Melburnian musical magicians Blackbirds F.C. have been tempting us in a lascivious and wanton manner all year with series of sparkling singles leading up to the release of their album ‘Magiclands’, and the final result is a collection of reflective, yearning gems.
Blackbirds FC have a deeply ingrained antipodean genetic make-up that stretches from over the ditch with The Chills and The Bats to The Go-Betweens and all that glorious jangle pop in between.
The opening title track is a gorgeous shimmering delight: with celestial choruses and an aching, melancholy feel and guitars that jangle like chiming bells. The band has an ear for delicious melodies and crystalline guitars that create a perfect pop package with an antipodean flavour.
Blackbirds FC have a keen sense of geography and place in their songs – with a poignancy linked to the profound effect of memories that are linked to the land. Songwriter Jeremy Gronow says of the track:
‘Magiclands’ is about a favourite place, a wild surf break at Woolamai Beach on Phillip Island in southern Australia. For me, it’s a calming place – the view from the cape is a great way to rest your eyes, and the white noise of the waves breaking blocks out your anxious inner voices.
The purity of the melody and the crisp crunch of instruments in this track brings to mind the solo work of fellow antipodean Ed Kuepper (The Saints): a mix of raw lyrical intelligence with robust, driving and expressive instrumentation.
Gronow recounts that the song was inspired by a walk along the beach as a south-westerly storm rolled in:
As the waves and wind pounded the coast, it struck me that they had come all the way from the great Southern Ocean to be there. Each wave was at the climax of an epic journey. It got me thinking about how everything is interrelated and how obvious this is in nature.”
Later during Melbourne’s lockdowns, I longed for the peace and perspective of Magiclands,. I read about the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who said, “Enlightenment is the moment when a wave realises it is the ocean,” and the song became about how cities disconnect us from the natural world and in doing so from enlightenment.
The track was co-written with producer Cameron McKenzie and is as beautifully evocative as its themes.
There is an unmistakable antipodean blood flowing through the veins of second track ‘Island of the Dogs’ – drawing in the wide sweeping landscapes created by The Triffids and The Go-Betweens, the sparkle and energy of The Church and the themes and story telling of Paul Kelly. There is a little too of what I call the Marrickville sound, reflecting contemporary bands like The Golden Fangs, The Finalists and The Electorate: a slightly detectable urban alt. country twang that hovers delicately at the edges and infused with a little grit and a lot of veracity.
The sound is immaculate – acoustic guitars shimmer up front and a Hammond organ sound floats in the distance, with deep vocals and gorgeous melodies filled with yearning.
Back on the Island of the dogs, they’re laughing, at the foolish dreams we make
Hear them every night, calling, young lovers to the break
And they tried, they tried to tell you
It was always gonna be this way
Cable ties and dank lies show the way ahead
There is a heart of darkness within this picture. Gronow describes the deep rooted nostalgia that haunts the track:
My family would go to these cheesy yacht club dinner dances at a motel called Yackatoon in Cowes. The entertainment was always provided by a bloke with a big Lowry organ with a very primitive drum machine.
Basically the guy’s set was playing show tunes and working through the various dance rhythms – the Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Salsa and so forth. It was incredibly kitsch and absolutely torturous for me as a young music fan just starting to get into alternative stuff.
I’d sneak out of the motel and go across the road to the Isle of White Hotel beer garden. I’d stand there listening to the older, cooler kids partying to ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ and ‘Come Said the Boy’ and desperately wishing I could get inside. After the pub closed there would be people doing burnouts in Sandmans and utes out the front until the cops came, I thought it was all the best thing ever.
This poignancy indeed comes out evocatively through the sound and the lyrics – a throat tightening, eye moistening remembrance of times gone by capturing a quintessential period in eighties Australia.
‘Transport Planes’ rings with clarity and yearning as it is carried by luminescent harmonies and jangling guitars. Gronow provides a detailed and fascinating background to the track:
‘Transport Planes’ is about that liminal space between sleep and waking, dreaming and thinking. The other day for example, I was in bed dozing between alarms when there was an earthquake in Melbourne – I remember feeling the bed shaking back and forth and thinking ‘Ah, we’re having an earthquake’ and then closing my eyes again.
Looking back I think I should have been more alarmed. It was also pretty challenging – I mean, what kind of person sleeps through an earthquake? But such is the weird power of not being quite awake.”
The song has its roots in a childhood memory of hearing an aeroplane fly over the house most nights about midnight. It was propeller driven and seemed very low and loud as it flew over me but I found it comforting. I asked Dad and he said it was a transport plane flying to Tasmania which gave me the first line.
Years later I was lying in bed in the midst of a relationship break up and listening to all these things happening around me – trucks passing, the couple upstairs going at it and so forth – and the rest of the song came.
I did some reading and found that sounds seems louder and travels further at night because they bounce off the layers of cold air and back to the ground and that became the bridge, so this song is all bad love and science.
‘I Heard You House Burned Down’ has a rolling, rollicking flow with an air of nostalgia and regret and just a touch of dark humour. A back up chorus adds a frisson of a country and western lilt, exacerbated by weeping strings, slide guitars and banjo plucking. It flows into ‘The Light Was Amber All The Time’, with its high stepping pace, crisp guitars and glorious melancholic harmonies. ‘Rise Up – Love And Insurrection’ is a funky, bluesy romp with a rousing chorus and a serious message about resistance against the forces of darkness. Yearning and desire flows through ‘Angela’ with its melancholy tale of obsession and devotion.
‘This Country’s a Bomb’ is an acerbic and wistful look at the Australian bushfires that tore apart the country – why do we laugh at science – delivered in a melodic and yearning track with another rousing chorus. ‘Plane Tracker’ continues the theme of landscapes and open horizons as a reflection of loneliness and isolation, leading on to the final exit with ‘Don’t Ever Turn Your Back On The Waves’, an alt. country track filled with nostalgia.
The themes of ‘Magiclands’ perfectly capture a perfect elision between memories and the comfort they bring, and the anxieties of our current reality with nature and the environment a palimpsest for our anxieties and insecurities. And Blackbirds F.C. deliver it in such a perfectly beautiful package with gentle strings providing a comforting sweep under the crystalline guitars and vaulting melodies. This is gloriously epic material.
‘Magiclands’ is out today and available through the link below and all the usual download/streaming sites.
Blackbirds F.C. are:
Phil Campbell: Drums, percussion
Julien Chick: Bass
Jeremy Gronow: Vocals, guitar, keyboards, string arrangements
Gina Hearnden: Vocals, guitar
Bec Long: Cello
with Cameron McKenzie: Guitar, keyboards, vocals and banjo, and Jeff Baker: live guitar
Produced by Cameron McKenzie.
Recorded and mixed at Station Place Studios, Glenhuntly, January 2021 – June 2022.
Mastered by Jim DeMain at Yes Master Studios, Nashville August 2022.