Contemporary, Pop, Techno
Liberation LMCD 0237
Reviewed by Mandy Stefanakis, May 1st, 2014
After four years The Holidays, a Sydney-based indie-pop band, have released their second album, Real Feel. How does one describe the sound? It’s rich, harmonically warm, techno-infused, ethereal pop. But such a description does little justice to an album which explores such depth of feeling and complexity of timbres and issues.
Indeed, what I cherish most about this album is the irony of upbeat tempos, intricate layering of a massive array of sounds and harmonic washes with, at times, lyrics which demonstrate a sense of alienation, loneliness and self-deprecation. It’s as though the music is there to pull the writer and the listener out of those states. And in reading the genesis of some of the songs that Simon Jones has penned and the struggle he has had with many of them, it’s incredible that these pieces have ended up with such an optimistic feel. But then, that’s what music does so well.
Real Feel started life as a concept album, based on the travels of the band to Berlin, Japan, Paris, the UK and around Australia. Jones is able to tap into the seemingly simple and unimportant details of situations which, when providing a confluence with previous thoughts, sounds and visual stimuli, are his meaning. It’s not surprising that Japan Window which he actually wrote before visiting Japan, is his favourite song because there is something about the ordered, sparse, yet rich and colourful aesthetic of Japanese design that infuses his own lyrics and music. His work is also drenched in sensory perception, rather than intellectual pontification. And that’s what makes it work so beautifully. There is the sleight-of-hand referencing of a pentatonic mode in the consonant verse of Japan’s Window, a bizarre mix of ‘pleasure meets maudlin’ in the viewing of a sublime vista through a rain-spattered window reflecting the writer’s melting face. But the chorus echoes the emergence of technologies in Japan with its mechanistic sounds and rhythms. The thoughtful coda briefly takes us back to a time of simplicity with minimalistic guitar ostinatos.
This is not the immediately accessible track on the album. There are plenty of “singles” to choose from. All Time High has a simple bass pattern that drives everything along in its path. With a massive harmonic wash of echoing sound above it, an addictive and securing guitar hook, and the cyclic drumming which is a feature of The Holidays (indeed a little reminiscent of Lindy Morrison’s work with the Go-Betweens), we find ourselves in bliss-land, precisely the writer’s intent. But there is the ever-present warning of a stay too long in the lyrics, which few will heed as they hit the replay button.
Tongue Talk is another infectious track, with tongue-twisting lyrics and some lovely vocal pitch-bending in the chorus “words won’t come”. It’s a place all have inhabited at some point! But, control freak that I am, my favourite track is Home, not just for its use of interesting tinny and wooden tone colours, but the evocation of longing the group is able to convey amidst the hustle and bustle of persistent cyclic riffs and counter-riffs on guitars and percussion. This is all overridden with a sustained drone and echoing effects that create a harmonic wallpaper on synth and vocals.
Mention must be made of the final track, a where all bets are off as The Holidays come out to play. The opening is rockabilly driven while the vocals enter with a sustained languorous venturing into the heavens somewhere. The central section enters a techno-based realm and gradually the hectic pace is tamed with a measured restfulness replacing it. The song is adventurous in structure and content. Irony comes out here particularly; the lyrics in the opening sequence, where the pace of the music is frenetic, are depressed, sad, but at the end where someone special brings Jones out of this state, the music is subdued, calm. Although Jones is the main writer of the group, the contributions of all band members to the arrangements are pivotal to The Holidays’ unique identity. Real Feel is indeed a worthwhile trip!
This is a great site where Simon Jones talks about the genesis of each track on the album.