Pop Guns

24 March 2012 | 8:16 am | Staff Writer

“It’s both the happiest and the most depressing time – it’s oscillating between the two. Autumn’s the most stable.”

The first single (and awesomely titled) Middle Aged Unicorn On Beach With Sunset has been getting a fair airing by community radio for a couple of months now and as of Valentine's Day the new album, FACTS, from Melbourne's most serious fun-time band, Aleks & The Ramps, has finally dropped. This time though, there's no box of CDs to be distributed to stores (though vinyl will be available) and Aleks Bryant and Simon Connolly seem a little “meh” about the concept of a digital release.

That's not to say they're not pumped on the album, however. Two years in the making, FACTS is a considered work. Where their last release Midnight Believer rocked to a kind of schizophrenic pulse, the new record flows to an entirely different rhythm. As close to radio-playable pop music as the collective – the word 'band' should be applied fairly loosely, at least for the purpose this release – have ventured, FACTS comes at you from an obscure angle and weasels its way in through the back door. Similar to Midnight Believer, the strength of FACTS is in the continuity of sound. But while the former conjured a wild ruckus on the high seas (at least to this dude's ears), the new album breathes summer throughout. “All our albums have a seasonal touch to them,” says Bryant, fairly ingenuously. “But it's also got our most depressing song ever,” adds Connolly.

“Summer is actually the most depressing time of year,” continues Bryant. “It's both the happiest and the most depressing time – it's oscillating between the two. Autumn's the most stable.”

“Autumn's the time for gettin' stuff done,” says Connolly, “especially in bands. As soon as that whole summer festival thing's over everyone just hits the ground running 'cause you've only got a couple of months to get things done.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

This sentiment was not applied to the latest recording. FACTS represents an experiment in persistence, of sorts, whereby Bryant put out a call to band members that recording was in progress and from there they dabbed the thing together over a long period. In a sort of twisted irony, they took this new approach in a backlash against the rigours and logistical headaches associated with more traditional 'band'-type writing and recording. “[Midnight Believer] took a long time to make because we rehearsed it as a band and had all the songs written and then we recorded them,” says Bryant. “Then there was a really long tinkering process… [This time] we thought, 'Why don't we do that in reverse?' Instead of getting five people together and throwing ideas around, which can be really time consuming, it was like putting an open call out that we were making a record, and we'd work on it in smaller groups – sometimes me and Simon, sometimes me and Jo [Foley], sometimes me and Simon and Janita [Foley], or whoever was around.

“We could do it again but be more fascist about time,” says Bryant of the eventual (pleasing) outcome of the experiment, despite the two-year time frame. “The stakes weren't that high. It's not like we're paying $550 a day and paying for an engineer.”

Listening to FACTS (and especially through subsequent listens), it actually feels more together than their earlier work. The album reads more completely realised and conceived than its origins should suggest. “There's been more of a directive going into this record than there has in the past,” continues Bryant. “Used to be [putting the voice of an idiot]: 'Let's just fuckin' see what happens' – in that voice as well. On this last one we thought maybe we should be a little more succinct with our ideas. There's still a lot of stupidity, but [it's] a bit more concise.” And the touch is markedly lighter right through the listen, the abrupt tempo shifts and frenetic nature of Midnight Believer only existing in shadows – a guitar lick here and a vocal phrase there. “We all like well-produced pop music,” says Connolly. Bryant interrupts: “We have no shame in saying that.”

“We like the art and the whole process of doing that, we'd like to see if we can make it sound incredible – sleek and punchy and pristine sounding,” Connolly continues. “We've been striving to make strong pop music, not like because we gotta get this shit on radio.”

FACTS does nothing if not reinforce A&TR's sound as strange and elusive beast. It's playful and smooth, exploring gentle pop ideas but in a cerebral way. Like radio tunes for reading folk, their tunes here ring too pop for the (now wildly over-exposed) garage scene, and too intellectual for the commercial pop world. “It's just kind of fun making pop music,” Bryant continues. “It's harder than making experimental… I guess it depends what you mean by 'experimental', but for a band that's making weird music and then for them to go and make pop music almost seems like a cop-out but it's actually really fucking challenging and hard. It's like it's way easier to make stupid weird music, there's no barometer of good and bad. It's like, 'We're gonna do this, so deal with it'. If you actually want to make good pop music, it's really hard.”

“It's like [Weezer's] Rivers Cuomo,” says Connolly. “After Pinkerton or something, he spent years trying to figure out the formula for making great pop songs and he claimed that he'd done it but he's just made shit albums since… He already had it.” Bryant adds: “As soon as he stopped to think about it, he awoke from the dream.”

But in this quest for crafting pop delights, it's not like they're taking many obvious cues from their contemporaries. “All the bands we like, we don't really sound like,” says Connolly of where they sit in the hypothetical record store shelves of his mind. If there's one apt descriptor for A&TR it'd be 'unique'. To search the record for influences, it's bloody hard to grasp onto to anything much as familiar. In searching for local pop successes they may've turned to for inspiration, I offer up (not so much in any musically comparative sense) Wally DeBacker and his UK-chart-topping single Somebody That I Used To Know for project Gotye. “I don't really get why anything is popular,” says Bryant. “It might as well be him, 'cause he's a nice dude. Even in Pitchfork I'll be like, 'Really? That's the popular thing? Boy do I feel old'.”