Last year’s glorious double single release – ‘Berlin’ and ‘Marine’ – from The Nagging Doubts served notice of something very special. The Nagging Doubts have now delivered on this with their new EP – ‘Autocalm’ – a collection of brittle, beautiful tracks that evoke an eighties glimmer and an Australian indie tradition of intelligently crafted, sensitive songs that seems to reflect the wild landscapes and blue open skies.
The Nagging Doubts genetic connection to their fellow Australian indie giants that paved their way is highlighted in the opening ‘Through A Glass Darkly Part 1’ with its nod to the raw emotions of The Go-Betweens, The Triffids or Paul Kelly – unadulterated Australian accents and a deeply poetic expressiveness. In doing so, the band joins contemporaries such as Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and RVB at the very forefront of the new wave of contemporary Antipodean indie rock.
The guitar sound is brilliant – shimmering, chiming, ringing out like a bell – and therein and throughout the EP you can detect the golden touch of producer Wayne Connolly (Underground Lovers, The Vines, You Am I, Youth Group).
‘A Shot in the Dark’ has a crisp and bright sparkle – aching vocals and dappling guitars create a shimmer and a sense of urgency: the vocal interplay is glorious. The instrumental passage towards the end with its wild guitar solo reveals an engaging intricacy. The accompanying video is charming – simple shots of the band in perfomance and wandering around their local suburb (Marrickville and Tempe) with all its glorious multiculturalism and eternal sunshine:
‘Berlin’ is both arctic and sparkling at the same time: jangling, chiming guitars that have all the brilliance of classic shimmering dream pop with urgent post punk vocals. If comparisons were needed, it’s like an Australian version of Echo and the Bunnymen mixed with the bleakness of Joy Division. Singer Joe Wilks says of the track:
This new sound seemed to mimic some of the mindscapes I felt during the trip away; being in a foreign place for the first time without parents or any real anchor to remind you of a life with structure and routine. It was Berlin particularly that came to mind when I listened to the song because it was a city that seemed to run itself and didn’t feel the need to cater for tourists, it was unforgiving yet with a lot of integrity to it.
There is certainly a distant alien soundscape captured in the song’s architecture.
‘Through a Glass Darkly Part 2’ has an expansive atmosphere and measured pace: it is anthemic and bold with added instrumentation (is it an oboe?). This is yet another magnificent example of a band that is forging its own distinctive path.
Fifth track ‘Marine’ brings to the fore again the vocal interplay between male and female voices and is a more reflective, haunting piece. According to the band, the track:
…represents shedding the physical and mental constraints of High School and all that comes with it and being thrust into a new reality that makes you feel like you’re closer to the source of life. The song isn’t limited to the idea of leaving school, that state of mind is also applicable to forming or breaking relationships, going through a period of self-discovery, or any period where you feel like you’ve shaken up the snow globe that is your mind and are open to anything and full of energy to get out there.
The same arcing and sparkling guitars feature strongly.
‘Autocalm’ is essentially a movement of two parts. After the opening five tracks of spectacular indie pop, the band shrugs off the strictures of tradition and metaphorically lets its collective hair down.
The twangy guitars that introduce ‘When The Weather Changes’ reflect this significant change in pace – female vocals to the fore with distant echoes herald a grunty, grittier change in guitars and quiet/loud approach. This is a much more muscular track with an almost jazz inflexion and far more complexity. This is not a band afraid to extend themselves and explore something more psychedelic. In fact, the track seamlessly drifts into the final, mostly instrumental track ‘The Storm’ where the use of the oboe and a wandering, hazy fugue spills into a wild psychedelica – akin to some sort of free form seventies drone-like blast.
Overall, ‘Autocalm’ is an achingly beautiful collection of songs – there is an immediacy and rawness of expression and a deep sense of yearning and melancholia in the first three quarters before a wild and transfixing explosion into something unrestrained and free. This is an outstanding release and one of the highlights of the year thus far.