Opening a guitar-rock record with an acoustic track is not The Way in our current musical environment, where subtlety is rarely in evidence. But with Revenge Is Slow,
their new release on Nonzero
, veteran indie rockers Bluebottle Kiss, a mainstay of Australia's rock scene, continue to do things their way.
"Father's Hands" kicks things off here with the sound of chirping crickets, quickly-strummed acoustic guitar, and lyrics that marry overseas adventure to nostalgia for a parent's youth: "Got chucked out of a Greek youth hostel/ Made it up in a flea pit motel"; "I visited my mother's town/ I saw the places she hung around/ Watched her friends (old children)/ Not noticing the rain/ If she wasn't born here/ Things couldn't have been the same." After these autobiographical lines, the piano becomes more prominent as a guitar part firmly in the Yo La Tengo tradition of loose strings and deep reverb provides a counter-melody.
Similarly elegant touches are all over this album delicate production such as the nylon-string guitar and mechanical clatter of "Let the Termites Eat Our Riches," the smoky torch-song ambience of "Hello Stranger" (replete with harp and opera singers), and the distant, disembodied crackle of "Peewee's Dream." With guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Jamie Hutchings taking up the role of producer, this is the group's strongest and most focused album to date.
Like Fugazi's The Argument, Revenge Is Slow,
Bluebottle Kiss' fourth album, doesn't forgo power at the behest of atmospheric detail. The surf-rock-meets-spaghetti-Western-on-steroids of "Gangsterland" screams and squeals with the visceral power of the band's work on stage (where they're a force for sure). The ambient, floating beginning of "Prussian Blue" belies its tumultuous, powerful ending. The soft strum of ringing guitar chords teams with wavering dual falsetto vocals, evoking a soft lullaby or waltz before the sound of distortion pedals heralds the cathartic ending ("Get in the car/ You're driving me crazy/ We're plowing off the highway/ Can't read the signs/ You cover my mind in rust/ I've seen the sea/ Prussian blue").
Standout single of the set, "Hasten the Blows," proves that there is nothing like a great guitar hook, and the chorus provokes near-insanity with its incessant in-head repetitions once you've heard it once or twice. The forceful entry of "Hitchhiking in New Zealand" breaks apart the record's softest passage. This is the style Bluebottle Kiss are most often connected with, epic building to a climax in a wall of dissonant guitar picking and amazing drumming from Richard Coneliano.
The entire record is marked by deft, "mature" playing, with Coneliano's drumming and the distinct guitar styles and tones of Ben Fletcher and Hutchings defining the band's unique sound. (The most recent addition, Ben Grounds, has slotted in so tightly that you'd be hard pressed to spot the difference in bass playing between this record and previous efforts.)
Bluebottle Kiss are not a fleeting, one-night-stand rock band they have a true sound of their own, defined over nine years of passionate playing. It is a credit to the band that they continue to broaden their palette in ways that keep old fans happy while bringing in the new ones.