Album Review: The Goon Sax illuminate the firmament with spectacular album ‘Mirror II’


The Breakdown

'Mirror II' is a garment of perfectly formed pop songs with a ragged edge and blemishes - but with a golden thread of celestial choruses that binds everything together. The songs are sometimes raw and vulnerable, sometimes lush and rich. It's a dichotomy that works well and forms a perfectly whole costume. This is a band that might well have its genes formed in the Brisbane sound but is transforming into its own unique apparition; a creation steeped in a brilliant musical history but forging its own path.
Matador records/Chapter Music 9.0

The Goon Sax have released their third album ‘Mirror II’ and it confirms their special place amongst Australian indie royalty. The album is essentially one of two parts – there is a softer pop element to the tracks released as singles with their glittery sheen and there is a more angular side that is brittle and raw. Both elements are tied together by evocative lyricism and a muscular rhythmic spine. Greater use is made of alien instruments and sounds, there is a richer experimentalism and a sense of adventure. All the members have made their own unique contribution to the song writing and sung on their own tracks.

‘In The Stone’ has that classic bittersweet antipodean sound – fragile, ethereal and poetic. Filled with self-deprecatory wit, there is a cold, dissociated approach to the vocals – intertwined male/female vocals that roam across the sparse melodic instrumentation with wry observations on a relationship:

Didn’t have to sound so disappointed when I called, if you’d ever saved my number in your phone

The band has taken a fresh approach to the production in this track – lush layers and a bold strong chorus. Singer/guitarist Louis Forster says of the track:

In The Stone’ is set in Berlin where I moved with my partner at the time, just after finishing school and recording our last album We’re Not Talking at the end of 2017. We were both exploring ourselves – accepting each other’s changes and celebrating flux – but also reckoning with the complicated need for a solid sense of self and the person we loved. Musically the song was influenced by what was playing in the background of our conversations which often took place in Ubers, supermarkets, outside parties etc. So it probably bears more of a subconsciously absorbed modern pop influence than anything else we’ve done as a band.

The video, directed by Mara Palena, is mostly a performance piece with strong bones and dramatic poise that has a psychedelic and blurry approach: enigmatic and slightly mysterious:

‘Psychic’ is further evidence of the creative brilliance of this Brisbane trio with its eighties dark synth vibes and layered harmonies. There is an Arctic chill to the sound – a glacial poise and presence. Louis Forster’s vocal are half spoken, half sung and harmonised and softened by Riley Jones’s light touch backing vocals, all fusing to create celestial melodies and a laconic, dry approach.

Forster says of the track:

Psychic exists in the fragile intersection of fantasy and reality. A supernatural world you escape into until you feel realities grip on your collar. But as you’re dragged back to linear time, and supposed objectivity the supernatural reinstates it’s claim to a more powerful truth. Eventually the friction between these worlds causes you to question your faith in both, wondering to what degree truth can be chosen and what forces from both are too strong for you to stand in their way. Much like ‘In The Stone’ this song is a conversation, two peoples truths of the search for this very thing.

The accompanying video is soft-focussed and enigmatic as is the band’s way: studied poses, awkward dancing with dual personality flashes: enigmatic and mysterious cloaked in lush colours and deep shadows. It’s effortlessly cool and languid:

‘Tag’ is something more brutal and eclectic with an eighties synth blitz and Jone’s taking the lead vocals – a simple melodic line that simmers just underneath the surface as the wall of synths and pounding percussion. The chorus is sublime – if I ever catch you – repeated as the music reaches a crescendo.

‘Temples’ reflects the rawer side of the album – with less production, basic instrumentation and is written and sung by James Harrison, whose vocals are vulnerable and frail and, to be honest, more tonally challenging. The following track, ‘The Chance’ takes up the reins – Forster’s vocals exposed up to the crashing chorus. ‘Bathwater’ has a languid saxophone framing the verses, rapid changes in pace and visceral lyrics – I’m the one coughing up blood – and a thrumming undercurrent.

‘Desire is languid and sensual: there is a vapid indolence perfectly captured by Jones’s deadpan delivery. The band perfects a kind of studied cognitive dissonance: they are like aliens observing the mundane world below them with scientific precision. Jones says of the track:

When I wrote‘Desire’, I lived with James and Louis in a share house in Paddington, Brisbane called Fantasy Planet. Technically, it was written out like“$◇ a Planet”, it was my friend Tim Green’s reference to the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. In my basic understanding of the way Lacan theorised fantasy, desire is founded upon a lack. The diamond (◇) represents all the ways we relate to a lost object: everything above, below, around, more than, less than, with, without, in spite of, and because of it. The cause of our desire is a gap that we are always trying to fill, even while it constantly evades us.
 
Desire is complex. Unconscious attachments hang on invisible threads. Fantasies and daydreams emerge, dangerous hallucinations cause reckless actions, mis-remembrance causes total distortion. I think that’s why we have to resort to symbols to express it. This song is my symbol (◇). I wanted it to feel as expansive as a Les Rallizes Dénudés song – to reverberate beneath waters that flood all the crevices of the earth, to leave no gap unfilled and I wanted it to be as universal as one of those crushing Elvis songs – so poignant that its sentiment seems to ring out forever, just like Desire.”

The album ends with a classic Brisbane sound – the bouncy and brittle ‘Caterpillars’ (also written and sung by Harrison) with the basic instrumentation: a wandering vibrant bass and insistent drumming’ all wrapped in simple melodies and raw expression.

‘Mirror II’ is a garment of perfectly formed pop songs with a ragged edge and blemishes – but with a golden thread of celestial choruses that binds everything together. The songs are sometimes raw and vulnerable, sometimes lush and rich. It’s a dichotomy that works well and forms a perfectly whole costume. This is a band that might well have its genes formed in the Brisbane sound but is transforming into its own unique apparition; a creation steeped in a brilliant musical history but forging its own path.

‘Mirror ll’ was recorded in Bristol at Invada Studios, owned by Geoff Barrow of Portishead and Beak, with producer John Parish (Aldous Harding, PJ Harvey). It follows a period where the band spent some time apart. Forster relocated to Berlin and worked at a cinema (he sings in German on the track ‘Bathwater’), Riley Jones and James Harrison formed an angular post-punk band called Soot.

Forster says of the new work:

The first two albums are inherently linked. They had three-word titles; they went together. This one definitely felt like going back to square one and starting again, and that was really freeing.

‘Mirror II’ is out now through Matador Records (in the northern hemisphere) and Chapter Music in the south – you can order here or through the link below. The band will be touring as well – see details below.

UK Tour Dates:
01/09/21 Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
02-05/09/21 – End of the Road Festival
06/09/21 – MOTH Club, London
07/09/21 – Pink Room, YES, Manchester
08/09/21 – Mono, Glasgow

Feature Photograph: Hugo Nobay

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