Album Review: Damien Binder collects all his shimmering gems into one brilliant showcase with new album ‘Bright Side’. Launch date announced.

Feature Photograph: Bridget Julie-Anne Photography

The Breakdown

Like a museum of sonic treasures, 'Bright Side' collates Binder's enticing releases under one roof, unearthing a few more delights and in the process delivering one of the strongest and most cohesive releases of the year.
Independent 8.9

New Zealander and Perth resident Damien Binder has been drip feeding us a series of luminescent singles over the past two years, culminating in his epic new album ‘Bright Side’. Like a museum of sonic treasures, ‘Bright Side’ collates Binder’s enticing releases under one roof, unearthing a few more delights and in the process delivering one of the strongest and most cohesive releases of the year.

There is a delicious expansiveness about Binder‘s work – he is an uniquely antipodean troubadour whose songs sparkle like the bright stars over the great southern land. Originally from New Zealand, Binder now lives in Perth and he has somehow combined elements of the spark of creativity from both places into an impressive body of work over the years. Binder began his musical life in nineties NZ band Second Child before moving west to Australia and releasing, to date, five solo albums, including ‘Bright Side’.

Binder says of this magnum opus:

In the past few years, like a lot of people I’ve been trying to make sense of things we’ve had no control over. A common thread in my work seems to be an overriding optimism. I still have faith in people and the power of human connection to overcome obstacles.  So personally looking on the bright side or looking for what is good tends to be something I try and do.

Beautiful sentiments for a beautiful album.

Opening title track is a shimmering and elegant track that exudes a sense of deep yearning.

The theme is that of a brittle resilience and strength in the face of the vicissitudes of life: putting on a brave face while hiding pain below the surface:

on the bright side
make no waves on the bright side
brittle beneath a smile
on the bright side
there’s no way on the bright side
they’ll ever know otherwise

Binder says of the track:

‘Bright Side’ is the title track off the forthcoming album and kicks off with a wide open road feel – big driving bass & drums with some bell-like guitars.

Thematically it runs through rage, resentment and imagines someone trying to maintain tranquility, who’s putting on a brave face while privately just barely holding it together – You know, living in the modern world and all that!

It’s kind of a different approach from me in some ways in that I’m inhabiting a couple of different characters’ viewpoints in the song and I love a good minor to major shift too!

Binder has the urgency and poignancy found in artists like Bruce Springsteen – crystal clear observations on the realities of existence, pain that is beautifully expressed. It’s a welcome return from the troubadour of the west.

‘Here It Is’, released way back in February 2021, is exemplary indie pop of the highest order – Binder’s vocals ring like a bell with expression and passion and the instrumentation jangles and soars behind him. There is a great mix between the acoustic guitars and the deep resonance of piano and synths over the clattering and restless percussion.

It is thoroughly satisfying indie rock with a hint of swagger and a dash of melancholic yearning. Binder says the song is a kind of meditation on appreciating the moment, gratitude and impermanence.

There is certainly a lot to appreciate in Binder’s song writing skills (in collaboration with Bob (Shepheard) and the production and instrument input from Matt Gio (Katy Steele, Birds of Tokyo, Abbe May, Rudimental). This is soul-stirring and anthemic indie pop.

Binder has followed this up with a really clever and evocative video where his flickering image is on a hovering vintage TV as the contents of a storage facilities – the brain where his memories are stored – float through the air. It is a treasure chest of photographs, places and moments being observed by his presence on the TV screen – an embodiment of a remote connection to the past through the tangible objects – Binder’s face flickering, fading as memories do.

Indeed, Binder says the song itself  is a kind of meditation on appreciating the moment, gratitude and impermanence, and the video poignantly captures that sense of restlessness – a storage facility being the embodiment of the transient soul without roots. We change, our memories change and tangible, permanent objects become a vital link to the past:

‘Connected’ canters along on a wispy air of synths and crystalline guitars: bright and sprightly pop that glimmers in the firmament with a Johnny Marr jangle.

In ‘Don’t Know What’, Binder’s New Zealand roots shine through in this slice of melancholia with the achingly beautiful pop genes of Crowded House shimmering in the delivery. Binder’s vocals are expressive and filled with an air of yearning, the melodies are anthemic and bold and the song glitters with an antipodean freshness and vitality as wide and open as the Western Australian skies.

Binder says of the track:

After my first two singles this year, ‘Don’t Know What’ is another departure of sorts – it’s less adorned, more humble & direct which hopefully suits its themes. Given the times, I wanted to convey something about the power of human connection and hope in uncertainty.

Matt stripped back my original arrangement of the song and in doing so really captured its essence, while Dan Carroll from Perth’s legendary live rock gods The Southern River Band provided some lovely electric guitar flourishes on the track!

The reverberated vocals add an element of dreaminess to the track and gives an almost fifties tone – a kind of Lennon-esque shimmer and a soul-inflected sparkle. This is another fine example of a songwriter at the very top of his game. The track comes with a sumptuous video. Mostly a black and white piece with colour only present in a brief shot of the iconic photo of Binder, it consists of Binder performing in an archetypal Australian pub, with a nod to the literary thread in Binder’s songwriting as an old typewriter is used to bang out the lyrics. Binder has an enigmatic presence, and the video is transfixing in its simplicity and vision:

‘Everything But’ is a glorious example of Binder’s craft: a shimmering restless piece that travels with a spark and a verve, laced with melancholia and a meditative air.

Binder’s voice is so immersive and mesmerising there should be a warning not to operate machinery while listening to this song. The vocals glide and purr over the crystalline guitars and drone of synths. You cannot help but think of endless horizons, brilliant blue cloudless skies against the red dust of the outback. Indeed, the themes cover a personal journey. Binder says:

‘Everything But’ started to take shape in the studio it was the instrumentation that shaped the sound and feel of the final recording. When we started out building the track Matt got this drum and keyboard feel going which reminded me a little of  some parts of Tunnel of Love (Springsteen) – Not a bad thing I thought!
We decided to follow that vibe keeping it spare but atmospheric and driving forward. Originally while writing this I was looking back a bit at the path that brought me to this point in the last 5 years, about the idea of growth & independence and one’s intuition, of learning to listen to and trust it. I wanted to try and capture the mood of that journey while still looking forward.

It is an absolutely evocative track that thunders down the road, rolling inexorably onwards like the wheels of a semi-trailer: you can understand the Springsteen references but the track has its own resonance. The lyrics are filled with a breath-catching poignancy:

I’ve got a taste
tip of my tongue
swallowed everything but
been in the race
tore it up
burned up everything but

I’ll go it alone, go it alone
where I don’t know
heart in my throat
go it alone, see where I go

The video created by Binder and brought to life by his long-time video collaborator, New Zealand film director Jonathan King (Black Sheep) is fittingly open and spacious with angular architectural and vast open spaces shot partially in a futuristic gallery space with poignant projections from the past as exhibitions:

‘Start This Heart’ has a dynamic shuffle with splashing guitars and a driving rhythm, Binder’s layered vocals inflected with a soul tinge, smooth and laid back.

In ‘Back To Me’ Binder has perfected a brand of antipodean indie pop that shimmers and sparkles like a mirage on the desert horizon. His luscious fulsome sound fills the track with a blinding glitter, laced with Binder’s trademark velvet soft melancholic vocals that weave an hypnotic magic throughout.

Binder says of the song:

I was thinking about how at times you can be led down a path, whether it be  another’s influence or because of the fashion of the day and it’s not really your style or what you stand forThe song is a realisation about coming back to being yourself.

The track features a production that is agile and crystalline, aided by Binder’s collaboration with Gio of whom Binder says:

It was kinda straight, more folky originally but Matt came up with this whole off-beat feel which inspired us to go a bit more atmospheric with some harp, keys and chiming guitars.

‘There For The Taking’ with its chugging guitars and synth etchings in the distance bring to the fore the crystal production that mixes and matched an acoustic thrum with a synth edge whereas ‘Touchdown’ coasts on a pure guitar pop sound with a celestial chorus.

Final track ‘One More Time’ ease us out with sweeping strings and Binder’s evocative vocals over a reflective track filled with a poignant emotion – an enigmatic anthem for the ages.

Ultimately Binder is a master pop technician who is able to weave the brilliant bright skies and rolling landscapes of Western Australia into every note: a wandering ambulant sound that seems to reflect the endless open horizons like fellow Western Australian residents, The Triffids and his homeland natives, The Chills.

‘Bright Side’ is out today and available to download and stream here.

Binder will be launching the album on Thursday, April 27th @ Lyric’s Underground, WA  with a full band and support from Cecilia – details and tickets here.

Album credits:

All Songs Binder/Shepheard

Damien Binder – Vocals & Guitars
Matt Gio – Bass, Drums, & Keyboards
Bob Shepheard – Guitars
Dan Carroll – Guitars

Produced by Matt Gio at Rada Recording Studios, Fremantle WA
Mastered by William Bowden at King Willy Studios, Launceston TAS

Artwork by Mark Roach
Feature Photograph: Bridget Julie-Anne Photography

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