Normally, I don’t like to have any pretexts about music when I first listen to a CD. I like to do everything I can to leave my expectations at the door and judge a work on its own merits. As a rule, I don’t read articles about bands. I read reviews and an occasional straight interview. I broke my rule on The Dissociatives. I listened to the CD and then I had to go out and read everything I could find on them. I was that intrigued by where the music came from.
If you’re a fan of either Silverchair or Paul Mack’s solo work, you should know that this is not that. Its not Grunge. It’s not guitar heavy teen angst. And, its not techno. This is grown up, complex pop. Its not sugary bells and whistles. The technology has its place in the music and the flow of the CD is organic.
I had this professor once who was in love with Hemingway. It was for a religion class, and he used contemporary literature as a way to illuminate and offer insight into the human condition. I don’t think he had much faith that we understood what he was telling us about the Bible. I don’t know how true this is, but he said something in class one day about Hemingway trying to be like Shakespeare. Now, I love Hemingway but he was not Shakespeare.
The Dissociatives, according to the Australian Rolling Stone, set out to make something grand and epic akin to the Beach Boys Pet Sounds or The Beatles White album. So, the question is can Daniel Johns and Paul Mack pull off musically what Hemingway, a literary master, failed to do in his own craft?
The CD starts with what could easily be the pounding rhythm of your own heart. Daniel Johns’s vocals are sultry and mysterious, mixed and blended over a surrealistic soundscape. The song twists into a legato stretch with Johns telling us, “Age is just a number, drawn on empty faces,” before it breaks back into the pulse. This CD is hopeful, but not cheesy or over sentimental in its hope. For all its twists and turns its centered and outward gazing. Perhaps its that I’ve been spending a lot of time with my philosophy and classics friends, but I listen to this CD and I think, “Relax. Things only mean what you take them to mean. Chill for a second.”
Track three, horror with eyeballs is my favorite on the CD. A layered a capella intro, Johns singing and harmonizing with himself, breaking into a carnival with the sounds of the calliope and tinkling electronic bells. The song makes me think of the Fun House, with all its trick mirrors. Johns sings, “All of this time on my hands, so far has gone to feeding my animals.” Sometimes you have an inner child, and sometimes you have a menagerie. As the song progresses, the carnival falls away in favor of strings and piano and swamp sounds–frogs barking and crickets chirping. Bloody brilliant.
Lifting the veil off the braille is delicate. I had to listen to it a few times before I got it. It just didn’t seem to jam like the rest of them. No lyrics, just whistling and oohs over joyous piano and Paul Mack’s drum machine. It’s a song for those days when you feel like singing, but you can’t find words. Those are great days.
Aaängry megaphone man, track nine pushes Johns’s full range, reminding us that this young man really can sing. Which is important if what you know about Johns is that he was the 16 year old Aussie always on MTV. Johns has grown up, and so has his music. And, Paul Mack is an amazing producer, making this CD seamless experimental pop that musically pushes the boundaries without being ridiculous or pretentious.
This CD is fun, crazy, experimental pop music. Yes.