featuring acoustic guitar and vocals, but is effective in conveying a matter-of-fact mood that is tremendously appealing ‘Cat’s Collar’ is a joyous singalong which preaches the immorality of sleeping with close acquaintances. ‘Pornography’ features a great little guitar riff that leads into a descriptive pop gem that recalls the best of McLennan and Forster.

However, perhaps some of the tracks work better than others. ‘Live in the Dark’ repeatedly asks some sort of rhetorical question about living in the dark (strangely enough!), but, simply put, is not as engaging as the aforementioned tunes. My problem with this song may not exactly be the song itself, but possibly its placing on the tracklisting. Perhaps it would have worked better at the very beginning. Furthermore, ‘You Are Adored’, the excessively long track that closes the record, could have been more concise. I’m not sure how the several minutes of ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ tagged on to the end make it a substantially better song. Perhaps this facet might become more obvious in a live setting, but in the context of the record, it seems a trifle overwrought.

Overall, despite some fairly minor reservations, Dear Darkly is a solid record and perhaps the best the Boat People have put out so far in their career. The good songs are far more frequent that ones that are not, and are lot more interesting and accomplished than many other songs doing the rounds on Australian radio, to the extent that I would not be surprised that Dear Darkly gets nominated for a J Award. These facts alone justify my decision to purchase the record. Also, I’d wager that a live performance of this record would be a special occasion indeed.

See them perform at the Troubadour on July 24th with support from Skinny Jean. I saw the band play some of these songs during a support of a very ordinary Red Riders at the Globe last year. They were quite good (as you can read here). I presume they’ll be even better this time.

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