Despite having one of the most un-Google-able names in recent music history, Australia (add ‘the band’ if you are searching) stand out on their own, and their debut album Portraits Of People, Places & Movies is much the same. Harking back to the halcyon days of Australia’s pub rock bands and beyond, the album showcases not only the band’s deep love and knowledge of music but an imagination and fearlessness to play around with it.
Opening track and current single Love Is Better very much sets the tone of the albums early moments. A nod to Talking Heads and their song Girlfriend Is Better, the track is full of energy and has the album’s catchiest hooks, the chorus having chant along written all over it. Well and truly making clear the band’s intention to bring a bit of colour and party back to rock’n’roll, it’s no wonder why this song is the first cap of the rank.
Second track and the first single taken from the album Wake In Fright things back into more pensive fare. Trading synths and catchy guitar licks for evocative chords and tones, the track shows the other side of Australia. Frontman Guy Fenech croons in ever more emotive tones as the song goes on, always hovering on the edge of histrionics but never stepping over.
This turn toward the introspective is short lived however, the band crashing straight back into the fray with Who R U? The second single off the album, and a close contender for catchiest hook, this track is yet more proof of the band’s almost inhuman ability to craft an anthemic chorus.
The next few tracks however lack the charisma of the album’s opening moments. Ballad Not Place I Know recalls the expansive reverb laden early work of Kirin J Callinan, In The Rain sounds like a b-side from Franz Ferdinand‘s first album and In My Dreams has shades of Smog and Bill Callahan all over it. And while none of these songs have anything wrong with them (In My Dreams in particular would be great had any other band written it) after the joy and colour of Love Is Better and Who R U? these songs can’t help but feel a little like covers.
The album’s penultimate track Breathe In however remedies this, bringing the album back into the world established by the opening tracks. The band putting on their best Icehouse masks for this one, I’d put all my money on this being the next single to be taken from the album, if one is forthcoming. Laying tearing guitars over huge drums and rich synths, Breathe In more than any song on the album signals the band’s potential and their ambition. I mean who else is trying to make stadium rock in an inner Sydney bedroom?
Final song on the album, This Sea, however might be the strangest track. Sounding like a sea shanty written by The Cocteau Twins and sung by Morrissey, This Sea is the finest of the albums more neo-gothic fare. Something in the uneasiness of the synths and Fenech’s vocals, give this track an identity that transcends its influences while at the same time giving it a timeless quality.
This timelessness is at the core of what makes the best songs on this album work. Having drawn inspiration from so many sources in writing it, Australia have shown that they can take from what has come before and make it their own. The album’s only weak points come when the band are perhaps too beholden to the source material, too faithful even. Its strongest points by contrast are when they are at their most free and unconcerned with living up to or paying homage to their inspirations.
Portraits Of People Places & Movies is out now independently and is available now from Bandcamp and to stream on Spotify.