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Courtney Barnett meets Neutral Milk Hotel on Big Strong Brute’s Good Work EP

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Big Strong Brute is the alter-ego of Brisbane-ite Paul Donoughue. And while he doesn’t look particularly big, strong or brute-ish, he’s managed to put together a solid five-track EP. It’s Big Strong Brute’s first release since 2012’s Avalanche of Truth, and it’s definitely been worth the wait.

Big Strong Brute wedding pages

No punner-y needed, Big Strong Brute’s new EP Good Work is a fantastic five-track loaded with considered songwriting, a raw sheen and nostalgic Aussie twang.

His latest EP, Good Work, is a buzzing collection of bright and poppy earworms. The best way I can think to describe Donoughue’s music is like a cross between the vocals of Courtney Barnett, with the energy and dynamic of Neutral Milk Hotel and the sweet lyrics of Belle and Sebastian. With a distinct Aussie twang that seems to be making its (welcome) way back into Australian music, Donoughue sings of the cultural conservatism of the elites of the world (Wedding Pages), the random and often cruel occurrences of being human (Heavy Mountain) and the personas we take on to act our way through life (The Roleplay).

Donoughue’s style vacillates between lo-fi acoustic to full-on electric guitar breakdowns, but it never feels as though it lacks cohesion or is half-baked. Each song seems to have been carefully constructed to juice the most emotion and joy out of the listener. Make no mistake: this is a hugely mature EP put together by a true master of his craft.

The Good Work EP is the result of Donoughue sequestering himself away on a farm with Scott Dixon (Meg Mac, The Panics) for two weeks — although every tune feels as though it has been carefully deliberated over, every pause, breath and note chosen to get each song as close as possible to perfection. He has described one of his songs as being “Funny but sad” — but I think it’s a tag that could be applied to the majority of songs on this EP. All of them evoke a sense of bittersweet melancholy, an acknowledgement that life can fucking suck but why moan about it when you can laugh?

Unlike many albums of late, Good Work hasn’t been produced and polished within an inch of its life. It’s mostly stripped-back and raw, letting the songwriting take the front seat rather than perfection. In a departure from his previous releases, Donoughue moves away from a purely acoustic sound, and adds in synths and electric guitars in parts. A particular highlight is the super lo-fi The Roleplay which features Helen Franzman on accompanying vocals and is somehow sweet and dark all at the same time.

You know that feeling when you listen to a band like Arcade Fire, and it’s overwhelming? It’s just so much bigger and more emotional than everything in your realm of imagination and stays with you for days. I can see Big Strong Brute working its way up to making music that creates that feeling. I look forward to seeing what happens next for this talented 26-year-old.

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September 8, 2015