Thursday, 3 April 2008

Review: The Gin Club - Junk

The Gin Club have been previously touted as one of Australia's premiere purveyors of folk-rock, but for their third release they have leapfrogged their compatriots with an amazing double album in the guise of Junk.

Double albums are often criticised for being self-indulgent and lacking in substance, or, when they are successful, they to tend involve a vast amount of genre swapping (i.e. London Calling, The White Album, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness). Instead The Gin Club have avoided both of these circumstances, providing the listener with 26 songs that adhere to the band's take on folk-rock while maintaining a freshness to the sound that holds the listeners attention throughout. In this regard Junk can be seen as a stylistic descendant of albums such as Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde or George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.

Junk'
s strongest facet is the lyricism and songwriting on display, no mean feat when you realise that The Gin Club are operating with six different songwriters. Ben Salter is the first to flex those lyrical skills with opening track '10 Paces Away'. While the song starts of quietly it soon descends into a melting pot of orchestral melody and dirty guitars (this track, and a number of others on Junk, is sonically reminiscent of The Drones). 'Already Gone', penned and sung by Adrian Stoyles, is a much more jangly affair. While musically the track is hard to pinpoint, Adrian's lyrics are a clash of a realist and romantic personality, very much like those of Grant McLennan, and this is evident in the lyrics of 'Already Gone' ("Heartbreaker, cutting off the telephone/Theres a voice just near and familiar out the door.") Ola Karlsson is up next with 'Company Kept', a song which I partially like due to the excellent chorus and partially dislike due to the verse sounding very similar to Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here'.

The Gin Club keep the rotation steady with the Scott Regan penned 'Days', one of the catchier songs on Junk. Musically the song sounds a lot like something from Fleetwood Mac (this is a good thing), at least until the chorus kicks in and it all goes blues-rock. Conor MacDonald's track 'On A Mountain' follows on and goes for an alt-country flavour, a genre the Gin Club seem to excel at. The track is also the first one to distinctly showcase Magoo's excellent production work on Junk. Sixth song, sixth songwriter, this time with Brad Pickersgill singing 'Coming Round', another country tinged song with some excellent vocals and even better lyrics ("The chips on your shoulder got so hard to bear/It's my saving grace, it's my electric chair.") The seventh track, 'Something Rotten' is another Ben Salter number, but this time with help from Angus Agars and vocals from You Am I front man Tim Rogers. Rogers' channeling of Gram Parsons fits in perfectly with the self-deprecating lyrics ("And if apologies sound facile when they rhyme/At least it extricates whats rotten in his mind.") and some excellent pedal steel guitar work.

Up next is one of the highlight's of Junk, 'An Horse', a beautiful combination of Memphis soul and The Band-style folk-rock. Some great organ and horns juxtapose with the guitars superbly (especially during the solo), and, as usual, the lyrics are A class. Junk continues to run the gambit for the rest of the first disc, from the new-folk sounds of Ola's 'Down In The Valley' and the Nick Cave evoking 'Long, Long Time', to the haunting country-rock of the Brad Pickersgill penned 'The Fall' and Ben and Conor's atmospheric acoustic number 'All Your Men' (which features some excellent whistling). The first disc finishes with Ola Karlsson's proper folk (I say proper in that it's a ballad about a ship taking convicts to South-East Queensland) song, 'Abigail'. The slightly out of tune, yet yearning vocals evoke The Pogues at their best, and 'Abigail' serves as a superb ending to a superb CD.

The second disc begins with the title track, 'Junk', which happens to be the only song written by Bridget Lewis. The song's twee lyrics and stripped back sound a reminiscent of the Velvet Underground's 'After Hours', and it serves as a good transition into the next track, 'Tell Me'. The Scott Regan track is the standout song of Junk, no mean feat given the quality of songs The Gin Club have produced. The upbeat pop number combines jangly guitars a la The Byrds (with a touch of Big Star thrown into the mix) and a melody that would be at home on Rubber Soul with Beach Boys-style harmonising and quality lyrics ("Tell me what I want to hear/Instill my fears, distill my tears."). Next up is the country-noir of 'Girl Kills Man', a song as emotive musically (with a cool mariachi-style horn section) as it is lyrically. Adrian Stoyles, the song-writer in this case, seems to have a knack for penning lyrics that are as hopeful as they are despondent. 'White Smoke, Black Heart' is another solid song, featuring a rolling organ and violin, as well as a noticeable amount of reverb, which results in the song sounding like a Born Sandy Devotional-era Triffids song.

'Minnesota' takes a bluegrass route to great effect, while 'Brisbane, 1933' combines piano-driven blues with some Tom Waits-like vocals from Conor MacDonald, but it is the next track, 'Gas Guzzler', that leaves an indelible mark. The Bad Seeds-ish track features a great vocal effort from Salter, as well as organ-work that could almost be described as prescient, carving its way through the peaks and falls of the song. Again Magoo's subtle yet effective production come to the fore, with some great use of acoustics and reverb towards the end of the track. The atmospheric 'Brother' is up next, and it is probably the most avant-garde track on Junk with its undertone of looping noise and feedback evoking Galaxie 500 if they were from Nashville. Adrian Stoyles' 'Waiting In Line' falls somewhere between The Shins and The Flying Burrito Brothers, resulting in a neat little alt-country pop song.

The epic 'You, Me, And The Sea' is another highpoint on Junk. Ben Salter delivers again with some strung lyrics which juxtapose with the skeletal musical side of the track (violin, piano, and drums). The Gin Club keep things downbeat with MacDonald's 'Boat, You've Been Drinking', before speeding things up a little with 'Lies', a song built around acoustic guitar work akin to Elliott Smith. Ola Karlsson steps up to finish Junk with the beautiful 'Julia', a sweeping love song that is part Simon & Garfunkel, part The Band (especially the piano breakdown), and, at the same time, a sound that The Gin Club seize and make their own (Ola's amazingly emotive vocals are the biggest contribution here). It's hard to believe but after 26 songs The Gin Club manage to close with a bang.

Junk has to be one of the most comprehensive albums released this millennium. While it may be an effort for some to listen to this all in one sitting, Junk is a constantly rewarding album, with the listener noticing small lyrical and musical nuances even after a dozen listens. The songwriting prowess is the maker of this album, but The Gin Club also deliver musically. Overall Junk is as close to being a masterpiece as any Brisbane band has come in a long time, and hopefully The Gin Club will receive the attention they deserve for such a release.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

beautiful review and spot on as usual.

Anonymous said...

Members of the Gin Club should identify themselves when they post.

gin scruffer said...

i was in a gin club when i lived in the northern territory because i scruffed a gin.

Gav said...

I haven't got a clue what yr own about bro.

ex_king_john said...

gav, i suspect it has something to do with sex and aboriginal females.