They say travelling can be life-changing. It awakens you to so many new experiences, showcasing the world in all its infinite wonder. Furthermore, it has been said, travelling abroad can make you appreciate what you’ve left behind. After some time through the looking glass last year, I came to concur wholeheartedly with both points of view. I saw some beautiful, mind-buzzing things. Perspectives changed and confidence grew. Throughout this process though, memories of the land I had left behind remained, lurking in my subconscious, alluring and magnificent, beckoning my return. I made my return just in time, in November 2010: the icy UK winter was beginning to crank and my homesickness was rapidly evolving into desperate, fixated yearning.
Walking through the Brisbane airport on my return, over-indulged in free in-flight liquor, I felt an inescapable, cinematic sense of joy. I was home, draped in beautiful summer warmth, and local band The John Steel Singers were on the radio. Rainbow Kraut, I hazily recall, was the fine summer anthem filling the halls. I didn’t know who was playing it from what radio, but I instantly understood why. It’s a rollicking summer anthem: a thrilling, joyous burst of horn-infused, psychedelic pop. It’s a song I’d heard before, but I’d never heard it like that. In the version I was hearing, the version on their debut album Tangalooma, the drums thump the earth and the vocals kiss the sky. Everything else fits everywhere in between.
‘I’m back!’ I thought. ‘Summer!’
Little else on Tangalooma propels itself with the same intensity, but the inescapable feeling of summer remains throughout. While the album hints at Brit Pop (the querying social commentary of the lyrics suggests someone here is a big fan of early Blur and their English predecessors, The Kinks) with its horns, harmonies and omnipresent jangle, its sound remains uniquely Australian. Maybe it’s the Aussie-accented harmonies, but this album just goes with beers, barbecues and cricket, the perfect Welcome Home for any homesick Aussie.
It is also, in somewhat of an increasing rarity, an album you can listen to from start to finish. I have favourites, but there’s nothing I feel an overwhelming compulsion to skip. It’s all pleasant, clever and musical. Aside from the sweetly blissful summer air that flows throughout, the overwhelming impression one gets from listening to this album is that these guys love music. Having seen them live, I know that they’re multi-instrumentalists, the lot of them, and the charming mood of their free-spirited, instrument-swapping live shows is captured here. There’s layered vocal harmonies and clever guitar flourishes buried throughout the mix. Play it loud, on a good stereo, and you’ll be rewarded.
Rainbow Kraut, as I’ve touched on already, is my favourite track on the album. There is intent in that song that some of the others, particularly early on, seem to lack. But to imply that it is the only pleasure would be wrong. From the clever jangly pop of early tracks such as Your Favourite Perversion (the lyrics for which offer a good example of the band’s balance of humour: I’ll Have You in the Dark/Or in a Misty Park/The Thrill of Getting Caught with emotional sincerity: All I Really Want/Is Someone to Call Mine/By Mutual Design), Overpass and Evolution to the beautiful, lazy, darker psychedelic later tracks (which surround Rainbow Kraut) such as Once I, Dying Tree and classic album closer Sleep, there is much joy to behold.
So if you want my advice, buy this album, then drink a beer, eat a steak, enjoy the weather, and enjoy your friends. The John Steel Singers have provided the soundtrack, the rest is up to you.
Article written by Craig Tuck.