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While most indie rock outfits are stripping back their music and casting away concepts and big production, Tom Iansek and Joanne Syme (better known as Big Scary) have done the exact opposite with their latest album Animal. Their third release and the first in three long years, Animal is a four-part concept album. Divided into chapters titled “Hunting”, “Lurking”, “Resting” and “Waking”, it explores the animalistic instincts that drive human nature, with a classic fusion of indie synth pop.
“Hunting”, the first chapter of the album, blasts off with Oxygen, a slinky synth-soaked number that becomes more addictive with each listen. Organism funks things up and flirts with a mixed bag of genres through crooning vocals, a splash of sax and a perfectly tacky but tasty organ solo that sounds like someone has hijacked the church piano. Double Darkness is another dance-worthy doozy, while Savior and Vice closes out the first chapter of the album with a two-minute-long instrumental intro of whirring guitars.
“Lurking” opens with Lone Bird, an indie rock jam built on a noodling lil’ guitar riff and shimmering synth. Meanwhile, layered harmonies and Iansek’s warbling falsetto sing of an enigmatic muse who “likes her coffee black”. Next an alien-sounding and warped guitar riff opens another sultry number by the name of The Endless Story. “Get you on your back, I’m feeling bored. A little bit of romance bares your soul,” schmoozes Iansek in between whistled melodies. In a change of pace, Flutism is driven by a more conversational singing style and (as the name suggests) features a killer flute arrangement and the return of that smooth sax. Up and Up and Up is a fusion of indie rock guitars and vocals, 80’s vibin’ keyboards and more jazz that was made to get down to.
Appropriately, the album eases into the “Resting” chapter with breathy vocals, acoustic guitars and simple percussion on the mellow Breathe Underwater. The Opposite of Us (one of the earlier singles from the album) and Heaven On Earth both lean on clean piano, pattering high hats and wind-swept chimes that also lends to the more dulcet chapter of the album.
Closing with the “Waking” chapter, Big Scary continue down a more mellow path with lush synth under deep and distant echoes on the six-and-a-half-minute-long Over Matter. Lamina, the album’s finale, slowly builds up with dramatic keys, eerie vocals and striking strings to tell a story of regret-filled relationships.
Animal is definitely not an easy album to pigeonhole. While constantly switching vibes and playing with different sonic styles, the two-piece transition between the synth-soaked dance tracks to raw and ethereal laments with apparent ease. Big Scary’s latest work is ambitious, diverse, sometimes a little confusing, but always compelling from chapter to chapter.