What does an Australian band sound like? With some groups, it’s easy to pinpoint the minute you hear it. Whether it’s the sparkle and sass of The Preatures, the very obvious accents of Courtney Barnett or simply the glorious local throwback that is Client Liason, some bands instantly fit our understanding of what it means to sound like our country. Others are more difficult; Violent Soho drenched in flannel Seattle, King Gizzard from another planet altogether. Perth’s Methyl Ethel sit somewhere in between these two poles, at once undeniably from here, but also strangely otherworldly. It would be easy to lump them into the dreamy, post-psych rock sound that seems to bleed from Western Australia’s pores (Tame Impala, Pond, et al), but they’re both melodically and texturally different. What they are, however, is what Australia sounds like right now, most specifically on ‘No. 28’.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t vibe Methyl Ethel so much the first time I heard them. That’s probably because their big single ,’Twilight Driving’, was being thrashed on local radio, and it didn’t hit me in the guts like I feel it was supposed to. Other tracks from their internationally lauded debut came closer, but ‘No. 28’ landed instantly. It carries itself with a loping swagger, extremely sure of itself without trying too hard. Sitting in the sonic space between Cloud Control, Belles Will Ring and early Powderfinger, there’s this great, laconic charm to it. You can feel the syncopated upstrokes on the guitars lock in with the drums as they easily move between 4/4 and 5/4 time, extending bars like it’s completely natural.
Jake Webb’s voice has fully come into itself. He carries ‘No. 28’, coasting above the shifting rhythm with ease and confidence. There’s something really endearing in that mix of crooning and shouting, the way he enunciates his phrases into legato runs of triplets and clipped quavers. He’s still freewheeling, too, making sure that while the melody seems the same, he can ramble across the plains of his band’s creation with the ease of a beat poet conversationalist. And the weirdness hasn’t gone, either, with a wonderfully odd waltz bracket wedged into the third minute of this track in which Webb announces he’s tearing at his own skin, making way for a guitar solo and a return to the groove.
We often celebrate bands that have stunned us the first time here, but rarely go back to bands that grow on us. This track has inspired me to revisit the rest of this band’s material, which is surely the best endorsement there is. Let the sound of Australia wash over you. It’s ever-changing, but never boring.