The second week of September 2021 was an interesting one in terms of new music in Australia.
Jack River made a powerful statement with her song, “We Are The Youth”. Troye Sivan released a beautiful track, “Angel Baby”. Astronomical – Masked Wolf’s highly anticipated first album – was finally dropped. But I was looking forward to another publication.
On Friday, 10 September, Amyl and The Sniffers’ second record, Comfort To Me, saw the light of day. And I’m here to tell you why it deserves a review.
PART 80 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE
At the 2019 ARIAs, Amyl and The Sniffers scored the Best Rock Album award. Considering that their contenders were Midnight Oil, for instance, I reckon that everyone, including the Melbourne-based punk rockers, was fairly surprised. They’d totally earned that gong, though, with their fresh, unpolished garage sound, and their singer’s charisma and stage presence.
If you’ve never heard of Amyl and The Sniffers, then you surely don’t belong to the 45k subscribers of their YT channel, 100k followers on their IG or aren’t amongst the 250k monthly listeners on their Spotify. That’s cool. Let me introduce them to you briefly.
They’re a “by the book” pub rock/punk rock outfit, both in their instrumental configuration and the authentic artistic image (which – I have a feeling – is not very far from their everyday lives). Their whole vibe is, if I may humbly add, something that’s sorely missing these days in the world full of plastic unicorns. I’d personally love to see more old-school rock stars like Amyl and The Sniffers, just having fun at what they do, without overthinking it every time they release an album.
The band are Amy Taylor on the vocals, Bryce Wilson on the drums, Dec Martens on the guitars and (Fer)Gus Romer on the bass. Amyl and The Sniffers started as a friends’/housemates’ project, and they still have that camaraderie vibe going strong. Taylor said about the group,
“We’ve always kind of just been in each other’s pocket, forever and always. We’ve toured everywhere, been housemates, been in a van, and shared hotel rooms. We’re one person.”
Probably because of that familiarity within the happy bunch, their rowdy live shows are pretty (in)famous. To the extent that they were invited to appear at the 2018 SXSW, before even releasing their first LP. It’s a shame I never had a chance to see them live when I was still in Melbourne. But – fingers crossed – it will happen soon.
Since the second album’s announcement, I was mainly interested in seeing which direction they took after such a big hype (the ARIAs) and such a big low (the lack of live gigging) in the span of just a few months. And you can tell the long and harsh lockdowns in the Victorian capital shaped the new record pretty significantly.
The album is loud, dynamic, but slightly hectic. It expresses everybody’s desperate desire to embrace and navigate the pandemic somehow, with all the uneasy feelings bombarding our minds at the speed of sound (pun intended).
My favourite track, “Hertz” (the third single from the LP), is a good example here. It was released just a few days before the album dropped. And, as you might be aware, Melbourne and Victoria are still in their 6th lockdown (as of 14 September when I’m typing this). So the song’s lyrics are quite on-point:
“I wanna go see the country / I want to get out of here / I’m sick of looking at graffiti / On the walls of the grey walls, the city / I want to drive in the countryside / I want the breeze in my hair”.
A pretty good timing in a pretty shitty situation, I’d say.
Speaking of the lyrics, this is the album’s definite strength. Taylor herself said,
That process impacted the album’s structure.
Firstly, the tracks vary greatly in lengths, from 1 min 31 secs to 3 mins 47 secs. If you think about it, it’s exactly how we. the humans, process things. Sometimes, we have more to say about something, and sometimes we nail it in just a few sentences. For instance, the shortest track on the LP, “Don’t Need a Cunt (Like You To Love Me)”, is only 14 quick lines – the rest is repetition. And the title itself could be the whole song if you ask me.
Secondly, compared with the first record, Taylor has definitely found her voice (literally and metaphorically speaking). She’s much louder on Comfort To Me and sounds as if she was even surer of her truths. She’s like an explosion of energy, which she even states herself in “Guarded by Angels”, the first single from the album. That’s why you’ll hear her half-screaming, half-rapping, half-chanting on this record.
But she also uses the spoken word technique to get the point across. It looks like, this time, it wasn’t so much about the melodicism or catchiness of the songs altogether, but getting the lyrics imprinted in people’s minds. Because, as you’ll see, you can relate to sooooo many thoughts on this album.
Speaking of which, I’m fairly sure frustration, helplessness and anger were emotions that accompanied the band quite often in 2020, like the rest of the global population. So it’s no surprise that they are expressed in the form of expletives on Comfort To Me. In my opinion, the pandemic was also much more of a “f**king s**t” kind of situation than any other event in our modern times. But just a warning for the faintly-hearted: out of the 13 tracks, 60% are flagged with the little “E” sign on the streaming services.
Because of their fearless and unapologetic character and the way Taylor projects her voice, many songs on the album feel like bold manifestos. Take “Choices”, which is a real slap in the face for all the “critics” and those who always know better.
“You’ve never stepped foot in the things I’ve lived through / You aren’t aware of what I’m looking for in life / I stand tall in the person that I am / Continue along in my own right / And I would rather figure it out the hard way / Even if it takes a little more time / I want all the experiences I have / To be explicitly exclusively mine”.
Having your own voice is just one of the topics covered on Comfort To Me. The rest of the songs tackle issues you’ve surely come across recently as well: feeling insecurity and pain (“No More Tears”), being stereotyped as a woman (“Laughing”), life changes (“Snakes”) or toxic relationships (“Maggot”).
And let’s not forget that punk rock is a very opinionated music genre, so you’ll also find a political song here. “Capital” references some events from the past year, like the drought which impacted the country’s farmers, the bushfires that ravaged the country or Australia Day which is something completely different to the First Nations People.
What’s cool and unusual about this record is that there are no collabs on it at all. In the times when heaps of artists chose to put out songs featuring other acts for greater exposure or just because they were bored, Amyl and The Sniffers decided to stick to their own backyard and tell their own story. It’s basically just Taylor on the vocals. In some songs, the boys lend their male voices in the chorus parts. But that’s it. And, honestly, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything just because they hadn’t invited a trendy rapper or pop icon to feature on the album. It’s punk rock, pure and simple.
I’m not sure what was first in the case of the 13 songs on this album: the lyrics or the music. But it seems like the instrumentals were arranged in such a way that they highlight the vocals even more than they normally would (for the reasons I’ve mentioned above).
That doesn’t mean, however, that there are no awesome guitar solo moments on Comfort To Me. Check out “Knifey”, which happens to be the slowest/calmest song on the album, with a cool bass intro. Or “Don’t Fence Me In” with the guitars that remind me of the Royal Blood’s sound in the verses.
The band’s Spotify bio also states that this album “expanded on a heavier pool of references – old-school rock/n/roll (…), modern hardcore (…) and the steady homeland heroes (…).” AC/DC, Power Trip and Cosmic Psychos are listed as those references, amongst others. And yes, you can definitely hear them across the 13 tracks. But the end result is very Amyl and The Sniffers anyway.
And just to top it off, the production was quite impressive, too. Given that it’s only the band’s second LP, they were able to secure a great team of experts in their fields to polish the tracks. The music was mixed (remotely) by Nick Launay who worked with Nick Cave and mastered by Bernie Grundman who cooperated with Prince and Dr Dre. You couldn’t possibly have asked for a better team to work on a pandemic album.
In one of the press releases, Taylor said of the time when they were working on the record,
“I was pretty depressed. It’s hard to know what was the pandemic and what was just my brain. Even though you can’t travel and you can’t see people, life still just happens. I could look through last year and, really, it’s like the same amount of good and bad stuff happened, but in a different way. You’re just always feeling stuff.
And that’s what Comfort To Me is all about: feeling stuff.
Check out the full album below:
Amyl and The Sniffers’s second studio album, Comfort To Me
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 out of 5 stars)
Amyl and The Sniffers under exclusive license to Rough Trade Records Ltd.
Released: 10 September 2021
13 tracks, 35 mins
Cover image: Amyl and The Sniffers’ FB page
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