12 Track, LP (2012, Island City)
Related: San Cisco.
It was inevitable that this would be a disappointment. Triple j’s reach as a national youth broadcaster makes it a perfect mouthpiece for the echo chamber of the internet, where differing opinions too easily roll into one, and plain-language praise becomes vertiginous hype. In Australia it makes for a potent combination: bands are tagged, shrink-wrapped and declared world-beaters before they even release a full-length.
Since early 2011, San Cisco have been a target of this intimidating machine. Everyone lost their shit over the Golden Revolver and Awkward EPs, their killer singles and their killer videos. And fair enough – ‘Golden Revolver’, ‘Girls Do Cry’ and ‘Awkward’ were all engaging pieces of naturalistic pop, chiming, jingle-jangle guitars belying the quiet obsession that seemed to inspire the band. But now comes the self-titled debut long player, delivered with the deafening agreement of a thousand voices, all saying, “You must hear this. You must buy this.”
Truth is, you probably don’t. San Cisco is another fine record from a fine young Australian band, full of pleasing hooks and skilled production. But it’s also the victim of a growing surface tension when it comes to local music, where one band sounds much the same as the next, music running pleasingly around the outskirts of the collective consciousness without ever sticking as a cultural phenomenon.
Not that San Cisco are trying to sound similar. Not on their opening track, anyway. ‘Beach’ is unlike anything they’ve done before, Josh Biondillo ditching the guitars in favour of a dreamy wash of synthesisers while frontman Jordi Davieson nails a soulful vocal performance. It’s probably the ballsiest move on the album, front-loaded for full effect, but the guts of the song just aren’t there – the progressions are a touch predictable, the emotion slightly flat – and as an opening gambit it fails to hit the mark.
From there, it’s more business as usual, two-stepping guitars and handclapping percussion powering along songs about losers in love, losers missing out on love, and losers with no friends. ‘Fred Astaire’ and ‘Lyall’ hit up the listener with San Cisco’s ready engagement, but for all the rich sonic detail brought to the table by Steven Schram, the producer’s work also tends to keep you at arm’s length from the songs.
More encouraging are the contemplative moments, such as ‘Hunter’ and current single ‘Wild Things’. The former shines a spotlight on Davieson’s lyrics, and he answers with some stunning metaphors about the calcifying effects of killing love. Likewise, ‘Wild Things’ offers a trebled Pacific island strum, bent and retarded, over sinister warnings about the power of unchecked hatred. These slower cuts are much better at taking the weight off Schram’s production, and perhaps the most portentious sign of San Cisco’s future.
This is still a promising band. Davieson’s only growing as a frontman, while drummer Scarlett Stevens is having a bigger impact with her own vocals. Meanwhile, San Cisco’s secret weapon is the rhythmic interplay between Stevens, Biondillo, and bassist Nick Gardner, which gives the band the energy that ultimately helps differentiate them from their peers.
But it’s never quite enough. On San Cisco they tend to take the easy road, wearing their quirks rather than wrestling with them. There’s too much precociousness and not enough punk; a band attuned to what listeners expect, rather than what will surprise and delight. There’s a future for San Cisco, but it perhaps doesn’t quite begin here.
by Matt Shea