Local Art-Rock collaboration Soul Wide Open have just released their EP Rumour Nation. Our writer Fin Taylor had a listen and you can HERE.
ART-ROCK is a term that gets thrown around a fair amount these days. Music critics argue to this day over what it exactly means, but the definition I hear most often is something along the lines of “Like Radiohead, you know?” That said, Soul Wide Open has managed to create an installment into the everlasting debate on art-rock with their new EP, Rumour Nation, recorded in Brisbane at Incremental Records. Members Toby Aitken, Duncan Beale, Tom Beith, Lauren Crick and Nathan Leonard have evidently poured a lot of time and love into the creation of this six-track record, successfully stringing together elements from funk, prog and art-rockers of days past to create a sparse-yet-melodic collection of moody tracks.
Opening track Gold Bullions features an incredibly steady, unwavering groove with liquid bass from Tom Beith that’s almost reminiscent of the rock-solid rhythm section of Rage Against The Machine (with maybe a little less anger) as well as Lauren Crick’s soaring, jazz-tinged vocals, wonderfully complimented with Arctic Monkeys-esque guitar (they even use a rotary trem effect, for any guitar nerds in the audience) which contrasts delightfully against the rhythm section’s steadiness.
The grooves continue into Irrational Bliss where drummer Toby Aitken employs an off-kilter pattern to sit underneath the swirling guitar, with Crick waxing lyrical - “Walking through your forest, swimming in your oceans…” The track builds into a final hypnotic chorus under a bizzare-yet-appropriate disco groove, evoking a blend of Arcade Fire and Michael Jackson textures with almost robot-like precision.
On track three, Abstrusion (Left Unsaid), we make a sharp stylistic left turn, a classic synth texture setting up a fairly industrial-sounding track sung by Duncan Beale. A modal bassline and frantically delivered verse lyrics push against a sweeping, open chorus, all sitting on top of a dark rhythm guitar oriented groove that evokes Talking Heads and even a little Kraftwerk. Harmonised leads drenched in reverb fill out the back end of the tune, and the track slams to a halt in a pleasant way that instantly caught my attention.
Track four, Wish Me Well, features Crick on lead vocals once more, and the funk influence is apparent more than ever. A front-loaded, empty rhythm section (with some absolutely killer bass work from Beith) allows Crick to fill out the space with double-tracked melody, with Nathan Leonard’s now-familiar tight guitar plucks expanding into phasery pads at the end and some blink-and-you’ll-miss-em backing vocals from Beale. The lyrics remain distant yet precisely targeted, and mentions of apparitions and old memories intertwine to create an uncertain feeling of departure. The vocalists changing between tracks establishes a back-and-forth across the EP as a whole that allows space for each vocalist to paint broad, rich strokes of melody against the consistently atmospheric grooves.
On track five, A Clean Pair of Heels, we get a relatively brief exploration of texture. Beale once again takes lead vocals against a mostly atmospheric wash of guitars and synths, Beith’s bass providing a sense of forward motion in a track with no drums. A twangy fingerstyle guitar line undercuts Beale’s vocals, which really shine on here - they layer together and harmonise to serve a haunting lyric about “waiting for nothing”. The abstract spookiness of it all cements it as maybe my favourite track on the record, and a fitting penultimate number to precede the final track, Wonderment. Here, Soul Wide Open closes the loop - the track fittingly resembles the first track on the EP more than anything else. The rhythm section is back in its full glory laying down a veritably concrete foundation for the musical halfway house that is Rumour Nation, and after the second chorus the track detonates into a virtuosic guitar solo that lets Nathan Leonard show off the chops that he’s been so tastefully keeping under wraps this whole time (jazz fans will appreciate the brief reharmonised chords that he gleefully indulges us) before Crick and Beale close out the record with some interweaving vocal harmony. Art-rock may continue to be debated amongst musical academics and critics alike, and it strikes one as the sort of debate that will never be resolved, just more clearly defined.
Soul Wide Open has cracked it, uh, wide open, without just being ‘like Radiohead, you know?-‘
If the power befell me I’d find it most appropriate to give it the ‘Art-rock Lifetime Achievement Award’ on the strength of the fifth track alone.