I jumped at the chance to review an album by a Brisbane band: “Hey, I wonder what’s going on in Brisvegas music these days?” Not because it’s the sweltering subtropical sprawl that gave birth to a handful of internationally revered underground bands. Not because it’s the historically arch-conservative backwater that spawned some of my favourite punk bands. Simply because it’s the land from which I myself sprang, and where I began my lifelong infatuation with independent music.
So here we have Sacred Shrines, and it’s a pleasant surprise to hear such an accomplished chunk of retro-flavoured garage/psych from my old town. I’ve got some catching up to do, to the tune of a previous album, an EP, and a smattering of singles.
As for the current release; my overall impression of Enter The Woods is that it skews towards the poppy end of the psych spectrum; sometimes breezier, sometimes more melancholy; definitely no 10-minute improvised freakouts. In order to say something semi-intelligent about this release, I find myself thinking first about what this doesn’t sound like; it’s not quite like the droning tension of The Black Angels, or the down-tuned stoner-psych rumble of bands like The Well. It’s definitely not the hazy doomy occult sounds of Moon Coven, or the manic R&B freak-outs of Banshee (who I reviewed last year).
Obviously ‘what it isn’t’ only gets us so far – as for what it is; I’m thinking The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn as a starting point, with lashings of grimy ‘90s or ‘00s Dandy Warhols-esque grunge-pop and bombast layered on top. And although I’m characterising this album as generally pop-oriented, there’s enough darkness and gloomy flavours (that sometimes feel a little like goth rock, and occasionally even the earliest proto-punk ala The Sonics) to keep it interesting.
a rich and syrupy slab of psych-rock-pop…
The album begins with short and suitably lysergic intro tune Enter The Woods, before kicking into the insistent groove and faintly middle-eastern feel of Trail To Find. It disappears in a shimmering haze, to be replaced by Front Row Future, a raucous and thumping tune that Iggy would be proud to call his own.
From here the band continue to explore different territories. They’re in somewhat upbeat territory with Paint The Sky, and positively summery with Keep All The Sunshine, a tune that feels like it should have been a big mainstream hit in 1997. In tunes like Take The Fall or Stranger, they deliver darker Eskimo Joe or Placebo pop-rock flavours, dense and catchy. Shadow Man is melancholy, and Never Far From Where We Are is positively languid, even George Harrison-esque. (Is that a magpie I hear in the background, or is it a butcher bird?) The album is nicely bookended by the swirling, dreamy textures of Pass Like A Parade. I can’t pick many lyrics, but it seems conceptually fitting too.
This is good stuff – there’s tough, driving rhythms, shimmering, hazy textures, and plenty of pop hooks, with a bit of grunt. The lead vocals vary from moaning to howling and are often deftly balanced with sweet harmony vocals. You could listen to this as the background to your mundane activities, or you could equally crank up the volume and immerse yourself in a rich and syrupy slab of psych-rock-pop.
Scribed by: Rob Bryant