Dominic Breen‘s new album ‘Blue Volume’, out today through Double Drummer, is certainly a cinematic experience – both in the sounds it creates and the visions it brings forth. And by cinematic, I’m talking widescreen with ultra vivid colours and an immersive surround sound sparkle that shimmers like stars in the firmament. At the very heart of this album, Breen has a voice that can range from the soft croonings of Roy Orbison to a robust and direct Australian storytelling of David McCombe from The Triffids or Robert Forster from The Go-Betweens. With a little Morrissey on the way.
Breen describes the genesis of this expansive work:
It was a strange time. I had a job lined up in the Gibson desert. I was ready to throw in the towel on the life I’d been working on. I’d just started taking lamotrigine, this anticonvulsant medication used to treat bipolar. I was trying to quit smoking. The first Covid waves were beginning to break and uncertainty loomed. Here we were, Tim (Tim Fitz, Middle Kids) and I, burrowed away in an attic producing these yearnjams, and outside, in between it all, I was starting to fall in love again, and Tim had just become a father.
The album perfectly captures the monumental changes Breen experienced; a mixture of fear, anxiety and absolute wonderment and joy. Dichotomies form the very heart of this work: melancholia and joy. Breen says:
Blue Volume is kinda like a constellation. It’s constructed with lots of different experiences, adversities, people, some connected and similar, others far apart and totally disparate. Some shine brightly and others are cloaked and less obvious. It can be seen as a singular thing if you look at it a certain way, and it will illustrate a picture for you, or point you in a direction. I think the way it appears to you will depend on where you are and how you are. Whatever you get from it is true, but not true for everyone.
It’s a constellation that glitters.
Opening track ‘Under Your Sorrow’ encapsulates the delicate balance between melancholic delivery and bright instrumentation: crystal splashing guitars over a synth bedrock, like a crystal clear stream over pebbles. Breen’s voice drips with yearning with a folkloric rhythm and inherent romanticism.
‘Hey, Only If You Want To’ is another sparkling jewel in the firmament: shimmering, jangling guitars create a warm veil over a muscular rhythmic drive while Breen’s voice is a spectacular shining sun at the centre that emanates an emotional and yearning hue.
Indeed, Breen captures a beautiful melancholic glow in his writing: with euphoric bursts and a thoroughly engaging melodic flow. The sunshine glow, however, comes from a darker source:
I hadn’t eaten or slept properly for months. I had so much energy then. I’d go for a walk at night and just keep going. Didn’t really know where. When it’s all whirring and electric and urgent like that you just wanna be settled, like you’re a spooked horse. There’s no sense to it. It can’t be explained. You just want to be held, to be taken in by anybody, but you don’t wanna put anybody out. I had my own place to go to, but it was more of a hostel than a home at that time. So I wrote a lot of songs down in my phone notes, and this was one of those songs.
This creates a beautiful dichotomy between the message and the delivery.
‘Knockout Blues’ introduces a dreamy shoegaze layered billowing cloud with its slightly discordant riffs, circular hypnotic flow and Breen’s voice almost a falsetto, slightly back in the mix along with a heavenly chorus. A dreamy fugue builds as the music reaches a crescendo with its anthemic vocals.
‘James Street Tonight’ is an absolutely exquisite delight, draped in chiming guitars and melancholia and lifted skywards by Breen’s gorgeous vocals.
This immediately takes its place amongst the great Australian tradition of poetic troubadours stretching back to The Go-Betweens and The Apartments – cloaking lyrical beauty in shimmering melodies.
There is a sense of deep yearning and romanticism imbued deep in the song, which has an indelible melodic charm. A sense of hope is created, despite the tone, through the lyrics that impart a sense of acceptance and love:
Let me come over to James Street tonight
I promise I won’t try to get us back together
I just wanna lay by the swing and the streetlight
And sit in the silence of planes flying over
Exceptionally beautiful images delivered over a shining and brilliant instrumentation.
The motorik beat and driving movement of ‘Real Hard Week’ veers towards americana style and Orbison-esque crooning. Breen’s melodic strength creates something that is statuesque and effecting. He says of the track:
Real Hard Week’ was the first song we recorded for Blue Volume. I wanted it to be epic, like the pivotal song in a musical, like a Sondheim classic or something. I initially thought it would be a duet and I was using the word ‘Disney’ in the studio to convey what I was trying to say, like, ‘let’s make it more Disney’. But then I realised that the sentiments were truly one-way sentiments, and that in this case, the conclusion at the end of the song could only be my own.
‘Give Me A Drink from the Cup of Your Hand’ is Breen at his most expansive and aching: this is beautiful, romantic balladry that has the vocal elision and expressive qualities of Morrissey (without the bleakness). This is truly a gorgeous standout track: anthemic and wrenching.
‘Lovelost’ gently presses on the accelerator and is infused with Breen’s gentle sense of humour and filled with joyous whoops and yelps, his voice touched with a little more barbed wire and the guitars jangling with unrestrained abandon. When Breen croons, as in ‘Please Change Your Mind’, he does so with exquisite beauty and a yearning that tears out your heart and leaves it slowly beating and dripping in the dust.
‘The Place Where All Good Dream Get Lost’ unashamedly accentuates the americana thread that runs throughout the album: reverberate guitars that twang with intent, channeling a little Dylan in its short run.
The album ends with the synth spine of ‘(I Would Be) Willing To Try’: another deeply burning slow fuse of a track that is impossibly beautiful and graceful.
‘Blue Volume’ is a magnificent piece of work: uniquely antipodean in style and yet universal in appeal with its strong foundation of impeccable melodies and harmonies, a jangle and a spark to the instrumentation, and a sense of joyous optimism amongst the yearning and melancholy.
‘Blue Volume’ can be bought in a special vinyl edition, downloaded and streamed here.