SAND PEBBLES – The Antagonist

Career 2023

The magnificent seventh: members of Melbourne’s psych institution fully embrace album thinking – and split sides in a literal fashion.

The Antagonist

A score of years into their career, the brainchild of a popular Australian soap opera screenwriters carries on delivering the goods, and the appearance of “The Antagonist” was worth waiting for for a half-decade since “Pleasure Maps” outlined a wide variety of ways this ensemble could proceed to take. Over the span of that period, vinyl records saw a resurgence, and though there were 12-inch releases of the latter platter, the former one finds the sextet apply the classic LP formula much more firmly – to an extent where the first part, or side, of it has songs written by guitarist Ben Michael and the other those penned by his sparring partner Malcolm McDowell and bassist Christopher Hollow. However, its flow doesn’t feel interrupted by the breakwater of ideas; instead, such a seemingly conflicting approach should show logical progression of the band’s handling of a tune and result in a highly entertaining experience.

Isn’t it what opener “Sometimes A Great Notion” predatorily hints at by floating into focus on a patchouli-scented rug of raga and infectious beat only to proclaim that even the smartest concepts are apt to be crappy and then to propel momentum via perky riffs? Yet when this jagged edge and punk attitude get enshrouded in multicolored whirl of strings, nothing repulsive is unsealed to repel the listener; on the contrary, “Field Of The Lord” offers an epic, arresting trip into the promised land of electric jangle and the twang of cello which once filled Laurel Canyon with pastoral echoes, and “The Light (Slow Reveal)” weaves an exquisitely translucent tapestry from scintillating instrumental threads. And if electric wails behind the album’s titular cut pretend to sound creepy, the actual patinated nightmares lurking in there are exhilarating, while the handclaps driving “Sweet Tenderloin” towards an almost-spoken performance can startle indeed, especially after a short pause and a tempo shift paint quite a spaced-out picture to offset the effects-drenched “Elemental Thing” whose insistent grooves may meddle with the audience’s mind.

Just as overwhelming is “Self-Talk” which overrides cosmic consciousness by covering a clanging and booming bottom-end with intimate singing and mesmeric strum before “Russian Ending” sees Britta Phillips’ voice arrive on the group’s vocal surface that’s prodded with Leroy Cope’s mighty drumming without losing its soft sway – but “Honey Rush” leads the same relentless lysergic spectacle further, closer to delirium, and “Princes Hwy” adds a mantra-like chant to the mix. And then there’s a CD bonus, independent of the sides’ authorship allocation, titled “Barry Michael Takes A Train” and not requiring a single word to enhance the fantastic mood this number’s fairground swirl and rhythm exude. An interesting method to antagonize any antagonist – and a fine comeback from the Melbourne team.


November 29, 2023

Category(s): Reviews
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