ALBUM REVIEW: Floodlights – ‘From A View’: another great Antipodean guitar salvo

IF THERE’S one area of the world that has always seemed to have had a dialogue and a response to a certain strain of British indie guitarpop, it’s been Australia and New Zealand.

Witness the Flying Nun scene and related bands that brought so much to our ears in the late 1980s: The Chills, The Go-Betweens, Straitjacket Fits; The Triffids, The Verlaines, all brought us guitar totin’ tunes ranging from the raw and the ramshackle to the lovelorn and the widescreen.

The past couple of years has something of a rebirth of that sound. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have produced a stonker of a second in Sideways From New Italy; and The Goon Sax, led by Louis Forster, son of The Go-Betweens’ Robert, has turned the generational musical wheel full circle with a pair of accomplished, fey, guitar pop albums.

Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding then for the latest arrivals from the other side of this pitted, plagued globe of ours: Melbourne’s Floodlights.

With one EP under their belt for big Australian indie player Spunk, the 10” Backyard, already hard to come by, the four-piece of Louis Parsons, Ashlee Kehoe, Joe Braffen and Archie Shannon have readied a full-length set for us: From A View

After the EP, featuring the gloriously world-weary “Nullarbor”, the four spent two days getting an album’s worth of tunes down with Rolling Blackouts’ engineer Nao Anzai. And it’s a little cracker.

It’s got rough edges, and so it should. The guitars are wiry in their riffing and distorted and ringing, chordally.  Louis has this great, raw, Antipodean-accented delivery, rich in dipthong and belted passion. Some of Martin Phillipps’ early delivery for The Chills, on songs like “Doledrums”, is probably the last time any of us anyone over in Britannia heard this sort of timbre; and he ain’t afraid to sing up and out.

A stall is set out by opener “Water’s Edge”, which chimes with an emotional tug, shifts into a skinny-tie new wave breakdown – or is that a little echo of Swagger-era Blue Aeroplanes there? before crashing right up and really letting fly. Big and brash and feeling. “Walk Away” runs along on a brilliantly spindly, proper indie pop guitar lead, simple and punchy, Rolling Blackouts on Creation in the early days. “When you walked away / What did you wanna say?” is the simple refrain.

Some of the loveliest tunes in the set are the two-handers between Louis and Ashlee: on “Thanks for Understanding” they come across as ute-driving, starcrossed partners in crime. The tune comes in on a garage-punk riff and explodes into an Australian indiepop pounder; the two bait and trade bon mots and bitter touchés about their souring twinship. It climaxes with a downhome, Pebblesy blues harp. Have a watch of the video at the end.

“Proud and Well” opens on a declamatory, spoken tack: Louis intoning, “A simple yes or no is somewhat deceiving / Say yes once and you’ll feed the one-arm bandit your whole life / So many variables, it’s your liberty to choose / No work on the coast and vice-versa … lose-lose” … to which Ashlee adds in a distant way, a kind of Candida to Louis’ Jarvis, reciting, softer: “I’m behind in my career path.”. Guitars wind and build and thrash at open chords; it gets all first-album Galaxie 500. It’s careworn and polemical and quite lovely. 

“Matter of Time” is an ace, raw, riffin, new wave-meets-Aussie indiepop stormer, full of stop-start ringing chords and chugging toms. You’ll be playing this as you hit the motorway on-slip, shifting up the gears on the way to see them live. It’s over way too soon. Hear it here.

“Tropical Fun”, as you can imagine, deals lyrically with the obverse. There’s a facing up to the past crimes of the continent – oh, and the present: “Plant a flag in the earth that doesn’t belong / they should be thanking us for fueling their economy”. “Don’t Pick That Scratch” examines the stirring fears of a small-c conservatism unhappy with a reckoning and a reassessment. “What will it mean for me? / I understand your culture / Things are rearranged … we can’t continue to cover up”. On songs like these, as unfashionable as it might be to say so, there’s a baton of Australasian lyrical consciousness being picked up from Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil.

With Rolling Blackouts and The Goon Sax then perhaps occupying the left- and right-hand thrones of the current Australian guitar pop court, Floodlights are the new prince; a little uncouth and unconcerned with courtly manners, proud and ready to stir and advance their own political, lyrical and sonic ways.

Oh: I bet they’re storming live, as well. Let’s hope we get to find out soon.

Floodlights’ From A View will be released by Woo Me!/Spunk on digital, CD and vinyl formats on August 28th. There’s an exclusive indies-only yellow ochre vinyl pressing, available at Stranger Than Paradise, Piccadilly Records, Resident, Rough Trade, Monorail and Banquet.

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