When Violent Soho started blasting out their distinctly Australian brand of grunge/alt-rock in 2004, they arguably couldn’t have been any further off-trend in the Aussie underground if they tried. Sixteen years, four albums, countless sold-out tours and festival headline slots later, Violent Soho are a very big deal, whose back catalogue now somehow sounds decidedly on-trend.
If you turn on triple j today, your ears will be enveloped by an eerily familiar fuzz-drenched sonic palette of Pixies aping quiet/loud dynamics and disaffected vocals that sound like Nirvana channelled through the lexicon of the Aussie burbs. The popularity of this sound arguably owes less to this environment of peak ’90s nostalgia we find ourselves in than it does to the staggering success of Violent Soho. Like their primary influences two decades before them, Violent Soho have accidentally become a gateway band. The placement of ‘Covered in Chrome’ at #4 in the Hottest 100 of the decade, is a testament to their cultural impact.
Nearly four years after their ARIA-#1-charting fourth LP ‘WACO’ cemented their status as the little band that not just COULD but very much DID, and fresh from of a year off to reconnect as human beings and friends, Violent Soho have returned with their fifth full-length, the rather ironically titled Everything is A-Ok. The record sees Violent Soho team up with iconic Aussie producer Greg Wales, to create their most complete offering yet.
From the moment the first single, the baby-boomer-baiting ‘Vacation Forever’ made its way into our lives in November, it was clear that Everything is A-Ok was going to be a new kind of Violent Soho record. Fans of the band’s signature quickie sound need not distress though, Everything is A-Ok still bangs, it just takes a more tantric approach, with results.
Opener ‘Sleep Year’ kicks things off in style, with introspective ruminations on the conflicting emotions that taking a year off of their lives, so that they could live, brought on (“I want to leave/but I want to be around”), juxtaposed with a soaring, affirmation of a chorus (“If it makes you happy/alright!”) that bursts out of a good ol’ fashioned wall of guitars. In times of Violent Soho past, it might have made for a lead single, alas, the times of Violent Soho present have much richer rewards in store. The oddball structure, lyrical wit and monster hooks of ‘Vacation Forever’ follow, and when heard in the context of the album, (and indeed of these COVID-19 times), it’s somehow even more powerful than it is alone. For a band that’s admittedly not short on a catchphrase, that “baby boomer across the street and it won’t stop staring at me” refrain is going to take some topping.
‘Pick It Up Again’ follows and the immediacy of both music and melody should make this an instant favourite for OG fans. It rages like the best of Violent Soho’s past, but as with every track on Everything is A-Ok, it also shows growth in their musicianship, with some rather tasty escalating lead guitar work, helping the back half of the song shine. ‘Canada’ burns a little slower, with its shimmering chorus, gorgeous harmonies and slightly off-kilter rhythms giving it a bit of a Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness-era Smashing Pumpkins vibe, that drummer Michael Richards is a natural fit for. Vocalist Luke Buerdam sounds inspired here, (as he does on this entire album) and this alt-rock territory could deliver some pretty interesting stuff from Violent Soho in the future if they continue to explore it.
‘Shelf-Life’ is an absolute riot, with the restraint of the opening 39 seconds exploding to life quite fittingly on the lyric “firecracker gonna do it again” as Violent Soho join forces to deliver an absolute earworm of a chorus. As with ‘Vacation Forever’ there’s some structural trickery going on that will may sneak by some ears, because the hooks are just so strong, but I hear you, Violent Soho, I hear you.
Slow Down Sonic’ is a moody alt-rocker that sees Violent Soho find magic in the malaise of mid-tempo. Of all the tracks on Everything is A-Ok this is the one that makes the hiring of Greg Wales to helm the production most fitting. This is very You Am I, and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.
Recent single ‘Lying on the Floor’ and its wall-to-wall hooks could be the most typically Violent Soho track of the singles to date as a rock-solid display of Violent Soho’s biggest weapon: songcraft. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that “Lying on the floor, is all I wanna do” connects even more in the current pandemic than it did a few weeks ago. This one makes my self-isolation playlist.
Then there’s ‘Easy’, one of the most musically accomplished tracks Violent Soho have ever penned. It somehow manages to blend a Fugazi style post-hardcore opening with pure alt-rock guitar riffs, a signature monster chorus from Buerdam, a ’90s emo-tinged second verse and a barnstorming riff-rock crescendo into one song. I have no idea how they did it all in just over three minutes, but it works.
‘Pity Jar’ is a total vibe and a surefire fan pleaser with its uplifting vibe, providing the counterpoint to the downtempo stylings of the reflective titular closing track. When it was first released as a single, ‘A-Ok’ inspired some head-scratching from segments of the Violent Soho fanbase, who were hankering for something more aggressive, but in context of the record, its sombre reflections are a perfect way to end proceedings. The lyrics – “show the children empty lots, they can dance a bunker waltz” – holding eerily darker energy given the pandemic we find ourselves in.
In many ways, the correlation between the themes and narratives of Everything is A-Ok and the uncertain realities of our lives in 2020, make it an album very much of its time. Which is fitting, because it is a record that deserves yours.
Put on some headphones, lose yourself in self-Violent Soho-isolation.
Everything is A-Ok is out today. The band will be going live on Facebook and YouTube this afternoon to listen to the album in full and answer any fan questions about it.