Come Across, the fifth full-length from Australian quartet Bluebottle Kiss, is a record enamored with (or haunted by) the elements. Rain mostly, “buckets of rain”, rain “like liquid nails”, the sky “raining fire trucks”. The rain comes down, the wind picks up, and Bluebottle Kiss adapts; seemingly affected by the weather systems, the band shifts its songs from shimmering folk-pop to turbulent blazes. Indeed, when it rains, it pours.
The first impression is that Bluebottle Kiss can and will brave any meteorological or emotional disturbance and conquer it with grace. “Scouthall” is a fragile, beautiful opening track, a starkly cinematic glimpse of carparks and streetlights and cops appearing, unannounced, at the door. “Everything Begins and Ends at Exactly the Right Time” follows suit, but in a succession of increased stakes and chances: foot stomps and handclaps beget the full band sweep, which then begets the guitar assault that hollers like Neil Young’s darkest fantasies come to life. “I told you from the beginning / Now ain’t the time for harvesting / It’s the time for digging,” Jamie Hutchings (the band’s singer and songwriter) declares, and you agree: yes yes yes, take that guitar and dig yourself to other side of the earth!
A similar moment happens in the most unlikely of places: “Slow Train to a Comfy Jail”, a precipitous ballad, shaken by a sudden infringement of fuzz guitars. The band and Hutchings’s vocals rise to meet the newly heightened stakes, achieving a natural theatricality devoid of pose. And regardless of its contrived gutter-poetics, “Crawling With Ants” is an exciting, propulsive tune, led by the band’s bounding rhythm section. Feedback squeals sneak in past the perimeter to give the tight tom-heavy drums and bottom-heavy bass an electroshock.
But Come Across isn’t all so inspired; in fact, it trips up as much as it retains its footing. “Last Playboy in Town” begins with left-field spoken word that somehow mutates, rather clumsily, into melody. “Can I Keep You?” (the one song on the record performed entirely by Hutchings) is bogged down with persistent metaphors, and has a more ramshackle or loose-hinged feel than the rest of the album. If Come Across can be said to possess a moodily cinematic production flair (it’s alternately autumnal and midnight-y), a song like “Cross Purpose” feels like one extended, panning establishing shot that (regardless of its lyrics telling a complicated, multi-character story) grows stagnant through perpetuation.
Regardless of any particular song’s worth, Hutchings remains a unique vocalist. His lyrics are populated with vivid imagery and movement; although his songs don’t always make perfect sense, he plants ideas and visual threads that are often worth investigating. More interesting, though, is his vocal delivery. He orchestrates his sentence completions and structural technique around the cause and will of the chord changes, stretching lines out over the span of both time and logic, with often fascinating results.
At times Bluebottle Kiss comes off like Australia’s answer to the Gin Blossoms (“So Slow”) or Buffalo Tom (“Sisters Head On”), not to mention purveyors of audible dramatics a la the Arcade Fire or U2. “Ministry of Fear”, the record’s final track, is reminiscent of the Arcade Fire’s curtain-closing, all-encompassing call to arms: intertwined male and female vocals; a building intensity; structural awareness of anticipation and release. As mentioned before, it’s at these moments when Bluebottle Kiss seems the most invincible, shrouded in rain slickers and fighting the wind’s desire to invert their umbrellas. If only they could always retaliate with such defiance.
// Notes from the Road
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