Big Scary’s Tom Iansek conceived #1 Dads as a curious solo side-project, only for it to become an enduring phenomenon. He’s now made as many #1 Dads albums as Big Scary, with Golden Repair his third – and first since 2014’s About Face. In between, Iansek and his Big Scary cohort, Joanna Syme, promoted Animal. The Melburnian polymath heralded #1 Dads’ surprise return in November with the tuneful single ‘Another Day’. He then auspiciously performed two sold-out club shows in his hometown before joining Falls Festival.
Ironically, the guy who premiered #1 Dads with 2011’s Man Of Leisure is today a father IRL – his son born last May. But, on Golden Repair, Iansek contemplates the flow of change as much as that peculiar transition into the musician parent’s bohemian domesticity. Indeed, he’s been soulsearching. The title Golden Repair references the old Japanese art practice of Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi), by which broken ceramics are fixed using a gold lacquer that symbolically irradiates the cracks (it’s also the name of a Death Cab For Cutie LP). Iansek wrote on Facebook, “This album has formed part of my own restoration as I have grown as a person and as an artist and continued to peer deeper into myself, not necessarily liking or being able to accept everything that I find.” A latent anxiety pervades Golden Repair, but it’s ultimately optimistic about the future.
Typically, Big Scary are classified as ‘indie-rock’ but, like Bon Iver, they’ve absorbed other genres – 2013’s Not Art, which won the Australian Music Prize, revealing hip-hop influences. And Iansek himself is expansive. A credible producer, he united with Brisbane electro-soul auteur Airling for her debut, Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream, issued via Big Scary’s Pieater imprint. Then he’s had the IDM combo No Mono with Tom Snowdon, frontman of the shoegaze group Lowlakes. Yet, following the collaborative (or band-oriented) About Face, Iansek has taken #1 Dads back to his singer/songwriter foundation, while still ascribing to an experimental ethos. He prepared Golden Repair on retreat in Metung, East Gippsland and has retained the spare arrangements (this time there’s zero sax). Mind, in contrast to the guitar-heavy Man Of Leisure, Golden Repair has prominent piano, with several selections recalling 2010’s The Big Scary Four Seasons EPs era, including the avant-garde instrumental ‘Patience’ – Iansek channelling Philip Glass. Again, the major shift is in mood – and Iansek’s perspective. Iansek has often ruminated on just existing – cue: #1 Dads’ early acoustic jam ‘Life, Oh Life’. However, Golden Repair manifests an emotional and philosophical maturity; modern masculine identity a sub-theme.
Golden Repair is accessibly cosmic, metaphysically romantic, and gorgeous sonically. Iansek prologues the album with the pensive ‘4bit’, his supple falsetto laid over an ambiently classical piano loop. “I feigned love to fall in it,” he croons, alluding to new life commitments. The aforementioned ‘Another Day’ is for the open road, literally and figuratively, with Iansek’s guitar and signature whistling. Iansek acknowledges his flaws, mistakes and regrets – and the relief that comes from that process. Imagine Neil Finn as a hipster art-popster. Like ‘Another Day’, ‘Twice A Fool’ is a driving song, albeit with a country-rock twang. In ‘Freedom Fighter’, a traditional soul-rock anthem that could almost be Holy Holy, Iansek modulates existential angst with self-reassurance. ‘Run’, hushed folk with acoustic guitar, broaches impending fatherhood and fear. The melodic, piano-led ‘Fold’ (re)captures a frantic youth and its transitory escapes: “Everyone’s afraid ’til they’re high on the weekend.”
‘Orion’, the album’s latest single, is the closest here spiritually to Big Scary’s triple j fave ‘The Opposite Of Us’. It swells into an epic ballad with a sing-along chorus, swinging groove and breezy whistle. (Airling provides additional vocals.) Iansek specialises in composing songs that juxtapose the poetic and the prosaic. For Big Scary’s cult ‘Twin Rivers’, he sang of a relationship experiencing mundane disconnection and routine restlessness – yes, star-crossed. But, in ‘Orion’, he recognises that reaching any juncture is vital to progress: “I’m moving through, I’m moving strange/All these feelings that I can’t explain/I’m filling up, I’m tearing down/I feel the changes they are all around/I’m moving through, I’m moving strange.” Golden Repair fades out with an enigmatically arcadian love song, ‘Elizabeth’. Iansek fills the cracks in his idealism with gold lacquer as he sings, “The two of us, we’re to each other like sleep to a dream.” Golden Repair really is a sunlit awakening.