Review Summary: A phenomenal EP that defines The Red Paintings' stellar musicianship and the genius of Trash McSweeny.
For a band that does not have an official LP and depends on the success of their EPs and word-of-mouth to gain notoriety outside of their native Australia, The Red Paintings sure play some pretty phenomenal music to complement their extravagant live shows. At their shows, anything and everything - human or paper - has the potential of being a canvas on stage.
But what makes The Red Paintings' music so sublime"
To begin, it all starts with the band's composition. Comprised of a lead vocalist and guitarist, a bassist, a violinst, a cellist, and a percussionist, The Red Paintings have a dynamic and intriguing line-up. The Walls EP
is undeniably The Red Paintings at their best. The atmospheric, lush strings wrap around frontman Trash McSweeney's swirling vocals and intricate guitar lines, which makes the music all the more impressive. The Walls EP
is like any other EP in that it's short and only features a small handful of tracks; however, it is essential listening and is arguably the most remarkable EP of 2005.
There are two versions of lead single "Walls" on this EP. The album opener begins with a beautiful orchestral passage, shortly followed by Trash's guitar and vocals. The opening verse is a combination of somber and mellow, but builds to a captivating crescendo. Lyrically, Trash appears to be at a crossroads on the track: he spins his tale through a metaphor of feeling enclosed by walls in a failing or already-dead relationship. For instance, as he sings about how he's "been misunderstood / In a world of negatives, you find happiness", the heart-wrenching despair is immediately identifiable and can hit close to home for anyone. Trash's tale appropriately hits its apex in the chorus, where he sings, "I don't know if you're holding on to what you've got / I'm so tired / I'll be holding on to this sweet love." The passion that the violin and cello add make "Walls" a fantastic listening experience, and the energy exhibited from the percussion during the song's heavier passages give it a thoroughly complete feel. The second version of "Walls", astutely titled "Walls (Alternative Ending)", is about a minute longer than the album opener, with a blustery, distorted guitar and percussion passage.
Two additional highlights to the "Walls" duo include "The Streets Fell Into My Window" and "Mad World". The former track is one of the longer tracks on the album, beginning and ending with readings from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
. After a brief cello opening, Wayne Jennings becomes more and more deranged in his narration a la The Mad Hatter, and the instruments follow suit. Pounding, tom-heavy percussion builds the song into another brief crescendo, but the song halts and quiets down for the verses, and the transitions are seamless.
The Red Paintings' literary references do not stop with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
, however. He also includes allusions to the Maus
books by Art Spiegelman, which are graphic novels describing the trauma of the Holocaust. In his books, Spiegelman draws the Jews as mice, the Nazis as cats, the French as frogs, the Americans as dogs, and so on down the line. So what does this allusion have to do with The Red Paintings" In the second verse, Trash croons, "Little mouse-y, what did you see" / Hitler's body was a raincheck given to you / Now you sit and wait with nothing to do". The choruses are again the heavier aspects of the track, but the most moving is the bridge, where there is a cello solo to accompany Trash's repeated mantra of "Now I see it, it's a doorway [...] to my love." Shortly after, the song again erupts into a feverish energy that The Red Paintings have nailed to perfection.
"Mad World" is a cover song, more akin to the Gary Jules version at the end of Donnie Darko
than the original composers Tears For Fears. The Red Paintings' take on this track is significantly slower than the Tears For Fears cut, with Trash alternating between a small number of chords on an acoustic guitar. Where "Mad World" absolutely shines is in the violin and cello: right from the beginning, there is a distinct solo that adds a breathtaking dimension to the song. Where Tears For Fears had a lot of energy, Gary Jules transformed to be more elegiac, and The Red Paintings applied that to their quintet with the strings and acoustic guitar. Trash's vocals are hauntingly brilliant towards the track's conclusion, where he sings the familiar "Went to school and no one knew me, no one knew me-e-e... / Hello, teacher, tell me: what's my lesson" / Look right through me / Look right through you and me."
The album's conclusion, entitled "Signals From the Frontier", is a very obscure track that features no music, but serves as a utility to wind the album down. Reminiscent of an outerspace-themed "Touch-And-Play" game, the robotic voice spurts off facts about the solar system, and the hypothetical player guesses correctly each time. The music that supports the game's transmission sounds like glockenspiels or the music played from a baby's mobile that hangs above its crib.
In short, The Red Paintings are an engaging Australian quintet who, if they continue to release Extended Plays all the time instead of full-length albums, will enjoy insurmountable success if they continue to write songs at the level they portrayed on the Walls EP
. The majesty and brilliance of the violin and cello on this EP cannot possibly be overstated. The orchestral duo of Ellen Stancombe and Wayne Jennings is absolutely incredible, adding a surreal and beautiful dimension to The Red Paintings' music. From the finger-picked violin on the wondrous "Dead Adults" to the gorgeous cello solos on "Mad World", Stancombe and Jennings have arranged sweeping, delicate orchestral passages to complement Trash's vocals and guitar. On a couple tracks on the album, such as "Mad World" and "Portrait of a Dead Soul", there is an obvious lack of bass and percussion on the album, but it plays to the strengths, not weaknesses, of The Red Paintings. Additionally, Trash can astutely juxtapose light and darkness into his vocals and lyrics; for instance, "Walls" has a palpable love-and-relationships flair to it, whereas "Portrait of a Dead Soul" sounds like his explanation as to why there is no pain or suffering after death.
Ultimately, the Walls EP
is absolutely critical and vital listening to all comers: it should be a crime if the beautiful orchestral accompaniments and instrumentation go unheard.
Walls (both versions)
The Streets Fell Into My Window
Portrait of a Dead Soul