Beautiful Sharks (1999) was the second studio album released by Melbourne three-piece Something For Kate. Recorded at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne and mastered at Sterling Sound New York, the record was produced and mixed by Brian Paulson (Wilco
, Archers Of Loaf
) with assistance from Matt Maddock. The twelve tracks on the disc run for just under 50 minutes, showcasing throughout the album how their distinctive musical style has grown and developed since their debut album, 1997's Elsewhere For Eight Minutes
Throughout the record the most noticeable qualities will be the unique voice and guitar playing of Paul Dempsey, along with his excellent lyrics. There is also not a song on the disc where the band don't work together impressively as a unit; the emphasis is never placed on a single instrument, instead the focus is on creating well crafted songs. The result is an album that flows seamlessly and cohesively, while at the same time the songs can each stand on their own merit. Evident throughout the record is level of songwriting skill that many bands do not possess by their second album, if ever at all.
The four singles that were released from the album, Electricity
, Whatever You Want
and The Astronaut
, showcase the variety present in this body of songs. Elecricity
shows that the energy of their previous album has not dissipated completely; this song is stress, angst, and urgency, complete with great lyrics - "I watch the people and the cars in slow motion, they're beautiful like breaking glass not broken". Musically the song features harsh, raw guitar sounds, crashing drums, and a sweet bassline (responsible for the unique sound of the intro and verse), while Paul's vocals are delivered in a rough, raw shout rather than the gentle style he uses on most of the other tracks. Hallways
is less raw and hectic sounding than Electricity
, but is still one of the rougher sounding songs on the album in terms of guitar tone. Again the song is propelled along largely by drum and cymbal work, with the movement in the song driven by Steph's bassline, with Paul's guitar work providing his usual distinctive chords and sounds over the top, while his vocals and lyrics as usual provide the song with an individual character and feel. Whatever You Want
is a fitting beginning to the album, and is a much more relaxed song, showing the clean side of Paul's playing and offering more depth in the melody. The song rises and falls beautifully between verses and choruses, mellow throughout, showing the subtle side of Paul's songwriting. Another relaxed song, The Astronaut
is the band's unique take on a love song. It is simple and slow moving, keeping the music tasteful and uncluttered to leave the vocals to carry the song through.
The title track, Beautiful Sharks
, is introduced by the bass, and follows on from the mood of the first track. A strong track, again the vocals are the feature. The song is paced slowly, with drifting guitar sounds, floating vocals and liquid bassline over the top of Clint's solid but unobtrusive beat, complimented by some well placed guitar and keyboard overdubs. I again can't stress enough how much Paul's lyrics bring to the songs. Like Hallways
, Big Screen Television
is introduced by the drums. This song is a great demonstration of Paul's guitar skills, moving seamlessly from stop/start chord work, to rolling melodies and back again. Subtle builds and mood changes make this one of the stand-out tracks of the album and is one of the best examples of what to expect from the album as a whole, definately recommended listening if you are curious as to the style at play - this track is similar to Before Butterflies Wings
, Back To You
The remaining tracks add further breadth to the record. Slowdance
is unsuprisingly the slowest song on the disc, as with all the tracks the production has seen the vocals placed high in the mix, sitting comfortably over one of Paul's distinctive guitar melodies, all brought together solidly again by the rhythm section (particularly well demonstrated in the intro of the song, where you can hear the guitar melody played alone, and then matched by the bass and drums). Like a number of tracks in the album, there are subtle shifts in mood and texture that take the song through to conclusion. It is worth crediting at this point how much the recording and production has contributed to the albums unity; when listening through the tracks you will hear clearly how every track has a distinctly similar atmosphere, and the guitar tones are consistent throughout. The diversity on the album isn't created through tricks of sound, but more importantly through skilled songwriting and creative playing.
is one of the most musically interesting tracks on the album, a prominent bassline and simple but forceful drumbeat lay the foundation for Paul's guitar to lay down drifting soundscapes to sing over, while the song heads towards another of the albums trademark mood changes. Interesting fact; the song itself ends at around 3:20, and is taken to 4:26 by an ambient instrumental outro. The final track on the album Photograph
, is stripped back and paced accordingly, led along by a single-note guitar riff and distantly placed vocals. For most of the song the only activity on the drumkit is cymbals and hi-hats, sitting underneath the melody. The song doesn't have as much going on musically as the other tracks on the record, though it gets away with it because it is the ending track. Were it placed inbetween the other, fuller songs, it would stand-out as having less going on, but as a track to finish the album, it becomes an ideal trait to have.
Overall, Beautiful Sharks
is a remarkably well realised album, whether or not it is taken into account that is was only their second full length release. There is a musical and lyrical depth in these songs that gives the band their unique sound, and the record itself a unique appeal. The songs presented here stand well enough on their own, but how consistent and cohesive the songwriting and playing is can only be appreciated fully when listened to as a whole. It is this shared mood and musical atmosphere that is maintained even between the contrasting songs that turns a collection of great songs into an excellent album, and this is just that.
If you have never heard an Australian indie-rock band before, then I can't think of any record that can introduce you to it better than this.