A mere pandemic is apparently incapable of overcoming the surge of fantastic new music coming out of Australia. With Melbourne hogging the limelight of late it it now Sydney’s turn thanks to retro psych poppers Shrapnel.Much like compatriots Bananagun, Shrapnel have one foot firmly planted in the past on their debut album ‘Alasitas’.
The band is a six piece featuring Sam Wilkinson (electric guitar and vocals), Matt Neville (acoustic guitar)
Nicholas Johnson (bass), Toby Baldwin (synth, drums),
Lani Crooks (flute), Caroline de Dear (clarinet). All members at various points also provide backing vocals. Their instrumentation is not standard, and this is very much reflected in their sound. Their brand of flower power pop is much more garage psych influenced than afrobeat and jazz inspired retro enthusiasts Bananagun.
The Beatles are an obvious influence on the wonderful, winding ‘Orpheum Protocol’. It dances and swings delightfully, stopping and starting, throwing in frequent time changes without becoming too self-indulgent. The confidence and clarity with which they project their message recalls The New Pornographers in their pomp.
The hooks are simple and super catchy, creating a sort of pop puzzle.
So far, so giddy. ‘Uncovered Load’ is no less bold, or complex in its forms. Like a hyperactive child in a playground they’re onto the slide before they’ve even finished on the swings. There are similarities drawn with the brilliant Order Of The Toad. ‘The Raid’ is more straightforward but no less interesting. Dropping the pace, revolving around a repetitive guitar motif, they indulge in crooked keyboard melodies and airy vocals. Time seems to stand still as it feels longer than its hypnotic two minutes.
The title track pits a superb bassline up against beautiful clarinet and flute arrangements and lilting guitars that syncopate between the speakers. The incomprehensible ‘Comprehension’ follows. The theremin like synth sounds, the stop start rhythms and flute and clarinet inflections are extremely entertaining. It sounds like Animal Collective if they were a bonafide baroque pop band… but from space or something.
Shrapnel clearly have a fondness for exercising their rhythmic chops.
The superb ‘Flatter Than Your Earth’ has a proggy attitude and melodies that recall Stephen Malkmus’s ‘Pig Lib’. But with the same fidgety structure that has run throughout the album until this point. They really do sound like a long lost band from the late 60s!
The wandering ‘POG Theme’ provides a spacious and much needed instrumental breather. It would perhaps appeal to fans of Bamboo as much as it would those of Sleeper and Snake, without sounding a great deal like either.
They jump back to it with ‘Corporate Clamp’ which marries elements of Omni’s stop start post punk with their psychedelic 60s musicianship.
‘Raised Eyelids’ is a slight curveball, not in its form, but in the vocal performance. It’s deeper in tone with the singer almost sounding like their voice is cracking as they struggle to maintain the pitch. The vocal here almost sits under the glistening music. There’s a cheeky repeated phrase that introduces the song and appears at points throughout that has a Deerhoof-like quality.
The band continue to confound and delight on ‘Aldi Lot Shotdown’, which veers from woozy pop to fuzzed out Danielson weirdness and free skronk.
Packed into under 2 minutes it’s one of the weirdest moments in an altogether oddball album.
‘Concrete Man’ swells and drops, with phasers and creeping pulses, like the weirder moments of Donovan. It begins to feel a little overlong, but this is probably in relation to the rest of the record. They jump back to life on ‘Son of Choice’ which is initially spiky and chaotic before becoming blissfully calm like the instrumental part in Pavement’s ‘Transport Is Arranged’ before it really rips. The harmonies are magnificent as they almost seem to hit a locked groove. The wonderfully organic jam develops and builds to a climax in one of the album’s highlights.
We’d forgive you if you were exhausted by this point but there’s time for one final nugget in ’Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory.’ It feels perhaps a little out of place at the end being quite jaunty, in an ‘Aldhil’s Arboretum’ era Of Montreal kind of way. ’Son of Choice’ would have felt perhaps a more natural ending but, in an album full of twists, turns and surprises this fits the logic.
Shrapnel are a sublimely talented band with creativity in abundance. ‘Alasitas’ packs in so many ideas and twists in it’s intricate vivid pop that it can become dizzying! A fascinating record.
‘Alasitas’ is out now via Tenth Court Records.
You may enjoy this if you like: Bananagun, The Beatles, The Byrds, Danielson, Of Montreal, Omni, Order Of The Toad, Stephen Malkmus.