Darren Cross is a pillar of the inner city indie scene in Australia: one of those hyperactive artists who never stands still. In the nineties he was in Gerling – a genre-defying iconic indie band that transgressed the boundaries between guitar-based indie rock and electronica. Later as part of Jess and Dep, he delved into an indie folk field and he lent his songwriting and production skills to the Jep half of the duo – Jessica (reviewed by me here) – while also putting his visionary skills into video production for a number of artists. Now, he has released a solo album – ‘DISTORDER’ – and ploughs an entirely different field altogether (with nods to his Gerling past).
‘DISTORDER’ is a dynamic, crunching album with a muscular, sometime dissonant, architecture that is restless and innovative. The uncertainty and anxiety of pandemic lockdown bleeds into the fuzzy, dirty mix, creating a sonic disturbance. The tracks have been written across a span of 30 years – 1991 to 2021 – but recorded through the dark undercurrents of today. Cross explains his creative processes:
When the second lockdown hit Sydney again this month- it personally hit me harder this time. Around the same time some really sad anniversaries were happening, tours and shows (especially the two postponed shows with D.C Cross supporting Ed Kuepper and Jim White) cancelled, no work, still no gov support, hopelessness crept in, for me anyway, couldn’t fly to space with Jeff ’n Elon this year that’s for sure 🙁.
I had been working on my third D.C Cross new album (the instrumental guitar only project) but it felt more right to get stuck into and finish a new Darren Cross studio album – just escape into music..the instrumental D.C Cross guitar project takes a lot longer to write/finish the compositions etc. I felt like losing myself in studio sounds- immediately, with Distortion added.
Some of the new DISTORDER tracks had been created during my last Darren Cross solo album ‘Keeping Up?’ but never used as these new songs had vocals, some were tracks written in 2010- one track even written when I was 16 – something about these 8 tracks just seemed to work together, right now. The underlying theme was distortion…
Indeed the golden thread that runs through the racks is a frisson of barely restrained energy and anarchy that comes from physical incarceration: Cross allows his mind to take him places the physical world cannot go.
Even the title of the opening track ‘Psychic Scum’ is revelatory: this track is a visceral punch of sounds and effects that segues into a swiftly paced and evocative movement, carried by a rolling synth bass that marches incessantly forward under Cross’s distorted, cynical angry vocals and a railway station tannoy blurt. There is a delightful lockdown video to go with this that incorporates the slightly surreal feeling to the track while displaying a certain self-deprecatory sense of humour:
‘Memory Lanes’ floats into something slightly more ethereal with its waves of washing synths and percussive beat but again the looming bass creates a dark presence under the playground melodies. Cross subverts expectations: there is a slight distortion that seeps in and out of the music and the reverberated vocals. This creates a hypnotic dream pop fugue with a barbed-wire bow.
Industrial motorik beats underpin ‘Are U SS Are?’ with a Kraftwerkian synth coating. Again, Cross’s vocals are distorted, distant, almost dispassionate against the upbeat flow. Lyrics are opaque and surreal: the overall effect a psychedelic trip, hallucinatory and alien.
Cross takes an acoustic jangle turn in ‘Blueghost’: an insistent shimmering recurring up beat guitar riff on repeat while his distorted vocals – gated and strangled – gurgle in and an out, while ‘Avec Moi, Avec Vous’ returns with the opaque synth walls of dissonance and disturbance. The latter has a Lynchian aura: faintly unsettling and wired. Taut like an over wound guitar string, with the same crackling edge and sense of thrill at the prospect of a violent, scything break.
To sooth the frazzled nerves, Rabbit Hole (Polka Dot)’ sees the return of Cross the folk artisan: a song of shimmering simplicity: his natural voice thrilling and melancholic against the acoustic thrum, sweeping strings and a delicate melody. The melody stays for ‘Givin’ Up’: a shuffling, mesmerising and anthemic track that is beautiful and atmospheric. It is electronic and mostly instrumental, statuesque and bold.
The album ends with a seven minute opus, ‘BLU MTN DEW’. The track starts ominous clouds of billowing and prowling synths with a Vangelis edge and momentum like in a Blade Runner-type film’s soundtrack. The sonic sounds sweep over the soundscape; haunting and profound, measured and stately. And then it stops. A distorted and perverted instrumental version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theme from Cats, ‘Memory’ then ends the song and the album: a wicked subversion by Cross of the track and the entire album. He renders something so cloyingly poignant and sweet into something with a distorted twist and faintly malevolent air. A palimpsest for our times.
‘DISTORDER’ is not pop. It is not particularly easy listening either. But it is a brilliant expression of our times: discordant, unsettling and at times bleak, but delivered with a swagger and a panache. Cross puts on display his musicianship and creativity, creating something dark and elusive yet touched with a certain element of wry amusement. A panoply of sonic expression, a bitter confection of dissonance but a thoroughly enjoyable and cathartic whole.
‘DISTORDER’ is available through the link below: