Review Summary: The cool kids of Australian music go galactic on impressive follow-up.
The Australian dance music scene right now has been on the receiving end of this much public attention and coverage since the 1990s, with paulmac’s infamous Itch-E and Scratch-E and sonicanimation, who hit big with the smash “Theopoulis Thistler”. Groups such as Cut Copy and the Midnight Juggernauts, along with one-man party Muscles and the long-serving Pnau, are now selling out shows across the country and nationwide. While all these acts, amongst others on the scene, bring something to the table and all make some great music, it seems none amongst them in past few years have reached the heights scaled by Sydney two-some The Presets. To get some kind of grasp on how popular the band are in Australia, one can look to the fact that they can now headline main stages at festivals here without any difficulty- many at this year’s V Festival even chose to see the band over the reformed Smashing Pumpkins, and the audience response from their support slot with Daft Punk last year edged dangerously close to the response the robotic Frenchmen would later recieve. Their infamous live shows, bizarre costumes and their simple but effective approach to dance music has seen their fan base stretch across the globe, albeit with only one album (2005’s Beams
) and a handful of EPs tucked under their belt. At long last, the duo of Julian Hamilton (also known for his songwriting collaborations with Daniel Johns of Silverchair) and Kimberley Moyes (who also creates warped electro under the moniker K.I.M.) have given fans eleven more reasons to dance in the form of Apocalypso
Good news first. There are no filler tracks here, which is what seriously slumped Beams
in terms of overall listening quality, featuring far too many short instrumentals that went absolutely nowhere. The sound established throughout the record, too, is an overall darker and far more ambitious one than found previously- what is on display here is still dance music at heart, but certainly a lot weirder to say the least. Even comparing the opening tracks of each record proves the change that has taken place- the Billie Jean drums and slick vocal percussion of Beams
opener “Steamworks” has been replaced by the intense and commanding “Kicking and Screaming”, with a banging club beat and loud, erratic vocals. “People can’t believe how much fun we’re having!”, lead singer and synth programmer Julian Hamilton wails in the song’s chorus, sung with such vigour that for that split-second, you really do believe him. In itself, this is a strong indicator of what is to come- this is an album with energy levels through the roof, barely stopping at all for breath.
Hamilton and Moyes expand significantly on new territory throughout the album, experimenting with stuttering vocal samples (the extravagant and layered “Together”), confident synth-laden funk (potential single “Yippiyo-Ay”) and vocoder harmonies (album standout “A New Sky”). The lyrics are still unique and catchy- whilst they still predominantly revolve around relationships and various aspects of them, there’s still at least attempts of shaking the formula. “My People” documents a love affair between two immigrants- all the proof you need that political can get sexual too- whilst “If I Know You” is your typical break-up song with a Morrissey-like ambiguity. The band also ape popular culture throughout the record, referencing everything from Apocalypse Now
(“Kicking and Screaming” is inspired by the film), to Lindy Chamberlain (“Yippiyo-Ay” flaunts the nonsense rhymesake lyric of “Dingoes took the babies!”) to Split Enz (“If I Know You” rips part of the chorus from the band’s “I Hope I Never”).
Perhaps the best discovery The Presets have made since last time, however, is that of their parents’ Depeche Mode records- “This Boy’s In Love”, a typed love letter to teenage love, sounds like it would have never been more than just an idea were it not for Dave Gahan and co’s influence. With an addictive falsetto chorus and sparse piano samples layered over atmospheric buzz and distant vocal echoes, the track is easily the best thing you will find on this record and maybe, just maybe, the best song of the band’s entire career.
Unfortunately, as fantastic as many of the songs are, the band still search for a firm identity- a fate suffered by many, if not all, of the band’s contemporaries (some even trying to sound like The Presets themselves). Hamilton’s unmistakable shouts and over-emphatic crooning aside, a lot of the music surrounding and backing it occasionally feels faceless and a little thrown together. When a unique sound is established, however (singles “My People” and “This Boy’s In Love” easily fall under this category with almost unmistakable synth and samples), the band are a force to be reckoned with, a powerhouse of big synth, even bigger kick drum and laptop-rocking beats. And it is at this stage where the band are their most listenable and enjoyable.
The catcher here is in the fact that there isn’t a bad song amongst the set, regardless of how much the band love the eighties- Apocalypso
is a tight, entertaining, energetic and ambitious party.
Forget creating a city’s sound, or even a country’s sound- The Presets have created an album that is well and truly out of this world.