Friday, 17 October 2008

Review: Blue Carousel - Mussee EP

Blue Carousel have been playing their mix of synth and guitar driven indie-rock around Brisbane venues with pretty great regularity for the last couple of years, and have now dropped their first proper release in the form of the Mussee EP. With a sound that contains equal measures synth-rock grooves and sinewy guitars, the band have less in common with the indie-dance fad of a few years back than they do with such bands as Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips and Sunset Rubdown. The comparisons are extended when the high-pitched, breathy (and usually double-tracked) vocals of lead singer Valdis are thrown into the mix. He has one of those 'love-it-or-hate-it' voices, much like the singers from the three previously mentioned bands.

Compared to the band's demos which have been floating around (you can hear some via their myspace, along with the first four tracks from this EP), the recordings on Mussee are very dense; there's barely a moment where there isn't an extra synth (or three) burbling away in the background. They're a five piece band so their sound is going to be relatively busy in any situation, but I often find myself thinking that perhaps some of the recordings on this EP are slightly overcooked. Additionally, in many cases the guitars have been relegated to backing the synths instead of the other way around - their lead guitarist, Adam (last name unknown) is an especially interesting player, so I would have liked to have heard more of him. Listening to the demo of 'Kanashii Uta' the band sounds like a band, while on the EP it's much more of a synth-rock exercise (except for a noisy effects-laden guitar in the breakdown, which is admittedly very cool and probably suits the band better than the previous guitar solo, which always came across as a little too 'smooth'). The following track, 'Portrait From Memory' is similarly keys-dominated, though much mellower - it does feature some interesting instrumental additions, such as glockenspiel and what seems to be a banjo joining about halfway through the song.

Things change up for fourth track 'Mr Zian Is A Lonely Boy', definitely the most aggressive song on the EP and probably also in the band's overall repertoire (and the only song that sounds vaguely like The Killers et al). Starting with reversed feedback and other assorted sounds, soon enough the song proper punches through with guitars buzzing around the central synth hook, with some nu-post-punk-esque guitar stabs filling the choruses. It's an energetic, exciting track but as a song it seems somewhat slight (or maybe it's just that I want the band to keep rocking out for another minute or so). Fun live, in any case.

EP closer 'Snappy Tom' has been a live staple for Blue Carousel for a good while, frequently closing their sets. With its steady build from plodding atmospherics to eventual guitar cacophony and woozy synth climax, it certainly ticks the 'epic closing track' box, and numbers amongst the band's best songs - it's certainly my favourite on the release. The moment where Valdis sings 'I see the river up ahead / jump in' as the band crashes back in after a brief pause is one of the more effective dynamic shifts produced recently by a local band.

Blue Carousel are a good band with a developing ear for pop hooks and an interesting musical vocabulary. Similarly, Mussee is a good EP and well worth a listen. With that said, I expect that their next release will likely be a considerable improvement. I would like to see the band either produce a really good recording of how they sound in a live context or go all out in the studio. Mussee kind of sounds like the band had some good songs that they had been playing for a while and wanted to spice up in the recording, but that they didn't have the time / resources / experience to do so to the extent that they wanted, and as a result there's something indefinably messy about it in parts. The good news is that the band have a number of songs up their sleeve for a second EP / album, and from what I've been able to gather it seems that they've saved their stronger material for that. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

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