Meanjin/Brisbane indie punks Semantics have just released their debut album, Paint Me Blue. The album is out via LA label SideOneDummy and Cooking Vinyl Australia, and contains the singles, ‘Get in the Car’ and ‘This Love Could Kill You’.
Semantics, led by vocalist Callum Robinson, recorded Paint Me Blue in a purpose-built studio of their own making. Producer Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor) was on deck to create an album that warrants comparisons to bands like Title Fight, Joyce Manor, Ceres and Luca Brasi.
Semantics – Paint Me Blue
‘Carousel’ starts the album with a bang and homes in on a lot of the central themes to follow. The story of ‘Carousel’ is from a time when my partner was living almost two hours away from me and the rest of her friends/her life. Themes of longing, loneliness, separation, and confusion are rife in the lyrics. Musically, it’s a jarring mix of discordant guitars and ballad hooks. The idea is to rapidly jump between moments of chaos and moments of hope to mirror how we feel in uncertain times.
2. Get In The Car
This song follows directly from ‘Carousel’, navigating the same circumstances of someone living remotely from the bulk of their lives and dealing with loneliness. ‘Get In The Car’ changes the tone with a more hopeful stance, looking for ways to decompress and do away with daily stresses. The hook, “For your sake, our sake, for fuck’s sake – just get in the car,” is a call to arms, attempting to squish the loneliness and motivate the protagonist to find outlets and activities that combat that feeling.
3. This Love Could Kill You
We sadly have multiple friends who have been victims of domestic violence and abuse. The perspective in this song switches between the victim and the friend as we investigate abuse. The goal is to shed light on red flags we wished we had seen as friends of these victims and hopefully bring attention to the disturbing frequency of these relationships.
The subject matter is sensitive, and it’s really hard to connect artistically as an outsider to these events, but as most people fall in the outsider ratio, it’s important to us to bring these signs to the forefront and ask the question, “Are we paying attention?”
4. Lighter Glow
The opening lyric of ‘Lighter Glow’ is the album title, and to us, perfectly encapsulates the mood of the album. “Paint me blue” means to brush someone with a simple stroke, sadness. The context of it changes meaning with each song, whether the narrator of the song is painting themselves with a blue stroke, or whether somebody else is. The lyrics of ‘Lighter Glow’ enter a euphoric and mildly masochistic state of a high. “Racing ’round the velodrome” is simply a metaphor for nausea. It’s a lot of word-painting to describe the sensation with trippy music to match the atmosphere.
5. Didn’t Wanna Hurt You
‘Didn’t Wanna Hurt You’ is our take on mid-2000s emo rock, with maj7 chords, syncopated snare beats, and gang vocals. It’s a high-energy sad song about a breakup, where the narrator has left a relationship out of exhaustion. There are some very literal lyrics to bring home the visceral nature of a split.
I’ve always connected with the emo songs that describe moments you haven’t been in yourself, but perfectly understand. The Menzingers wrote, “Your silhouette in high-top sneakers and hardcore from laptop speakers,” in ‘After The Party’, and it so brilliantly captures a delicate and personal moment.
So, in ‘Didn’t Wanna Hurt You’, I tapped into the moment when “I pack up all our things and split up our CDs” because that was the super raw moment for me.
6. Embrace Monotony
This is the oldest song on the album and isn’t as thematically poignant as other tracks. I wrote this in the early months of the first COVID-19 lockdown. It’s another more colourful, word-painting angle on isolation and depression, using references I had available in my immediate vicinity.
One of the key moments of the song that’s meaningful to us is, “The neighbour’s dogs are howling anguish on repeat / Ask anyone you know / They call it separation anxiety / The sound of loneliness, it echoes down the street / The empty driveways reverberate so melancholy.”
7. Sad Songs
‘Sad Songs’ is deeply inspired by Anthony Green of Circa Survive, who writes beautiful songs in swing on acoustic. I wanted to follow a simple chord pattern and write about being left by someone who moves cities and carries on with their life while you’re in the same place you were with them, just constantly reminded of times you shared. It’s a particularly hard place to be when you know the other person has changed environments and doesn’t have to face those daily reminders of your old, shared routine.
Production-wise, I tried to capture the feeling by recording the song in one take with one mic. No bells or whistles, more vulnerable than any other point in the album.
8. Last Time
After the initial raw emotions of ‘Didn’t Wanna Hurt You’, ‘Last Time’ follows the same story a few months down the line. “Giving up on something I’ve been working at for years” and “I just want to let go” are lyrics that go deeper in trying to separate from your old life after leaving a long-term relationship.
The repetition of the hook, “I just want to let go,” is almost self-sabotaging, like the narrator is trying to convince themselves that it’s what they really want. This is reinforced by lyrics like, “crawling through the valley hoping I don’t see you out / We’re still connected when I’m with you or without”.
Following the trend of the Circa Survive influence, I tried to get creative with the lyrics and think like Anthony Green in metaphor. ‘Leafwing’ is a species of butterfly, and the lyrics follow a story of entering a metaphorical cocoon, to hatch as something new, better, and unencumbered by past trauma.
The music follows similarly. The quiet, melodic, low moments of the song are in the cocoon phase of the lyrics. The loud, intense moments are matched with lyrics of urgency, like “time will never wait”. The song changes in the second verse to major key, with lyrics like “The sun shone through my empty room / The burning light had left me dazed”, symbolising the initial awakening from comatose.
The outro is cathartic and explosive, driving home lyrics like “Chrysalis, reanimate, leafwing, your shell decays”. The song symbolises new beginnings and the hurdles necessary to earn them.
10. Still Alive
We wanted to finish the album on a high note after all the doom and gloom and dark themes. ‘Still Alive’ starts like a PUP song; mopey, self-deprecating and exhausted. But the first big hook of the song immediately challenges this mood in a confused and chaotic moment of “fuck love, I give up,” and then an “oh wait” moment of “I don’t want to give up?”.
With lyrics in the end of the song chanting, “No matter how I feel inside / No matter what’s been on my mind / No matter what the reason why / I’m still alive,” I’m reminding myself and the listener not to take too much for granted. This is reinforced with a voiceover of a suicidal patient from a 1959 study explaining his complex feelings to a therapist in the intro and outro of the track.