New Music Friday: The Goon Sax's 'Mirror II' is a compelling exploration of genre
Fingers in many pies
The latest album from the Brisbane-born trio known as The Goon Sax is more of a showcase of versatility than a cohesive body of work. Recorded at Geoff's Barrow's Invada Studios and produced by the legendary John Parish (PJ Harvey), Mirror II sees the band explore all the different ways by which they can subvert your expectations.
The band's lineup is comprised of guitarist and pseudo-frontman Louis Forster, drummer-vocalist Riley Jones, and bassist-vocalist James Harrison. While most of the songwriting used to fall on the shoulders of Forster, the band's dynamic has shifted with the new LP; writing is now a more democratic process, if you will.
“We had a bit more knowledge of what it took to put together a whole, cohesive album,” Harrison explains in a press release. “On the first one, we took a purposefully minimalist approach. The second was less in our hands production-wise, at times. This one was much more of a collaborative effort between us and John."
This tidbit of trivia informs the end result: When three district voices with very different visions come together, they don't always meld perfectly in the music. That said, though chaos definitely looms around the corner, the album is a dynamic product of the band's experimental flux in identity. Further, throughout the record, listeners are taken in multiple musical directions—from dream pop to noise to '60s proto-punk—but even though the tracklist can feel like you're flipping through radio stations at times, you never forget who you're really listening to.
The familiarity goes deeper than just having the band's recognisable vocals at the front-and-centre, too. Between the ambitious songwriting and the inspired instrumentals is the essence of the band; relatable lyrics and poppy melodies over meticulously scrappy instrumentals.
For instance, in 'Tag', a pop synth hook plays over the rest of the clamouring instrumentals in a completely different key—a combination that shouldn't work but definitely does for the 'Goons. In 'Psychic', the flat, needling guitar that crops up towards the end of the track is totally jarring and simultaneously perfect. Even when they do venture into more classic pop tropes, there's always a spin. 'Desire' is the stunning '80s dream-pop track that stands out on the album, thanks to how Jones' breathy soprano soars above the swirling instrumentation and how Forster's own lazy, melodious drone supplements it.
"We tried not to have a main sound that ran down the middle of the record,” Louis explains. “What united the record, moreso than a single sound, were themes and ideas and space. That’s what Mirror ll is," says Forster. "The narrator changes, the viewpoint isn’t definitive; it’s sentences existing in the air, as if someone overheard it on the street. [Thematically,] it’s a progression on the first two albums." Jones adds that “It felt like the songs weren’t only personal, they were something interpersonal; they just existed on their own, aside from ourselves.”
The whole album is a mishmash of different musical styles and genres, rife with character. Though the influences of pioneers like Cocteau Twins, Jesus And Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, and the Stooges can be clearly heard throughout its 40-minute playtime, the band manages to avoid sounding derivative overall. It certainly has its awkward moments, but as a whole unit, it's a fun and addictive release that this writer will be playing on repeat. 4/5 stars.