Alex Lahey – I Love You Like a Brother

Following up last year’s excellent B-Grade University EP, the debut album from Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Alex Lahey is a fantastic amount of fun. It’s filled with clever lyrics, energetic instrumentation, big hooks and maybe my favourite song title of the year (‘Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder’) – basically, it just ticks all the boxes.

I Love You Like a Brother is incredibly consistent across its ten tracks, offering up punchy song after punchy song. The opening stretch is particularly strong – with lead single and album opener ‘Every Day’s the Weekend’ exemplifying Lahey’s appeal really well. It isn’t the sort of song that tries to reinvent the wheel, but instead, I guess, just succeeds in making a really good wheel. It’s amazing how on-point everything is here; the lyrics are fun and memorable (‘Fuck work, you’re here, every day’s the weekend’) and the song’s sound progresses just enough to stay interesting. Sure, it doesn’t really break free from the usual verse-chorus-verse structure, but Lahey and her guitar barrel through it with such energy that it doesn’t really matter.

Things don’t let up for a while after the opener, with ‘I Love You Like a Brother’ and ‘Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder’ being similarly punchy. Both tracks are big and catchy like ‘Every Day’s the Weekend’ (‘I love you like brother, just like I oughta‘) and they also do a good job of showing off the cleverness of Lahey’s songwriting. On ‘I Love You Like a Brother’, she breaks away from the usual love song mould, putting together a great track about sibling relationships. It has a really genuine and honest feel to it. ‘Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder’, on the other hand, is technically another song about love – but Lahey frames it cleverly. Rather than talk about the break up the track is about directly, she filters it through her relationship with the city where it happened: ‘Perth is lucky that she’s pretty, otherwise I’d hate that city.’

And this is the main appeal of I Love You Like a Brother for me; Lahey does a fantastic job of balancing the cleverness and emotion in her lyrics. Despite most of the songs on here being about relationships – not exactly an original topic – they never feel generic. ‘I Want U’ opens with a string of close observations about a guy Lahey is enamoured with (‘You’re the kind of person who likes the go to the movies alone’) which really helps bring the song to life. The people she sings about always have a sense of character to them – they don’t feel like the faceless love interests you get in a lot of pop songs these days – which is something I appreciate. The way she gets her emotions across is also great. Like I said, relationships are not exactly an original subject-matter, but Lahey always does a good job of expressing her feelings for someone without resorting to clichés, such as on the hook on ‘Backpack’: ‘I find it hard to put my arms around you when your backpack’s on’. It’s a bit goofy, but it feels really genuine.

‘There’s No Money’, easily the album’s slowest song, is also its saddest. It abandons the fun pop-punk energy that’s present throughout most of the album in favour of a more ballad-like feel. The lyrics here are great as always – with Lahey dwelling on the fear that her life is going nowhere – but it does a particularly good job of showing her great use of sound. The song starts off quiet, with only vocals, a guitar and a drum machine beat – reflecting on the lonely feel of the lyrics. But things begin to build on the second verse, with the drum kit, bass guitar and even some choral backing vocals coming in. Eventually, things come to a big finish, closing out the album really nicely.

I Love You Like a Brother is incredibly consistent, especially for a debut album. Even the album’s weaker songs (like ‘Awkward Exchange’) are hard to dislike too much. Everything moves along quickly, there are only a couple of songs that go over the four-minute mark, meaning that Lahey doesn’t give you enough time to get bored with one sound before she moves onto the next one. Bottom line: it’s a fantastic album that you should check out. I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

Best Tracks: ‘Every Day’s the Weekend’, ‘I Want U’, ‘There’s No Money’.

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Wild Beasts – Punk Drunk & Trembling

 

Last month, UK art rock band Wild Beasts announced they were splitting. Personally, as a huge fan of their work, it was depressing news. Though their last album, 2016’s Boy King, was by far their weakest (it felt like the band were trying too hard to gain more mainstream appeal), it was by no means awful. I hoped the band would bounce back from its lukewarm reaction, but instead they’re breaking up, leaving behind one final release – an EP made up of leftover songs from the Boy King recording sessions.

Given that this is Punk Drunk & Trembling’s background, it’s not surprising that the EP feels thrown together. Only one song on it is actually new – the title one – with the other two having been released previously as bonus tracks on Boy King’s deluxe edition. On one hand, it’s a shame that such a consistently fantastic band is ending things with a release that honestly feels very inessential… But then again, on the other hand, I suppose it’s better than nothing.

‘Punk Drunk & Trembling’ is the EP’s main highlight. Though it’s a leftover Boy King track, it’s surprisingly better than at least half of what made it onto the album. (Though I can see realistically that there’s nowhere in the tracklist that it would’ve fit in naturally.) The song does a great job of combining the swaggering masculinity of the band’s last album with the more vulnerable and emotional sound found on their earlier releases. Hayden Thorpe’s vocals on the track have a real sadness to them, as do the synths that linger in the background. The lyrics are also incredibly melancholy – ‘Why dry the tongue, what’s done is done’ – which helps the song feel like a fitting parting note for the band.

The other two songs, while not bad, definitely do feel like leftovers. Like ‘Punk Drunk & Trembling’, a big part of why they didn’t make it onto Boy King is because they don’t fit the album’s mood – yet, unlike it, they also don’t really surpass any of the songs that did make it on. ‘Maze’ is the better of the two; it’s the most stripped-back song the band have put out in years, placing all emphasis on Tom Fleming’s vocals. That’s not entirely a bad thing, because Fleming’s vocals are fantastic as always – it’s just that there’s nothing particularly interesting going on here. You can find similarly low-key Fleming-led songs on Smother or Present Tense that are more powerful lyrically and more interesting instrumentally.

‘Last Night All My Dreams Came True’ fares worse though. Sandwiched between two much sadder tracks, it doesn’t fit the EP’s overall mood well or the circumstances surrounding its release. Driven by a squelchy drum beat, the song sort of meanders along. The only thing I can really say in its favour is the vocal interplay between Fleming and Thorpe, but even that isn’t particularly great. Both of them sound bored on the track and it’s not difficult to see why.

At only ten minutes long, there isn’t a lot to take away from Punk Drunk & Trembling. The title track hints at what direction the band might’ve taken next, but unfortunately we’ll never know for sure. Even if this isn’t the send-off that a band as good as Wild Beasts deserves, it is – as I said before – better than nothing.