10 Track, LP (2012, R.I.P. Society)
Related: Woollen Kits.
Scrappy, throw-away pop gems have been the fodder of Melbourne’s Woollen Kits since their first two seven-inches, Teenage Love and Maths. Punk-indebted with a grinning sheen, their pre-LP output featured a stiff-edged nonchalance that kept the tracks short and halted song development in favour of rapid-fire bops. Four Girls is their second LP of 2012, following February’s self-titled debut – a record that yielded track-of-the-year contenders in ‘Out of Whack’ and ‘University Narcolepsy’ and continues to be one of the strongest albums of the year. Released seven months later, having been recorded at Airey’s Inlet just two months after Woollen Kits’ release, Four Girls reveals a very different-sounding band to the one that appeared on their eponymous debut.
Outlining a series of romances dead and alive, Four Girls sees Woollen Kits peering out of boarded-up garage windows at girls across the street. The record’s name comes from the tracks ‘Cheryl,’ ‘Sandra,’ ‘Susannah’ and ‘Shelley,’ but those four aren’t the only love interests on this record. All of these tracks are songs of the heart, whether a girl’s name marks the title or not. A distant partner haunts ‘So Cold’, while a desperate boyfriend reaches out on ‘Back To You’ before watching her walk away on ‘On the Move.’ These are doe-eyed dedications of love that are nonetheless capable of moving on quickly: in doing so, they make way for the appearance of new sounds.
On Four Girls, guitarists Tom Hardisty and Leon Applebee let two new guitar tones dominate the mix: a gnarling jangle and a bass-heavy second. Everything is more drawn out, too. Vocals are moaned instead of spat, songs take the time to dwell in the repetition of their hooks and there’s even a six-minute heart-breaker to close out the record. The appearance of Hugh Young’s saxophone on ‘Susannah’ (and the sax-mimicking guitars on other tracks) brings the band even further from their roots, proof that we’re no longer in the Beat Happening territory of Woollen Kits’ earlier days. In tracks like ‘Please’ and ‘Susannah,’ it’s clear that someone in the band has pulled out their Velvet Underground records, while Tom Ridgewell even hints at Dylan-esque balladeering in his rearing whines on ‘On the Move.’ If they were taking cues from the ‘70s and ‘80s on their earlier recordings, Woollen Kits are now testing the waters of the ‘50s and ‘60s, trying a brand of cherry-sweetened rock ‘n’ roll which, despite an entrenchment in hard-edged sensibilities, is perfectly worthy of taking home to your mother.
The primary charm of Woollen Kits is still the interplay of Hardisty’s deep-throated pop songs and Ridgewell’s scrappier upper octave, but there’s more to the band on this release. Now, there are a couple of unique guitar tones and a relaxed patience stirred into the pot, and by expanding their influences, Woollen Kits are more definitively finding their own sound. It may lack the edge of Teenage Love and Woollen Kits, but even through Four Girls’ fresh-faced and polite exterior, it still finds time to loosen the tie and throw rocks at your daughter’s window. Woollen Kits aren’t exactly punks any more, but that doesn’t make them saps.
by Max Easton