On their third release, Australia’s Dick Diver up the ante in terms of what indie pop can and should be.
Given their name, one could be easily forgiven thinking Melbourne, Australia’s Dick Diver the exact opposite of what they are. Those more literary-minded, however, will pick up the reference straight away (Dick Diver being one of the main characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night) and get a sense for the music on the group’s latest and first for Trouble in Mind, Melbourne, Florida.
Set against a black and white mosaic, the members of Dick Diver stare out from the album’s cover with an intellectual aloofness that belies the music contained within. Rather than being overly literary or, worse, willfully esoteric, they present a highly enjoyable brand of accessible indie pop indebted to fellow native sons the Go-Betweens and indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo. Given this accessibility, it comes as little surprise their last album, Calendar Days, was nominated for the largest public-voted music award in Australia, the Age’s Music Victoria Awards.
But there’s something beyond general accessibility inherent in the band’s appeal. Capable of crafting achingly lovely sophisti-pop ballads (“Blue Time”) as well as requisite jangle pop (“Waste the Alphabet”), Dick Diver manage to move beyond the indie pop ghetto and into more nuanced territory, augmenting their arrangements with everything from horns to synths to steel guitar. And in this approach to broaden their musical palette and craft a more mature indie pop sound, the members of Dick Diver find themselves able to retain the genre’s more twee elements. Enlivening each track with a greater level of sophistication and complexity in turn helps avoid the genre’s stigma of simplicity and saccharine cutesiness.
Due to the nature of both the music and its land of origin, there are natural comparisons to groups like the Go-Betweens, the Clean, the Bats, and even contemporaries like Twerps. But Dick Diver seek to transcend these overly simplistic comparisons with stylistically diverse compositions like the Kinks-like “Beat Me Up (Talk to a Counselor)” and “Private Number”. The latter would not have sounded out of place on an early Squeeze album with its jaunty piano, start/stop rhythms and singsong melody. When the solo section breaks for a tasteful saxophone solo, Dick Diver displays a sense of maturity and sophistication that helps raise them above their peers, moving beyond mere indie pop and into the realm of something altogether greater.
More so than most operating within the indie framework, their use of horns helps serve the songs. Rather than simply adding an odd trumpet for the novelty factor, theirs are perfectly complimentary arrangements that help flesh out the bones of each song. Where most would stick to mere melody mirroring, here the horns operate in a manner more akin to that of soul music, backing the vocalists without dominating the sound and playing perfectly accented lines that blend rather than distract.
Third track “Leftovers” is perhaps the best example of this approach. Having been built largely on jangly guitars and gently propulsive drums, the horn arrangements take the song to a level lost to most thinking within the somewhat restrictive parameters of the traditional indie pop sound. By incorporating all requisite i elements alongside these more thought-out arrangements, Dick Diver delivers a fairly decisive statement, positioning themselves at the vanguard of indie pop’s current practitioners.
Melbourne, Florida is ultimately the work of a group coming into its own, embracing a more mature sound and one more suited to its literary-minded origins. Fans of exceptional indie pop will do well to spend some time in Melbourne, Florida.