Album Review: ‘Once Upon A Time’ – Badinage serve up a kaleidoscope of sonic treasures in their debut album.

The Breakdown

'Once Upon A Time' is a treasure chest of tangible, organic instrumentals that express raw feelings and emotions without words. A veritable smorgasbord of aural pleasure and moods.
Independent 8.5

Badinage‘s new album ‘Once Upon A Time’ is a treasure chest of tangible, organic instrumentals that express raw feelings and emotions without words. A veritable smorgasbord of aural pleasure and moods.

The details behind the structure of the album are fascinating.

Comprised of ten chapters, presented as Book One and Book Two, the album is centred around the idea of storytelling—the art of creating meaning and coherence by organising seemingly random or arbitrary experiences into a structured whole.

The song sequence employs the literary/dramatic narrative structure known as Freytag’s Pyramid:

Exposition > Rising Action > Climax > Falling Action > Resolution

The Exposition is established at the outset with the insistent rhythmic drive of ‘California Hotel’, before the band relax into a three-song Rising Action sequence featuring ‘Imagination’, ‘We Must Ban Joe’, and ‘Afternoon’. The album then builds inexorably towards the epic climax of ‘The Katchaturian’ (inspired by some of Capp’s favourite movie soundtracks such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien), dialling up the heavier rock aspect of the band’s sound and closing out Book One.

Book Two opens with the dreamy shoegaze of ‘Blade’ and the graceful restraint and delicate drone of ‘Hummingbird’, followed by a Falling Action sequence that is momentarily interrupted by the decidedly up-beat ‘Mustang’, serving as the classic Second Turning Point of the narrative arc (the unexpected new challenge just prior to the triumphant ending). The blistering guitar solo of Mustang provides a satisfying Resolution that is further reinforced by the moody and introspective ‘Shepard’s Ladder’. Once Upon A Time concludes on a lighter, playful note with ‘Getting Sad’ (featuring cello music written by Bach over 300 years ago overlaid onto a chord sequence written by Reid in the 21st century), bringing closure to the emotional journey set in train by Book One.

From the ominous prowling of opening track ‘California Hotel’ with its heavy breathing cello followed by the folkish whirl of ‘Imagination’, featuring the guest violin of Lucy G. Rash that seems to be a sound track for some eastern European café, the album provides a cornucopia of delights.

‘We Must Ban Joe’ is a light canter underpinned by the repetitive cello run under the dappling guitars whereas ‘Afternoon’ has a somber weeping cello melody under crystalline guitars, creating a soporific indolent drowsy late afternoon feel, the aftermath perhaps of indulgence and the need for recovery. ‘The Katchaturian’ extends this cathartic indolence with its come hither gypsy cello sound – languorous and easy, reflective and in repose.

‘Blade’ has a harsher guitar thrum with a percussion underflow, taken over by a jaunty plucked string spine that ebbs and flows. It’s that early evening rejuvenation as the adrenalin kicks from which ‘Hummingbird’ collects the baton with the urgent scratching stings that scrape over the ceiling, with twinkling lights brightening the horizon.

‘Mustang’ installs a little steel in the spine, an injection of a little rock’n’roll robustness. It canters along with a high stepping trot and a melodic riff that positively sings out like a chorus, despite the absence of vocals. There is brooding element to the track, circling and prowling with a dark intent and yet an uplifting thrill as it returns to the central spine. The mix of somber, weeping cello and wild chaotic guitars creates a delicious tension as the song reached a crescendo.

There is an element of Pink Floyd, a dash of Died Pretty, the thrum of Dirty Three and a shoegaze sheen to the epic journey this track takes us on.

This is thrilling energetic stuff that is loquacious without words – expressive and euphoric.

Guitarist Dave Reid is a big fan of Swervedriver, whose song ‘Son of Mustang Ford’ partially inspired the title of the single. Drummer Matt Omond says:

I think about this song more in terms of horse power than horse. The time I once spent driving around in a left-hand drive Ford Mustang with a friend floods back. The moment the car started I could feel power that wanted to cut loose. We started in city traffic that was limiting the vehicle from really taking off, but once the road opened up, so did the car, and we really got a chance to have at it once the road became clearer. I feel like this song really captures those moments!

Indeed the track has a frisson of excitement and danger you get when you are behind the wheel of the eponymous car.

The mood is continued with ‘Shepard’s Ladder’ which has a heavy metal grunge to the delivery before final track ‘Getting Sad’ slides in, opening antithetically with the sounds of party happiness that permeates the track and a jolly plucked string trot throughout. It’s a thigh slapping cavorting track that sends you off in the early hours with a high step, complete with a nod to Bach’s ‘Air (on the G string)’ in the cello.

‘Once Upon A Time’ is sonic storytelling at its most immersive best.

‘Once Upon A Time’ is out now via MGM distribution on vinyl/CD and digitally via  streaming services and through the link below. It was produced by the legendary Phill Calvert (The Birthday Party, The Psychedelic Furs).

Badinage will be launching the album on Saturday, 23 March 2024 at the George Lane Bar in Melbourne with fellow Backseat Mafia favourites, Blackbirds FC. – details and tickets here.

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