Those reading this review from a computer in Australia likely clicked on it either out of a sense of duty or curiosity, not because they’re wondering whether The Dissociatives are worth listening to. Why? Because The Dissociatives are huge in Australia. They’ve been spending time toward the top of the Australian charts, they were nominated for six ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Music Awards (and might have won some were it not for the inexplicable widespread success of Jet), and they just saw their first video win Video of the Year at the Australian MTV Video Music Awards. Now, a full year after the release of The Dissociatives self-titled debut in Australia, it’s finally been deemed suitable for release in countries not surrounded entirely by water.
The Dissociatives is the product of Australian dance music maven Paul Mac and Daniel Johns, best known as the brooding teenage frontman for Silverchair. All right, so he’s not a teenager anymore, but he was best known as a “teenage frontman”. Background aside, however, the album is pop. Not just any pop, mind you, this is pop music that makes pop music seem like an appealing idea again, pop music that could, possibly, just maybe appeal to an audience out of their early teens. It’s “pop” because there’s nothing else to call it—it’s not heavy enough to be rock, there’s not a shade of R&B to be found, and it’s just too pretty (and, often, too slow) to be strictly for dancing. It’s just a tight, cohesive happy pill that’ll keep even jaded listeners humming for days.
I speak from experience, of course.
Opening track “We’re Much Preferred Customers” is a red herring. Electronic Kid A-isms abound, as electronic noises and pianos flutter above a steady but quiet backbeat. Johns’ gifted voice is twisted and bent into an instrument of dread, sputtering lines like “Birds creep over tin roofs / Like criminals with tap shoes.” Eventually the light peeks through, as Johns displays a gift for lush harmony via multi-tracked vocals, as he offers “You’ll get a chance, another chance / One more sun.” Over the course of the rest of The Dissociatives, that Sun never sets.
Even song titles like “Horror With Eyeballs” and “Aaängry Megaphone Man” can’t bog down the sheer joy that overwhelms the album. “Horror With Eyeballs” is a carnival ride of roller coaster proportions, buoyed by a jumpy vocal melody and unexpected chord changes that evoke feelings of cheerful, rosy-cheeked intoxication. “Thinking in Reverse” is the most obvious example of Paul Mac’s dance music roots, as it drives a pounding beat into the listener’s skull, a procedure made far less painful by more of those exquisite vocal harmonies. The duo even goes so far as to employ a children’s choir to sing/yell the parenthesized portion of “Young Man, Old Man (You Ain’t Better Than the Rest)”.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Dissociatives is what they can do without the crutch of lyrics, particularly on the just sugary enough to be beautiful sunny day anthem that is “Lifting the Veil from the Braille”. Nonsensical title aside, it’s the most beautiful thing to be heard on The Dissociatives, as Johns’ whistling, handclaps, and an unexpected guitar solo all somehow combine to form a seamless trip into a world of puffy clouds and fluffy bunnies.
Seriously, if everyone in the world could listen to this song, we’d have world peace.
It suddenly seems that Diorama, Silverchair’s most recent longplayer, is both a great album and a warmup for The Dissociatives. Not only did that album mark Silverchair’s own evolution into pop territory, Paul Mac was even featured on six of that album’s 11 tracks doing keyboard work. And it’s not as if The Dissociatives doesn’t rock at all—“Somewhere Down the Barrel” is one of the most effective rock tunes I’ve heard all year, exceedingly straight-up happy in its guitar-heavy instrumentation, if not in its lyrics. Ultimately, The Dissociatives lets us off gently and quietly, imploring us to “Sleep well tonight”. I’m sure that’ll be easy enough once I get these damn songs out of my head.