Album Review: The ‘Heathen Sound’ of Big League is a deliciously fuzzy onslaught filled with melody and chainsaws.

The Breakdown

'Heathen Sound' is a collection of urgent vibrant tracks that thunder with a fuzzy passion, squealing guitars and the sweetest of melodies that thread their way through the swarm. There is an utterly endearing passion, a poetic force in the lyrics and a heart-pounding energy that is cathartic and joyous.
Independent 8.8

Much loved here at Backseat Mafia, Naarm/Melbourne band Big League began as a series of lounge-room recordings by husband and wife team Travis (guitar, vocals) & Marie Velthoven (bass) before expanding into a full band and an even fuller sound. And the sound is bigger than Ben Hur.

Big League have released a new album, ‘Hethen Sound’, and according to Travis Velthoven, the album title is:

a throwback reference to a time when rock ’n’ roll was considered by some to be the biggest threat to our children’s well-being.

Over two years, Travis set in place highly productive processes and writing sessions courtesy of the school holidays that his day job provided:

Everything was written during these periods, always at our kitchen bench. I’m getting better at allotting time to writing, and making sure I have all the materials ready to assure every session produces something (demos, lyric ideas, pen).

The album was mixed by Beau Sorenson, the US producer and engineer with an impressive CV that includes Bob Mould, Sparklehorse, Death Cab For Cutie and Garbage. Sorenson has mixed the entirety of the album, which was recorded in Melbourne by Michael Marinucci at Brown Lounge Sound. Travis says:

I generally try to keep the arrangements pretty rigid by the time we’re in the studio. I feel like that creates a clear line between exploring options in search of something magical, and getting something coherent on tape. That said, I offered less direction, and played fewer instruments on this album than I ever have. This pushed me to express myself more through the input I did have, and every song has at least one moment where Reni, Luke, or Marie did something I didn’t expect.

Opening track ‘Holding Out For The Big League’ puts out on display what you can expect from the contents: roaming bass, jangling, scything guitars and a melodic strength that continues to run throughout the album. The lyrics are raw and personal, augmented by dual vocals, with an anthemic chorus and delivery that reminds me a little of The Psychedelic Furs.

The title track follows swiftly with sky-high grungy riffs and urgent vocals that reference the band’s influences as it outlines the morals dangers of rock’n’roll:

Itsy bitsy teeny a wink to show, it’s like the kinda thing you see in movies though,

It looks like something you wouldn’t go, there’ll be a line I hope you know,

Boat fair for dildo’s on the weekend almanack, tail wags the dog and the owners a maniac,

Provoca stretching is in vogue, there’ll be a line I hope you know,

Malkmus Pollard Stipe and Cope,

Heathen Sound, walk walk away

Of course Big League are a band that likes to dally on the wild side of indie rock with a carefree insouciance and a thousand yard stare. ‘Tea and Sandwich Committee’ is no different with its caterwaul of fuzzy wild insane guitars and engaging melodies that thread their way through the cataclysm of sound. A yin and yang of sonic interference curled around contrapuntal sweet melodies and harmonies. It’s the sonic equivalent of what I imagine it’s like going through a car wash with the windows down – your hair is messed up, you are wringing wet but boy do you feel cleansed and refreshed after it’s finished.

…the chugging rhythm guitar was inspired by At The Drive-in’s song Lopsided, but at some point it turned into a waltz.

You can feel the thunderous winds whipping around the barbed wire strands in the delivery.

‘On The Grid’ continues with the generous use of squalling guitars while the dynamic instrumental ‘Speechless’ slows the pace with a wailing guitar over a driving rhythm that undulates like a wave.

‘Dine Out On The Subdivide’ is driven by a wall of fuzzy guitars and pattering drums, the song crackles with a vitality and power – the high voltage riffs driven by powerful passionate harmony of voices bristling with emotion. A jangling intrusion of twelve string guitars lifts the ceiling and lets in a little light. The chaos and thunder ends in a feedback-laden attack – it is as if Martin Phillipps from The Chills jammed with Velvet Underground in the midst of an earthquake.

Travis Velthoven details the serious issues behind the song’s lyrics:

I wrote the song during our second covid lockdown in Melbourne. A lot of the government housing that was built in our area during the 1950’s has long been sold off, and now developers are pushing projects through council that cram as many poorly built, unliveable, dog boxes onto a property as possible.

These are houses that are so poorly planned that they would never themselves dream of living in them. None of the people living in these houses use their garage to park their cars, and at least one of the tenants was using their garage to run their illegal chemistry startup
,. The streets are always crammed with cars, the cops are always stopping by, it’s a first world shit-show!

This is raw and vital music, rough hewn from a granite rock with a visceral portraiture of urban life.

The streets are always crammed with cars, the cops are always stopping by, it’s a first world shit-show! 

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable sonic electrical storm.

‘Schrodinger’s Dad’ has a fuzzy drive that recalls Pavement or Dinosaur Jnr with distant yearning vocals delivering opaque lyrics. ‘At All’ is a vibrant hyperkinetic fizz that snaps, crackles and pops with a high-stepping trot. It is filled with an almost chaotic punk onslaught, hyperventilating guitars and urgent yearning vocals combining to create a much needed adrenaline shot to the system. It is indeed the sonic equivalent of a caffeine shot in the morning, imbibed to keep the heart palpitating for at least 24 hours after ingestion.

Like a coterie of antipodean legends from the South Island of New Zealand in the moshpit with The Jam, it is whirlpool of raw and earnest indie rock that is abrasive and very satisfying. Songwriter Travis Velthoven says:

The song’s about getting olderReflecting on the things you’ve done and the things you want to do, and remembering to look to the future with optimism.

It’s a sonic defibrillator that will get the blood racing, that’s for sure.

‘Rest In Peace, Get Well Soon’ and ‘These Days’ continue the thread of songs that are like the heavy metal REM period – passionate delivery soaked in jangling fuzzy guitars, soaring harmonies and a frenetic pace.

Final track ‘Safer Indoors’ is a nine minute epic with a cinematic sweep and a cataclysm of guitars that thunder over the vocals. You can hear the same genetic code as The Chills with the sharp vocals and wash of sound that thunders though the speakers. There is light and shade throughout – complex layers and patterns – that reflect the sense of anxiety and restlessness in the lyrics:

There’s bombing outside, I’m safer indoors,
There’s burning outside, I’m safer indoors,
There’s gun slinging crime, I’m safer indoors,
There’s mortgage subprime, I’m safer indoors…

‘Heathen Sound’ is a collection of urgent vibrant tracks that thunder with a fuzzy passion, squealing guitars and the sweetest of melodies that thread their way through the swarm. There is an utterly endearing passion, a poetic force in the lyrics and a heart-pounding energy that is cathartic and joyous.

‘Heathen Sound’ is out now and available to download and stream through the link above and through here.

Big League will be celebrating the new album with a massive Australian/New Zealand tour – details below and tickets available here.

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