CHRIS JOHNSTON finds surprises, magic and mirage in the debut album from Sydney’s Parades.
So many surprises here and so many wonderful, bittersweet adventures to behold. Foreign Tapes is like a carnival, a fairground in lights. It’s one of those records where magic and mirage can come true like in the Flaming Lips and the music of Iceland: colours slip and fade and explode neon again, little soft bombs of sound gently burst. Great possibilities exist, a real sense of wonder runs through it. But great drama also waits.
Parades are from Sydney. Modular solo artist Jonathan Boulet – the toast of 2009 to many, yet Parades is not a Modular act – is the drummer. The core members went to a western suburbs’ Catholic high school together and formed the band in 2001, taking it through various incarnations. In 2004 they were known, presciently, as Brooklyn. They became Parades two years ago. They have recently started working with female singers Freya Berkhout and Alyx Dennison from the band kyü. They feature on one track here; the wondrous female voice on the rest of it is Bec Shave. Foreign Tapes is their debut album.
One of the (many) things I like about this is that it’s indeterminate. In so many ways it lies between. It’s certainly gender-less. Male and female voices rise and fall morphing into one another – the men often singing like women, the women singing like super-women. The noisescapes – the machine-drums locked in a grid, the feedback loops – are I suppose male but thematically the record is also gender-neutral, a mixture of tiny middleground observation (“Things are quiet now since you’re not around”, from ‘Vulturehood’) and big universal riddle (“All my life I’ve tried to see if this is how my life was meant to be”, from ‘Hunters’).
The indeterminate quality works in other places too. Foreign Tapes seems ageless. It’s innocent and joyful and so glad and willing to submit to dreams yet it’s not naive or childlike or annoying. The innocence doesn’t come across as a bunch of people trying to be clever. All these are strong qualities that Sigur Ros and M83 also have; that impression of them being in a place between gender and age, between observant and detached, between knowing and not caring. So many surprises though, and all in the way it actually sounds. Odd mirages become real … it’s like that. It’s an amazing record in that it has the capacity to amaze as well as the sense that it, itself, is amazed.
“Male and female voices rise and fall morphing into one another – the men often singing like women, the women singing like super-women.”
‘Hunters’ is a knockout; an art-rock song arranged in distinct sections like a club track. It has an opening of primitive percussion, rimshots and sticks – Boulet is a great drummer – and it also has long stretches of tension with no release; surges, swells and house music’s phantom rushes. It has a “breakdown” of piano-and-voice, a classic trope of even the most ancient acid house sketch. Two songs later in ‘Invaders’ the band consummate this relationship with club-track ideas and make a drum and bass lullaby full of filter and EQ and scattershot, man-made breakbeats but also gentle voice/response, male/female singing: “Do you question anything? Or do you just believe?”
‘Past Lives’ relies on a Brian Eno/David Byrne rhythm but it has a mandolin and a muted trumpet too and supercharged harmonies but mostly all the singers have to do is hum because the song just rests on itself and works so well. “Lung Full Of Light” is set underwater or so it seems – “Saw myself in the ocean, strange things appear all around me, a million flashing lights subdue me” – and the piano (always piano, there’s piano in every song) is Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert: meditative, repetitive, clear, alive.
One tiny section of ‘Loserspeak in New Tongue’ sounds like ‘I Am The Resurrection’ by The Stones Roses, by the way, if that centres things more – even though it’s gone before it’s even there. Similarly, a lot of the guitar parts are African, less African than Vampire Weekend, but not a whole lot less. ‘Springboarder’ is folktronica like Manitoba or Fourtet – florid, complex, hallucinogenic. As for ‘Marigold’, this is where it all comes together. Everything is synchronised. Boulet’s drum part is borrowed from Billy Squier's ‘Big Beat’; the guitar riff is short and sharp and tight as it needs to be; the horns (a huge squadron of them), like Hunters and Collectors at their most earnest, is a kind of rock’n’roll ANZAC spirit coming from several trumpets in unison. Girls and boys singing beautifully, something about shouting from the rooftops. Something about an exodus. Who knows what and why? Surprises, magic and mirage, coming true.
Staggering album, really. I can’t say it in any other way. ‘Dead Nationale’ is the opening track and blueprint for all this kind of ambition and articulate post-rock, art-rock, whatever you want to call it. The first words uttered by Parades in this song and therefore on Foreign Tapes are, “Oh my God, turn away”, with stuttering drums happening big and encompassing, Ethiopian guitar trinkets, little vibrant backwards pieces of things and fat-ass bass. In the song, the “people” – the wide-eyed ones; genderless, ageless, non-committal – are about to be seduced by a deity to whom they pledge weird honour. “Take from me all you want,” sings Timothy Jenkins, who also plays guitar in Parades. “I am ready to begin.”
Foreign Tapes is out tomorrow (April 23) through Dot Dash/Remote Control.