It is difficult to express what a profound and integral influence singer/songwriter Ron S. Peno has had on the Australian independent music scene. As co-songwriter writer and frontman for the legendary Died Pretty, the eighties indie scene in Australia was set alight with the band’s inherent ear for pop melodies expressed through Brett Myer’s jangling guitars, a hammond organ wash and Peno’s highly distinctive vocals that ranged from fear-inducing growls to a sweet falsetto. And despite the ability to write perfect pop songs, they had just the right amount of grit and an intimidating presence.
Albums like ‘Doughboy Hollow’ and ‘Trace’ have become part of Australian indie rock history and even bothered the mainstream charts in Australia. Earlier albums ‘Free Dirt’, ‘Lost’ and ‘Every Brilliant Eye’ are still to my mind some of the best music to ever come out of the eighties. The band garnered an international reputation (apocryphally being bigger in Italy than Australia) but never moved to Europe as their peers did to build on their presence.
Live they were – and based on the evidence of a recent gig, still are – phenomenal. Myers, still, cool and implaccable while Peno prowled with menace ranging across the stage. I still rate Died Pretty as one of the best bands ever to come out of Australia and if you haven’t heard them, go and have a listen.
Now based in Melbourne (while Myers plays with north of Sydney band Joey’s Coop), Peno has been playing with his band Ron S Peno and the Superstitions for a number of years. For Peno, 2019 saw a serious health scare that was thankfully resolved, then 2020 saw, well, you know what, and now Peno and his band have just announced a new album (their fourth) and released two brilliant singles as a taster.
These tracks illustrate Peno’s songwriting craft – as ever the product of collaboration – but with his distinctive voice and ear for melody. A point of difference with his origins in the darker and at times more abrasive Died Pretty is that the songs are a touched with a little soul and a little more sunlight.
‘The Strangest Feeling’ has Peno’s voice at its falsetto best – pure and ringing like a bell. Backed by muted guitars, swirling organ and tinkling piano, his voice is up front and exposed – subtle and delicate voicing with soul-inflected backing vocals. There is sonically a lighter feel, even as the song builds gracefully up a head of steam to its denouement and Peno’s voice assumes a greater steel.
‘Everything Has Changed’ has dual vocals – spoken and sung – and a lot more powder in the barrel. Peno’s voice has a rich timbre that recalls the age of the crooner. This is an enigmatic track – reflective and floating in the ether with a strong and steady presence.
I cannot express how exciting it is to hear these drops of magic. Both tracks are available to download along with access to pre order ‘Do The Understanding’ below:
Ron S Peno & The Superstitions were formed in 2009 by Ron and guitarist and composer Cam Butler. The five-piece band also includes noted drummer Mark Dawson (Black-Eyed Susans, Ed Kuepper), keyboard player Tim Deane (Kim Volkman, Charlie Marshall) and bassist Andy Papadopoulos (ex-Deborah Conway).