What separates Husky's debut album, Forever So, from the indie folk-pop heap is the group’s focus not only on the songs themselves, but on ambience.
With all the indie folk-pop bands extant today, it can be a challenge not to feel the market has become oversaturated. So many seem content not to contest, or outright play up to, the clichéd trope of the sensitive dude with an acoustic guitar who fashions himself a coffeehouse troubadour. It’s understandable why this pitfall is so often succumbed to, as finding the innovation and originality to avoid it is no easy task. After all, the subgenre itself is fairly limiting in what musicians can do while still fitting into its scope. However, there are those who emerge able to craft their own spin on the form and sidestep the plummet to redundancy, among them being Australian quartet Husky.
What separates the foursome’s (Husky Gawenda, Gideon Press, Evan Tweedie and Luke Collins) debut album, Forever So, from the heap is the group’s focus not only on the songs themselves, but on ambience. Recorded in a makeshift studio behind Gawenda’s rental home, the record carries with it a palpable atmosphere, that of a summer spent in humid, sun-blinding days and cool nights overseen by a full moon. The songs could be divided into two fields, the nocturnal and the diurnal, with the marble cake-like entwining of the realms rendering the album as a whole a twilight feel. Were the rules of grammar to permit the use of this word as a verb, it could be said the album “gloams".
Gawenda’s lyrical concerns don’t venture too far from established hallmarks, primarily focusing on relationship dynamics (whether apparently personal or from an objective narrator point of view), communicated via imagery of the natural world. Musically, though, Husky has mastered something special, most of the record’s 13 songs seamlessly weaving melodies or abruptly shifting time signatures as though disparate songs had been stitched together. Just when a tune runs the risk of turning into acoustic-by-numbers-Nick-Drake-aping, unforeseen instrumentation and rhythms emerge, pulling the listener from complacency.
Opener “Tidal Wave”, with its sparse piano notes, guitar strums and vocal harmonies, arrives with the charm of an afternoon hammock sway. Some banjo plucking and distant-sounding drums come to prominence before you’re sideswiped by the funky, swaggering breakdown. It’s an all too brief deviation, but it gets your attention and prepares you for similar left-field pitches that pop up throughout the record. The first song to hook you from the outset is second track, “Fake Moustache”, a psychedelic pop tune defined by a cowbell thud and fluttering guitar lines in the verses. Come the chorus, a hallucinatory swirl arrives, sweeping Gawenda’s breathy vocals along (the fact his voice is mixed much on the same level as the instruments yields much to this vertigo sensation). The surreal imagery of the lackadaisical verses (“My head’s a lion / My heart is a butterfly”) contrasts with the fatalism of the chorus (“I wasn’t built for this world / I’m slipping”), imbuing the song with the mysterious quality that runs throughout the album.
“History’s Door”, which won the group an Australian radio show contest for the country’s greatest unsigned band, evokes the feeling of facing the sun, soaking in its rays and turning your back on the darkness behind you. “Find your hope, forget your home / Heed that feeling in your bones / For your heart knows you’ll never win / Until you’re free from him," Gawenda sings amidst Collins’ galloping drums, which suitably convey the urgency of resolve he’s expressing. On the haunted forest tale “The Woods”, Gawenda’s vocals creep into Thom Yorke territory in their overstraining, the piano melody itself sharing some similarities with Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)”, albeit in a much sped up form. That said, the song has a foreboding feel, sweeping in its ethereality and conjuring visions of owls, raccoons and wolves watching you from the shadowed growth. It sets the mood of a stroll through some woodland, trying to find your way out before the sun sets, lest you wind up trapped in some fairytale bound to end grimly.
The two highlights of the record, though, are “Dark Sea” and “Animals & Freaks”. The former is the most evocative, starting with Gawenda’s falsetto and some chugging acoustic guitar before segueing into a nearly anthemic chorus, the melody roiling like the sea in the title. The latter track showcases the band’s Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen influences. A story song describing, ambiguously, how a femme fatale left the aged narrator’s life asunder, it is ominous in the most understated fashion. Press’s light piano twinkling, the background cooing, Gawenda’s impressionistic and hard to decipher lyrics all compound to deliver the menacing recollection, much like Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”. “One day I woke to see her leave / She had an eagle on her sleeve / The last I heard she took the bird to catch snakes in Mexico," Gawenda states in a muted hush before referencing Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” in the chorus: “There was something going on that night / But I don’t know what it was."
Unfortunately, the album loses some steam near the halfway mark. The first half is so completely stacked with the best songs that the second half’s efforts are lackluster in comparison. Some altered sequencing could have alleviated this slight. Still, it’s hard to believe Forever So is the first album of a band that only formed in 2008. The foursome’s dedication to songcraft and atmospherics resound through the record, qualities that should mark them as a group worthy of being the wheat among the chaff.