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Despite Alex Turner declaring the return of rock and roll at the Brit Awards last week, the Australian music scene tells a very different story. Even Triple J, who once championed Papa vs Pretty‘s particular brand of indie rock, have begun to favour Flume-like electronic sounds. It leaves the Sydney quartet, who have now unveiled their sophomore effort, White Deer Park, sitting in a very different position within the Australian music soundscape to when they released their debut.
The music featured on the band’s second album delivers a rather nostalgic experience, harking back to an era when indie rock reigned supreme. At times it’s brash and abrasive, while still bearing moments that are delicate and soaring like the early output of Radiohead. A few of the latter songs even take on the grand theatrics of Muse’s orchestral arrangements.
Listening to White Deer Park is like listening to a masterclass of 90s indie rock. The guitars are flaring, the vocals are delicate yet commanding, and the band can bring an all-out thrashing moment as well as an FM-pleasing tear-jerker. Album opener Give Me A Reason Not To has a playful melody that feeds beautifully into an orchestral bridge, allowing vocalist Thomas Rawle to introduce his affecting falsetto once again.
The album has a handful of tracks that ooze immediate melodies. The short, invasive energy-punch of Rain Check is a welcome sit-up moment in the middle of the record, while Suburban Joan Of Arc stirs an impressive chorus with its howling guitar riffs. Given the quick appeal of the aforementioned track, My Life Is Yours seems like a strange first single choice. It’s a haunting and sophisticated track, but seems better left to be appreciated within the broader context of the album.
The closing moments of White Deer Park are where Papa vs Pretty really start to deliver something interesting. The midnight balladry of Roses After Dark provides a perfect backdrop for Rawle to deliver his melancholic but affecting vocal. He aptly prefaces his outright honesty in the song with the line, “Forget the poetic license in song / That’s not me / For I’ve hid in those things too long / And I must come clean”.
The track segues seamlessly into album closer Dementia Praecox — the flagship of the record. It’s composed of many parts, moving from a piano-lead intro to a brass-driven climax, before a tempo-racing verse. While many of the songs on the record blend into each other with sonic similarities, Dementia Praecox stands out for its risky grandeur, ending with a crescendoing thud.
White Deer Park is a captivating listen that packs some serious punch and solidifies Papa vs Pretty’s position as one of the most competent alternative rock bands in the country. It’s simply a shame that the current musical climate and palette of Australian listeners may prevent it from getting the attention it deserves.