Album Review: Endless Heights - 'Vicious Pleasure'

21 February 2018 | 12:46 am | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

Undoubtedly Endless Heights at their best.

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When it comes to romantic relationships, not all but most would've experienced the “junk food” variety. What I mean by this are those random hook-ups, those one-night-stands, those often-messy friends-with-benefits scenarios, or even those sinful affairs of adultery. All of these interactions are the sexual equivalent of fast food; they quench your hunger right then and there in the moment but they don’t offer anything substantial in the long run. Because just like actual thirst and hunger, feelings of physical emptiness and sexual ache return soon enough, in this case rushing back to the heart, mind and various other body parts before you even know it.

Deep within the beating ribcage of 'Vicious Pleasure' is the hurt, dissonance, isolation and intimacy or lack thereof that comes with seeking out a loving, stable relationship, but being bound within a toxic partnership or one of those aforementioned lustful experiences; moments that really aren't anything more than a cheap fuck and only end with deep feelings of shame. (A theme that's further backed up by the gorgeous water-painting cover artwork, all courtesy of talented erotic artist, Tina Maria Elena). Which is perhaps the funny thing about this new Endless Heights record. See, the Sydney outfit have actually just put forward their very best foot for creating a genuinely fulfilling and long-lasting "relationship" within the music world from this point forward; ensuring their career continues beyond 2018, through 2019 and their ten year anniversary, and well into the future as the band become an even greater mainstay of Australian music.

That kind of longevity in a so often fickle and fluctuating industry is goddamned hard to achieve, but it isn’t all that far-off for this NSW act, and it's even starting to happen right now for them too. The critical response to this new record has been immense (seriously, just Google “Endless Heights Vicious Pleasure album review”); Triple J's been paying close attention to them now which is a great thing; new, old, casual and die-hard fans alike seem to be loving this new album; their extensive touring with Taking Back Sunday, Hellions, and Hands Like Houses last year paid off well and they're again hitting Aussie roads in April and May after heading overseas with Casey too. Hell, even someone like Akouo is digging the band's newest shit, what with his own recent remix of ‘Paralyze’.

All of this is thanks to the extremely solid and incredibly moving nature of ‘Vicious Pleasure’, the band’s deepest, densest and darkest effort yet. Armed with a newish sound, surreal textures, vivid sonic imagery, dramatic undertones, greater composition skills, maturer lyrical content, and biting levels of personal honesty, Endless Heights have their strongest release on their hands too.

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Void of any filler and bursting with immaculate soundscapes, Endless Heights have blossomed with this second full-length. Tracked live with of producer/engineer Lachlan Mitchell (The Jezabels, The Vines), it progresses naturally and beautifully from the sound of 2015’s ‘Teach You How To Leave’. As many will have noted by now, this release has seen the band forgoing most of the anthemic melodic hardcore approach that dictated their fantastic debut LP, ‘New Bloom’ (2014), the rougher, now sadly entirely forgotten ‘Lady Wisdom’ 7” (2012), and their 'Dream Strong' EP (2011). Truly, this is not the same band that wrote tunes like ‘Mosaic’, ‘Honest Life’, 'Lady Wisdom' or ‘Hurricane’. No, this is something deeper, something different, something more thoughtful, and something more methodical too. And that’s so exciting to see from Endless Heights.

Vicious Pleasure' really does play host to a fantastic batch of songs, and you see this quality cut through right away. The floating vibes and eerie chords of the brief but effective album intro ‘Taste It’ reappear, morph and flow seamlessly into the equally earth-moving and intimate rager, ‘You Coward’. It's a fantastic opening duo - with 'You Coward' being one of the band's best songs no less - and this early moment is a damn fine example of how cohesive this record sounds and how effortlessly it all flows together.

It's also this opening pair's dynamic of the band's various musical shades that are captured brilliantly throughout the rest of record, which is the real beauty of 'Vicious Pleasure'. It so often weaves between the hooky and the brooding; the intimate and the distant; the harsh and the touching; the light and the dark; the weighty and the dreamy. Sometimes this occurs all within a single track, and other times you get sweeping variations of this contrast. Take 'Run', it's easily the group's heaviest song overall. One look at the gentle and percussion-less ballad of ‘Paralyze’ and you see a piece that'll go down as the band's lushest and prettiest composition yet. Then there's the hazy and dreamy ‘Come A Little Closer’ or the inclusion of the long-ago released singles 'Drain' and ‘Pray I Fade’, which are all undoubtedly some of their catchiest works too. This cohesive but contrasting dynamic also bleeds over into the album's production, which is clear and clean but equally noisy and dissonant. Yet it all works in tandem, complimenting the release's engrossing sound and emotional tone even further.

Now, as long-time fans will notice here, 'Vicious Pleasure' does feature echoing remnants of the band's past releases. They retain those over-driven, borderline-shoegaze textures, reverberant post-rock passages, and still show faint instrumental glimmers of their older hardcore days (plus the odd scream or two). They pair these throwbacks with new style shifts towards alternative and post-punk sounds, with stacked guitars ebbing and flowing between quick sequels, wailing feedback, overly distorted rhythms, uplifting chords, off-kilter riffs, and haunting melodies. Then slotting underneath all of this varied, exceptional guitar work are these wicked, grungy bass lines and punchy, tectonic drumming that anchors everything down; making for Endless Heights most interesting and engaging instrumentation ever put to tape.

However, don’t fret, ye “purist” fans, Endless Heights haven’t de-fanged themselves with this current sound. Case in point: the bouncy drum grooves that underpin the crunchy distorted guitars towards the end of standout ‘You Coward’; the heavier passages and urgent pacing of the infectious but melodic hardcore sounding 'Goldleaf'; the screamed vocals and driving post-punk style a la Hundredth's 'Rare' on closer ‘Heart Of Your Lie’; and the heavy mood, dissonant riffs and sludgier sections during ‘Run’. Coupling much of the new with some of the old, this often juxtaposing formula grows stronger still with the inviting vocals of frontman Joel Martorana - who is now frequenting a higher register with more falsetto runs and offering more of himself lyrically than ever before - resulting in Endless Heights existing at what is their most potent form.

One interesting thing I did personally find with 'Vicious Pleasure' was how the names of 11 songs help spell out a timeline of sorts, much like Being As An Ocean's 'Waiting For Morning To Come' or The Chariot's swan song record, 'One Wing'. ("Forget Not Your First Love. Speak In Tongues And Cheek").

For instance, the first two tracks act like a verbal attack on oneself or another: “Taste It, You Coward”. Flawlessly executed, hook-riddled tunes like ‘Come A Little Closer’ and ‘Pray I Fade’ arrive back-to-back at the album's mid-point and reinforce the polar-opposite, emotionally torn nature of the record. The ominous and droning third song 'Toxic' begets the dark but infectious 'Drain', adding to the feeling of being emotionally and mentally drained by another. (Or perhaps exacting just that on someone whom you love). Elsewhere, the detailed experience of fucking up and failing someone on ‘Shiver Down’ arrives right after the explosive self-reflection of 'the melodic hardcore sounding Goldleaf'. Following that, the delicate ‘Paralyze’ preludes the beastly 'Run' keeping within this record's pulling sense of petrifying doubt and fleeing fear when things become too real or too complicated. Much like the actual music, this tracklisting flows beautifully so. It then all culminates with Endless Heights dropping any pretence and delving into that previously mentioned post-punk sound of the album's glorious conclusion, the racey ‘Heart Of Your Lie’; which addresses the core faults of a relationship, and while lacking a definitive answer, acts as an emotional telling to learn from in time.

Honestly, I do think that for some that this album will take multiple listens for it all to click into place. But when it does, it’s like unlocking some kind of euphoric epiphany. 'Vicious Pleasure' is the record that should take Endless Heights to the next level. And if it doesn't, then there's zero fucking justice in this world.

In our first Aussie Feature of 2018, Alasdair spoke with the band's vocalist Joel Martorana, who said that at one point, Endless Heights almost reached the end of their tether, saying:

"We were really burnt out from touring constantly, and Jem [Siow, guitar], who along with myself had been the main creative force, was like “What’s the point? What are we doing?” We were driving to Melbourne for a show and I remember thinking ‘I would feel so cheated if we didn’t do one more record’. There are so many things we haven’t done yet as a band that we want to do, like tour America and Japan and we always assumed that would happen, and suddenly, I thought ‘Shit, that might not.’”

From the band's own self-imposing finality has bred a truly defining release for Endless Heights; one that hopefully gets them overseas to Japan, America and far beyond. Due to their current sound, 'Vicious Pleasure' will draw many comparisons to the likes of Basement, Turnover, Title Fight, Citizen, Brand New and a plethora of other bands out there. Yet the key difference is that Endless Heights don’t simply sound like some copy-cat post-punk band or a cheap shoegaze/post-hardcore act; here they sound raw, real and decidedly like their own selves in many ways. While I don't at all wish to see these guys hang it up in the near future, if this does indeed become their final release, then what a fucking amazing album this would be to go out on!

  1. Taste It
  2. You Coward
  3. Toxic
  4. Drain
  5. Come A Little Closer
  6. Pray I Fade
  7. Goldleaf
  8. Shiver Down
  9. Paralyse
  10. Run
  11. Heart Of Your Lie

'Vicious Pleasure' is out now via Cooking Vinyl Australia. Be sure to catch Endless Heights on tour this May