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I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: I like a good nod of the ol’ head. Let me be clear – I’m not talking acts of affirmation or consent. No, friends, the kind of nod I go for is the type that springs exclusively from the smooth, smoky textures of a fine-hewn musical groove. And this can’t be found just anywhere. No, what you need to really get that neck working is the char-grilled clang of a band like Deaf Wish.
This is perfect pub music – within the first few seconds you can feel the cool condensation of the schooner in your hand and the comforting softness of the just-a-bit-too-sticky carpet. Although it might hew a bit too close to its influences at points, Pain – the latest offering from this Australian four-piece – is a record that distils and maximises the pleasures of that sweet, head-nodding feeling when the beer is cold and the band is tight.
Pain from Deaf Wish proves to be abstract love letter to the guitar rock of yesteryear. With determined guitars they have an impressive record to hear.
Pain is most definitely a ‘guitar rock’ album, one that trades liberally in dissonant, jangling squalls of detuned riffing. Though the prevailing theme throughout is one of strident, fuzzed figures played in rhythmic unison, Deaf Wish manages to quite handily work within this framework and liven up the album with subtle variation in tone and shading that are greatly aided by a tight, fresh mixing job. A standout track here is Sunset’s Fool, which combines a jangly, melodic arrangement with snide, Frank Black-esque vocals to create a lo-fi sunset sound propelled by insistent guitar patterns.
Also noteworthy is the album’s closer, Calypso, another a mid-tempo Sonic-Youth-at-7am kind of deal that wrangles whining yet creamy guitar tones such that they manage to sound brisk and bright yet fundamentally melancholy. More adrenaline-filled is They Know. This short, sweet burst of pile-driving guitars led by loud, plummy bass work represents the best balance on Pain between melody and dissonance, the latter of which is more fully explored on thrashier cuts like Newness Again and Eyes Closed.
There’s a real sampling of styles here, and a lot of alt-rock ground is covered. Across the course of Pain’s ten tracks, we hear the echoes of potent, dissonant acts like Hüsker Dü, Pixies, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Sonic Youth. The latter is perhaps the most clearly evident, with several selections from Pain, particularly Sex Witch and On sounding uncannily like unreleased tracks discovered in some secret vault of unreleased ’80s material.
This indebtedness to earlier alt-rock touchstones is something of a double-edged sword however. While Deaf Wish’s squealing, meta-melodies clearly draw much creative momentum from such artists, several tracks on Pain sound so close to those bands’ work that no matter how skilfully executed and presented – and indeed they are – they start to feel a bit superfluous. This is not to diminish the quality of Pain as a listening experience; it is tough, nimble, and delivered in unfussy widescreen.
There’s real craftsmanship here, and a bent technical skill that reflects a mastery of the variant instrumental styles of ‘80s and ‘90s alternative rock. Pain is a tight slab of energy that ably energises the sounds of recent yesteryear. So there are some quality tones on this record, however at the moment Deaf Wish has not quite managed to fully blend them such that they form a distinctive, cohesive approach, rather than acting more as a sample of influences. This will likely come with time; the band have clearly mastered several shades of flint-flavoured rock, and sound comfortable together as an ensemble. When they kick things up a notch with a more unified sound, my bet is we’ll have ourselves a formidably gnarly record on our hands.
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