The irony of releasing an album called Everything Is A-OK in the middle of a global pandemic is not lost on Violent Soho. Even more ironic is that the name was intended as a kind of existential fist pump for the band – a moment of self-actualisation, now cuckolded by the fact that they’re probably all stuck at home right now, self-isolating.
But fuck it. That’s exactly the kind of irony that was intended by Everything Is A-OK. Everything’s not ok – but we go on. And for Violent Soho, everything’s pretty damn good.
On their fifth album, Everything Is A-OK, Aussie legends Violent Soho make peace with the fact that everything is definitely not ok.
For their fifth album, the band enlisted the help of Australian producer Greg Wales, and it’s a decision that has certainly paid off. The production is slicker than previously seen, but it only sharpens the impact of the record. Frontman Luke Boerdam describes that it’s the first time he’s been completely happy with the sound of his guitar. If you’re a musician, you know that’s a damn nice place to be.
Part of the allure of Wales was his impressive resume, having worked with the likes of You Am I and Sandpit, and even a band called Dumpster, who the bandmates went to highschool with. There’s a kind of implicit trust when you have that type of history with someone.
“He gets where we come from,” describes guitarist James Tidswell. “With so many other rock bands out there now, we wanted to make sure we captured who we are, where we come from, and what we want this band to be.”
And that’s exactly what Everything Is A-OK is about. After 18 years of living in the shadow of external expectations and no shortage of personal demons, the band finally decided to say fuck you to everyone and everything that wanted them to be something they weren’t. Everything Is A-OK is a gesture of triumph – an aha moment. And it shows.
Album opener Sleep Year is a perfect example of how the band have perfected the art of songwriting within the confines of grunge rock. There’s nothing overly complicated about the track, it’s just that its elements are so damn good. It’s like the difference between turning up at a barbeque with sub-par home brand sausages, and turning up with gourmet sausages that have no artificial flavours, no artificial ingredients, and the correct lean-to-fat ratio. Violent Soho have the correct lean-to-fat ratio.
Sleep Year is an exercise in restraint, the kind you can only really wield when you’ve been around the block a couple of times and really know who you are. Whilst the track begins with a swirling, thrashing chaos, unlike their earlier albums, Sleep Year never really gives in to the disorder. Instead, it lurks beneath the surface – a kind of implicit dread that is just as unnerving as the real thing.
This makes room for shoegaze guitar riffs, earworm melodies, and incisive lyrics, which give the whole endeavour its grimy sparkle. “It’s complicated, like an afterthought/Well I just want to leave but I want to be around,” lead singer Luke Boerdam muses in the first line. It’s within the simplest of internal contradictions that the entire spectrum of human turmoil is dragged out.
And then, that existentialism is brutally, blissfully undermined with a Sheryl Crow reference, as Boerdam (with every hint of irony) repeats in the chorus: “If it makes you happy.”
Boerdam continues his marrying of the mundane and the existential in second single Vacation Forever. “Cause I packed my bags, and I drained my veins and I got my reasons seen/Cause I got no car, and I got no house but I kept the garden clean,” he sings.
And then: “There’s a baby boomer across the street and it won’t stop staring at me/Vacation life, forever in strife, I’ll leave the family, I just wanna be.”
It’s a match made in heaven. The mundane and existential strapped next to each other in the back seat of a road trip. And when Boerdam asks “Why do they see right through me?” (surely a reference to Kasey Chambers‘ 2020 country hit Not Pretty Enough) it only serves as another self-deprecating smirk.
There’s no shortage of ’90s inflections – from the half-time chorus of Pick It Up Again to the Smells Like Teen Spirit-esque opening strums of Lying On The Floor. Nirvana and Pixies influences are rife. But it’s not enough to be obsolete. Violent Soho have tapped into a palette that is just as well-served as a backdrop for existential deep-digging now, as it was thirty years ago. A bit of modern nihilism and contemporary production goes a long way, too.
Boerdam spent the last two albums, WACO and Hungry Ghost, focusing on the external, preferring to offer critiques of society than ruminations of an explicitly personal nature. Yet, for the first time, on Everything Is A-OK, he found himself approaching subjects that were closer to home. Ironically, even whilst intentionally focusing on the internal, Boerdam found he couldn’t escape the global.
“It started out as a personal journey but it ended up being… something deeper,” he described in an interview with the ABC. “It wasn’t just personal, it ended up being this other message ‘everything is not ok with the world around us’.”
So when you write about the universal, you can’t help but write the personal. And when you write about the personal, you can’t help but write the universal. It’s an elegant reminder of the inevitable symbiosis between the two. Elegant for a couple of blokes from Mansfield.
The final lines of the laconic A-OK perhaps best encapsulate that: “I guess we have to share/All the common air.”
What’s also evident is the intended irony of Everything Is A-OK. Ultimately, the album is about the exact opposite of what it espouses. Everything’s not ok. But it’s about what you do in the face of that. And for Violent Soho, what you do is write a bloody great album.
Everything is A-OK is out today, grab your copy here.