Australian trio Methyl Ethel began as the home-recording pursuit of songwriter Jake Webb. The group are now seeing the broader release of their debut album. In the wake of the huge success of fellow Perth-originating psychedelic sensation Tame Impala, this group’s sound delves into the same ethereal realms, while also showcasing a certain alternative eclecticism.
The tight rhythm section, polished production value and pop hooks of many tracks recalls the indietronica of ‘Oracular Spectacular’-era MGMT. The slow build and disco-esque bassline of opener ‘Idee Fixe’, the muted riffing and warbling synthesiser of ‘Also Gesellschaft’, and the pounding four-on-the-floor of ‘Obscura’ are especially imbued with this style.
For those disappointed with the latest effort from New York shoegazers DIIV, this album also offers some dreamy pop nuggets, but with a greater diversity of tempo and dynamics within the arrangements. The layered production and plucked guitar melody of ‘Shadowboxing’, for example, with delay pedals cranked to maximum could be ripped straight from DIIV’s 2012 album ‘Oshin’.
There seems to be more space for vocals on this record, however, and singer Jake Webb provides some powerful and strangely effeminate turns on a number of tracks. At moments his androgynous voice resembles PJ Harvey at her most emotive, especially on the anthemic ‘Twilight Driving’. This track is a highlight with its quintessentially Australian lyrics (“gotta watch out for the ‘roos”) and some majestic saxophone improvisation, this fairly formulaic arrangement becomes an uplifting and addictive piece of indie-rock tunesmithery.
Unfortunately this quality isn’t maintained though the rest of the album. Tunes like ‘To Swim’, ‘Depth Perception’, and ‘Sweet Waste’ seem more like ideas than songs, ending up as directionless soundscapes which quickly become arduous. The throbbing synths and reverb drenched chorus of ‘Unbalencing Act’, along with the off-kilter angst and insistent guitar strum of ‘Artificial Limb’ do provide some variety, but despite exploring a multitude of different sonic avenues this album ends up being a foggy and mostly unmemorable experience.
‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle’ is out now via 4AD
This Methyl Ethel article was written by Tadgh Shiels, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Fraisia Dunn