We’ve long been fans of Sydney/Illawarra band FLOWERTRUCK who have perfected an antipodean-flavoured brand of indie pop that has a genetic link to an amalgam of The Go-Betweens and The Apartments on one side of the ditch, and the Dunedin sound epitomised by Flying Nun roster of The Bats and The Chills on the other side.
Blinding rays of sunshine emanate from their new album ‘Partly Cloudy’ – albeit with a more pessimistic forecast than their previous 2018 debut ‘Mostly Sunny’ – reflected by the album’s darker themes. The intervening years have seen a more mature and world weary FLOWERTRUCK while the snappy pop sensibilities remain. The band reflects on the experiences of life that are steeped in the album:
Over the past four years we’ve seen old friends go and new friends save the day, we’ve seen our homes packed into boxes and arrived in new towns, we’ve seen our bodies get weirder, we’ve seen the world go full nutso, we’ve seen new venues and new faces in the audience, we’ve seen our peers throw in the towel, we’ve seen the same old TigerAir terminals, we’ve seen our friends become professionals, we’ve seen marriage proposals and people having babies, we’ve seen fans buy our vinyl and some ask for refunds, we’ve seen big decisions work out for the best and some not work out for anyone, we’ve seen more musty rehearsal rooms and makeshift recording booths and bass amps shoved into Ubers.
We’ve seen dark clouds form over our heads, but at the same time we’ve seen the warm sun shining just behind them.
Opening track ‘Pretending’ has a whimsical, hyperkinetic bounce with the unbounded energy of a boisterous puppy dog, laced with the delightfully wry vocals that recall Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins. An agile, aquatic bass line winds its way throughout the track like a golden thread, supporting splashes of guitars and synths and an euphoric chorus grander and more cinematic than the outback sky at midnight. With just as many sparkles.
Lead singer Charles Rushforth says of the track:
I remember Leonard Cohen saying that there are two types of songs, ones that take twenty minutes to write and those that take two years. I’d written the music for ‘Pretending’ years prior, but I had to put it on the shelf after failing to find any words that could fit the song.
After attending a children’s birthday party, the lyrics miraculously appeared:
Like a fruit bat on a powerline, that main line just burst into my head – ‘I’m just pretending that you weren’t important’ – from there the rest of the song came together really quickly.
Despite the sugar-induced rush of the instrumentation, the song’s themes are darker – seeking self-preservation in the face of inevitable change and the death of those close to you. In a sense, this marks a more mature FLOWERTRUCK.
‘Father of The Bride’ is a hyperkinetic feast that canters along with a poppy high step while ‘Crying Shame’ with its rampant bass lines and zany keyboards has elements of early Split Enz and a zesty blistering pace.
‘Likelihood’ dials down the pace with sky high jangling guitars and a reflective delivery that recounts personal challenges with a wry self-aware tone steeped in melancholia:
Finish my degree
Or try and take some savings overseas
The likelihood of that is low
What’s the likelihood of that?
‘Sing Along To You Life’ recalls the archness of Robert Forster from The Go-Betweens with a jangling ring to the guitars and a hyperkinetic pace. The melodic strength in the song shines bright. The darkness of the lyrics in ‘Quite’ contrasts with the bounce of the instrumentation and melody (again featuring some astonishing bass lines) as indolence frustrates the singer:
I can be so quiet
Barely lifting up a finger
But my thoughts are too
Dismissive of the night
The heavier my
Eyes became the
More I prized that
Elements of Talking Heads drift in the percussive beat and layered chorus. Indeed, the band says:
Sonically, ‘Quiet!’ is an ode to some of our favourite bands – namely Talking Heads and Orange Juice. We hadn’t finished the song when we started recording it, and we were having no luck finding a way to finish the track.
The breaking point came after we all listened to the Talking Heads song ‘The Good Thing’, which has the most completely psycho bridge part that just shouldn’t be there but totally works. It gave us a renewed sense that we can do whatever we want with our songs, so we went berserk at the end, and it was probably the most fun we’ve ever had in the studio.
‘All Through Roads’ showcases the band’s inherent sense of wry humour despite the weight of maturity and the vicissitudes of life:
Our love is
A timing chain
You don’t have
Hundred thousand K’s
Baby I’ve got my full licence
No fear of hill starts or parallel parking
We’ll start those engines when I say
Let’s drive away
The glint of sunshine continues in ‘Alright/All Right’ and ‘Oberon’ which seem to be paeans to resilience and fortitude.
The laid back, dappled sunshine sound of final track ‘Hopeless’ sparkles with an edgy nervy pace – this is the sound of a band that shimmers with an antipodean glow augmented by a brilliant pop sound with the charm of bands like XTC or Supergrass. The Rhodes piano sound tinkles throughout the track with a razor sharp guitar solo and chanting backing vocals.
The band says of the track:
In our experience, when we’re making music together, we’re always plagued by this terrible, terrible fear of failure. But it’s always compensated by the special bonds and memories we’re creating with each other at the time. It can feel like a completely hopeless pursuit, but there’s always happiness to be found in the journey. Suddenly though, it felt like that part had been taken away from us, by forces beyond our control. ‘Hopeless’ is our meta song about making music together. It’s a tribute to all those nearly missed Tiger-airline flights, those hideous 9pm-12am Tuesday practice slots (followed by a 90-minute drive back down the coast) and the long uncomfortable tours in borrowed Toyota Taragos… some of the happiest times in our lives.
The sense of anxiety and vulnerability filters through in the vocals but the inherent optimism shines through in the jaunty pace of the song and the lyrics.
‘Partly Cloudy’ is an exuberant series of jaunty ditties that tell a darker story but ultimately leaves room for hope. FLOWERTRUCK combine enthralling story-telling through vivid, personal poetry with a jangling angular musical attack that sparkles and shines across ten shimmering tracks. The album is a sonic triumph, while the band can take their place amongst the exciting roll call of contemporary antipodean bands that carry the torch of those who preceded them.
Feature Photograph: James Morris