A record to back up it's namesake.
Melbourne’s The Pretty Littles have one of the most fitting album titles of 2016; ‘Soft Rock For The Anxious’. Well, apart from A Day To Remember’s ‘Bad Vibrations’ (because it’s bad and it causes vibrations in the air). Considering The Pretty Littles sonics and instrumentation, as well as the lyrical themes of feeling different, being anxious, and feeling maladjusted with the world, this record’s title is very apt.
As far The Pretty Littles music is concerned, I really do think that the For Fans Of section seen above is the most accurate it has ever been. This release has the... natural sounds and tones of bands like Slowly, Slowly & my beloved Ceres. But that's not their solo musical sound, so essentially, think of this band as a less heavy, less chaotic Violent Soho, as is a gritty indie rock record packed full with straight-up, no-bullshit lyrics, with an undoubtedly carefree Australian characteristic.
Now, this is actually the quartet's third album, but I would have assumed that this was their debut considering how far under my radar they’ve flown until now. Which is a shame for me, as they're quite a solid band, and I always need new music in my life. It's kinda like an addiction, except all of the nasty withdrawals.
In terms of these 13 songs, it’s a good offering all up, save for one big criticism that I'm saving for later on. But in the meantime, I shall say that some songs are definitely better than others. Take the LP’s final song, ‘Kerosene’, which is as cliché as it sounds in a music review, is just fucking explosive rock track. The group has a real knack for naming their songs in the most appropriate manner. Also, the way it uses the manual tape edits (for lack of a far better phrase and cause I'm not fully aware of the in and outs of this album's recording/mixing process) towards its end was a really nice touch, too. It caps off the release very well.
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The rather sombre and steady ‘Sam’s Mob’ encases what many in the football world (and the wider public) thought of Eddy McGuire, following his comments about journalist Caroline Wilson – Fucking. Idiotic. Male or female, just don’t be a wanker, yeah? Sure, being a wanker seems to be McGuire’s default setting, but we get the monsters we ultimately deserve, I suppose. Great song, nonetheless.
Elsewhere, the reverb and delay soaked ‘Overwhelmed’ is a sorely haunting song, and the way it flows and builds is surreal. The drums hit at just the right point, it creates tension oh so well and it makes you feel alone and uneasy, but in the best possible way! The song's climax is perhaps the record's greatest moment of musical bliss. With the distant vocal melodies and guitar layers being so incredibly eerie and so engrossing, I can actually forgive this song for ending with a fade out.
Now, to address the big caveat I have with this record.
I'm not sold on the vast amount of distortion the vocals tend to have. This approach works for many bands (like Beach Slang), but in some cases, it can be to the music’s detriment. In the case of 'Soft Rock For The Anxious', at times, it actually hurt my ears. Granted, this mainly occurred when the vocals take up the foreground of the mix, but as soon as the guitars and drums enter the sonic arena, the vocals didn't seem as harsh due to their blending in with the rest of the instrumentation. But by themselves... oooooh boy!
You know, maybe that was the band's or rather, the engineer's, goal? To have it be so distorted and harsh that you’d remember them for that distinct characteristic, for better or for worse? I don’t know, but it’s really hit and miss here! It fits the band’s basement sound mentality, and I can appreciate the sonic consistency in the mix, as most of these tracks feature the same processing chain for the vocals, to varying degrees of distortion and intensity. To be fair, songs like lead single ‘Sleeping In Water’, ‘Right-Hand Man’, 'Tall Man' and ‘Pride’ use that vocal sound very liberally.
But sweet Christ, ‘Soda Pop’ and ‘Shit Head’, to name two songs in particular, legitimately hurt my ears to listen to. This isn't a bad record - that really needs to be stressed - just that the sonics of it can be somewhat unpleasant to listen to at times and music shouldn't cause someone physical harm or discomfort to you; not like this. It was almost as grating as the disorientating stereo imaging in Band Of Horses' 'Country Teen'.
Well, almost. At least I knew what I was getting into with ‘Soft Rock For The Anxious'.
'Soft Rock For The Anxious' is an on-point title for The Pretty Littles new record. It sums up the general lyrical thematic vibe of the record and preempts you on the indie rock experience you're about to undertake. That's all good. But where the problem lies is the often harsh distortion that litters the album's vocal tracks, so much so that it can be actually painful to listen to at times. Once again, music - specifically rock music - shouldn't cause you any physical hurt or discomfort, aside from a satisfying ringing in your ears. It may be a small issue, but it brings down the whole album as a result.
'Soft Rock For The Anxious' is out now.