Label: Poison City Records
Garage rock seems like it’s is the kind of genre that it’s hard to really go wrong with. Hard rocking, energetic riffs; vocals possessed of an urgency that says more than the lyrics every could; and plenty of distortion. What’s not to like? But, by the same token, what’s there to make a band stand out from their peers and contemporaries? Australian four-piece Pale Heads answer this question on debut album Headless in multiple ways. The result is an album that takes a few risks, looks beyond the expected conventions of the genre, combines honesty with humour, and as a result, has real lasting appeal. Considering I’m normally falling asleep after a few tracks by most bands in this genre, once the initial rush has worn off, it makes the achievements here all the more notable.
The passion that makes Headless such a success is evident early on, with opener “Thomy Cut Off A Head” being filled with rough shouted-spoken vocals, driving rhythms, and incisive guitar lines. It’s also full of dynamics and movement, making it seem much longer than its actual two minute duration. The intensity required for this kind of rock to succeed is evidently apparent, but so is something else that becomes even more obvious as the album plays out: that Pale Heads are bringing other touches and styles to the genre. Whether it’s psychedelic effects and accents, spoken word sections where the instruments step back, or a sense of experimentation that brings to mind the best, noisiest kind of post-punk and US indie rock (think Sonic Youth in their prime), it all makes Headless the kind of garage rock record that’s actually a bit too arty and forward-thinking to really belong with that genre. But, the eyes-wide, full-on guitar assault and overall vibe is right at home with that style.
Just listen to third track “I Can’t Lose You” for evidence. Even as the lyrics tell a tale of desperation and misery, there’s something undeniably life-affirming and inspiring about the music being played that makes it feel at times like party music – albeit, the kind that ends in sloppy drunken sex, or in the back of a police van, or maybe both. But then there’s other tracks, such as “Milk Eyes” or “Power & Privilege”, which seem more suited to nights alone, raging at the state of the world and yourself. And that’s to say nothing of “The Pits”, which packs a lifetime’s worth of resentment and rage in to just over four minutes; or the sense of absolute futility expressed in “Accountancy Is Hard”. This should serve to show just how varied the album is; even though Pale Heads never feel like they’re straying too far from their chosen sound and style, the different moods and tones of the individual songs is a big plus.
What really makes Headless so worthy of praise, though, is the way that Pale Heads make all these songs work together, producing an album that is packed full with individually great songs, but also functions as a cohesive body of work. And at a little over forty minutes, they don’t overstay their welcome, leaving the listener wanting just that bit more but without feeling unsatisfied. Whilst it took a little time for me to fully wrap my head around this one (which may be more down to my regular listening habits than any fault of the album), I’m glad that I did, as Headless is really rather good.