It’s hard to believe Big Scary are only up to album number three with the release of Animal, so embedded have they been in the Australian music scene. Ever since their simple yet sophisticated debut Vacation, fans have adored the Melbourne two-piece, who are masters at exploring the possibilities of musical creation and the depths of human emotion.
An alternative act that has been able to range from indie pop, to garage rock, Tom and Jo represent a rare form of artistry that could become iconic if they continue on this path.
Big Scary scratch deep down to shake everything up and give us Animal, a supremely ambitious and challenging blend of alternative rock, funky electronica, and touching pop.
With Animal, Big Scary make a move that seems surprising, giving us sound quite removed from what has gone before. Although considering it is their third LP, perhaps it isn’t such a shock.
Certainly, Vacation and the exquisite follow-up Not Art, were closer related than Animal is to either of them; Tom Iansek admitted as much when he spoke to us. However, there were inklings that a lot more experimentation was coming for the band, especially considering Tom’s work on #1 Dads and as a producer.
With Animal, they bring us a concept album split into four stages: ‘Hunting’, ‘Lurking’, ‘Resting’, and ‘Waking’, similar to something they played with earlier in their career on Four Seasons.
The theme of the album, which essentially preaches that although we’re all humans who can feel a range of complex emotions we’re also driven by some very base instincts and desires, is wonderfully crafted throughout this record. You can read more about it on their website but it’s astounding how well the album communicates some of the messages.
It does so through a soundscape so much more diverse than what Big Scary have attempted before. The simple arrangement of guitar, drums, and piano they used to rely on have been joined by a vast array of electronics and some massive production.
So far have they stretched their ambition, Tom also states that “a lot of listeners might not be able to get past the first couple of songs” as the album moves from dark to light.
From the very first note of opener Oxygen you are put on edge. True to the chapter title, the drums do invoke a sense of the chase, of being hunted quickly into the confines of Organism, an extremely funky track that only enhances the feeling that Animal is in a hurry.
Double Darkness confirms that not only is this a musically new Big Scary, but also new ground for Tom vocally as he explores some strong staccato delivery. Savour Add Vice rounds out the first quarter in what almost seems like a genuine rock song, another surprise in the context of the album.
This first stage, without doubt, has offered a certain level of discomfort because the real emotive connection fans are used to has changed to something more primal. It’s morphed into something more immediate and urgent and it takes some getting used to.
On ‘Lurking’ we have; Lone Bird, The Endless Story, Flutism, and Up and Up and Up. These tracks hark back slightly to something fans could recognise, even if the dense soul of their older material is overtaken by this new unpredictable beast.
An interesting contrast presents itself in the first half of the record. There’s a quite obvious sense of darkness to Animal and yet so much music that people will be dancing to – again something fresh for a band not known for their boppy tunes.
Then we come to ‘Resting’; to feel an almost tangible lifting of pressure and a fading of energy to give way to a sweeter, more delicate sound. Here, and on the final tracks in ‘Waking’, the songs get ever closer to the human side of the spectrum.
Of course, this is if you listen in the above order. Big Scary advocate a less stringent approach, saying you can enter the album at any stage and the album will take on a whole new tone, be a whole new journey.
Segmenting these tracks into their stages was a genius bit of composition. They add so much context to the songs and this guide is needed to truly appreciate Animal.
More than any other release in recent times, this is an album where every track is important to understand the narrative as a complete entity. There are no gap fillers here.
It may not be the instant crowd pleaser that their previous LP’s have been, but once you let go of any control you were holding onto, Animal will prove its value and take you places you never would have thought to go yourself.
If their discography continues to be as consistently brilliant into the future as we’ve heard so far, Big Scary will have little competition as a couple of Australia’s most special musicians.