Review Summary: The Presets' Pacifica, both frighteningly intense and unnervingly melodic, strikes that perfect middle ground that their electro-peers can only dream of.
These days it’s almost impossible what to make of The Presets. It’s never been easy; look at My People
, their biggest hit to date. Under seemingly meaningless faux-crowdpleasing nonsense like ‘I’m here with all of My People!’
and ‘Let me hear you scream if you’re with me!’
was actually their take on Australia’s treatment of the ever-increasing number of lost souls from across the globe who seek asylum down under. The Presets were never one to shy away from making themselves look flippant, reckless or even foolish when it came to addressing major issues, which is why their current venture, Pacifica
, slingshots them further into the black hole of indecipherability.
While tracks like Youth In Trouble
are likely to please even the band’s most fervent purists, with smarmy vocals and a deeply entrenched sense of irony placed in Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes’ wordplay, the release of second single Ghosts
immediately forced a reassessment of their output. Be it randomers who chanced upon it due to its placement on the FIFA 13 soundtrack, critics, or most notably, the loyal fans, a major backlash to the song swamped Youtube comment sections, Twitter and even the band’s own Facebook posts. The reason? As far as we could tell from the early Pacifica
teaser tracks, The Presets had mostly put aside their lavish hyperactivity, their war-cry vocals and sardonic silliness for a sincere, heartfelt and earnest parable of a reckless young soldier who is discharged from his military rotation after suffering a grave injury, confining him permanently to a wheelchair. To describe it as a ‘change of direction’ is to be disingenuous – it carries that same electro-eccentricity that made them a household name in Australia. One can concede that it strays from the predicted Presets path through its downbeat and po-faced take on the nature of regret, but this is only on paper; Ghosts
, with its effortlessly assuaging synths and strikingly dignified use of autotune, is unfailingly, hauntingly beautiful, and the chasm spanned to get to this stage from the hedonistic days of Beams
signified just what level of ‘different’ Pacifica
was going to force us to endure.
In truth, it’s possible, if maybe a tad unfair, to call the album a mess – even if packed with extreme highs and some (not-so-low) lows, almost all 10 tracks grind against each other with a quite painful unease. Hamilton and Moyes seem to have had finally chosen which road they wanted the record to follow when the event horizon for that decision had long since passed. Smoother, more melodic tracks like the Pet Shop Boys pastiche Promises
and the surprisingly throwaway bubblegum-fest Fall
contrast somewhat awkwardly with the more challenging, boundary-pushing cuts; the uncompromising Push
and the epic, beautifully sprawling Adults Only
. The poppier choices from Pacifica
are about as subtle as Tom Cruise in a Christian chapel and the more enigmatic portions often act like they have too much to hide for their own good – relentless minutes of building to a great climax and then…!
Nothing, save for some minimalist beats and a wobbling bass.
But while the structure of these new tracks often falter (some are baffling, others are immediately forgettable), it’s remarkably refreshing to see an electro outfit breaking out of their own cage. Sure, in time, we may be forced to look back on Pacifica
as an overly-ambitious commercial failure, but at heart it’s a crowd-pleaser in the truest sense of the phrase, and that's no mean feat. It’s not pandering to the brainless druggies; all at once cute, poignant, thunderous and dark, it’s helplessly likeable. Without ever stooping to beg, it tries to be your friend - it's an album you can both scream down your corridors at home and shake your body to with 50,000 other fans at a festival. Unquestionable album highlight, the aforementioned Adults Only
, also demonstrates that Hamilton and Moyes are aware they’ve created something they have every right to be be proud of. The song, chronicling the turbulent, often brutal history of the city of Sydney, is penned with great respect, sung with authority and executed with ounces of unashamed love. It doesn’t take long to note the whole album following the same lines – a record made by two men of the people, for the people. No more affected vocals, no more sleaze-infested songs, and no, this is no bad thing. It’s not a notable classic of the genre and in all probability it won’t go down in the history books, but with the band constantly evolving from album to album, Pacifica
sits alongside Beams
as another dignified, intelligent and personable step forward.