Review Summary: "What Are You Doing" is an unprecedentedly brilliant record that nobody’s heard.
There is an unrelenting expectation in place before I partake in any early release by any underground musician: what I am going to hear will not be confident
. Of course, I mean musically so, in that the artist is presumably in a developmental stage and they’ll get a better grip on what they’re doing or change radically by the time of their next record. This also means that however they sound at this particular point in time can be characterised as the output of a trial; an attempt. It can be a damn good attempt a lot of the time, or even an excellent one, but as happy as you are with the release, there may still be a lingering sense of anticipation for the true, defining masterpiece that every artist strives for. You’ve probably already guessed the point of this review introduction: What Are You Doing
is that masterpiece.
Australian 19-year-old Steven Farmer’s debut on CAN U FEEL IT???
entailed intent, instrumentally layered but structurally simple punk rock with ‘90s indie rock overtones and Bomb the Music Industry!
-worship quirkiness, and for all intents and purposes, it was perfect. The songs hit hard with catchy lyrics, instantly memorable choruses and melodies, and a sound that made its influences clear but distinguished itself from all of them. It didn’t quite have the aforementioned “confidence”, but did exactly what it needed to with songs that dug themselves into your brain and promised better things to come. The only thing was nobody expected that the better things would arrive seven months later and be this awesome.
What the former John Lithgoat
drummer builds upon CAN U FEEL IT???
to create What Are You Doing
is an unbelievable step forward considering the seven months between the two records. For one thing, Troubled Medium’s sound is tamed as the indie rock aspects of Farmer’s sound manage to slow down tempos and turn down the overdrive, bringing forth more tender, mild moments like “Content” and “Witchu” as well as full-on acoustic tracks including closer “Mean”. Songs are given new life with the programmed drums of Troubled Medium’s debut replaced by a brightly toned, raw sounding show of Farmer’s drumming proficiency, kicking off the album in high gear with crazy-fast rhythms on the second verse of “Sedentary”. Furthermore, Farmer stays true to the instrumental quirkiness featured on CAN U FEEL IT???
with even more eclectic instruments and sound manipulations, dabbling in (fake) saxophone on “Sedentary”, rumbling lo-fi on “At Ease”, (fake) glockenspiel on “Content”, that synth thing on “Engine Brakes” and whatever all those crazy sounds are on the instrumental title track. This time around, however, everything about the execution and production on What Are You Doing
sounds more constructed and controlled, and hence the instrumental sprawl plays less like punk spontaneity as much as carefully positioned enhancements to the central instrumentation of voice, guitars and drums.
For all these instrumental improvements, the overall accomplishment that ties them together on What Are You Doing
boils down to the simple truth that Farmer’s songs are just better
. Where Farmer previously proved that he could layer parts fairly well--mostly by doing weird guitar stuff under his singing on CAN U FEEL IT???
--What Are You Doing
has vocal harmonies, ambient tones, counter melodies and all manner of sounds consistently coming out of left field but feeling completely natural, attaching themselves to the most vital moments in a constant effort to make things bigger or move them in new directions. The emotional diversity on the album is also impressively expansive, broadening the spectrum of intensity as points like “Sedentary” and “At Ease” reach soaring heights while “Counterfeited Smiles” and “Engine Brakes” are stripped down for the gentle lows. With all that he does to move the album (emotionally) upwards or downwards, and (directionally) forward, Farmer’s elevated, varied songwriting allows the album to flow effortlessly, and it closes as if it said everything it needed to and went everywhere that it wanted to. This is the ultimate defining aspect of What Are You Doing
that goes beyond the typical goal of an underground musical release from a new artist: it seeks not to prove something about the artist but goes on to affirm its value as an artwork on its own.
From a newbie to the Australian punk scene--a scene that is only just now emerging, and doing it very slowly--What Are You Doing
is an unprecedentedly brilliant record that nobody’s heard. It’s an album that puts so much faith into independent music; a reminder that once in a while, something proves that your long venture through the homogenous amateurism on Bandcamp was well worth it. Considering that the project was only started within the year of What Are You Doing
’s release, it’s also a record that is impossibly confident, boasting a fully realised sound. With that, Steven Farmer becomes one of punk’s best kept non-American secrets, though we all hope that it doesn’t stay that way for long.
ALBUM RATING: 4.6
Troubled Medium is the solo project of Sputnikmusic user Spare. He put out two awesome full-length albums in one year at the age of 19 and only has 100 likes on Facebook. Give him a shout to tell him that his album rules.