Down Under and down in the mouth, Brisbane's Nite Fields are a certainly a moody bunch, but is that a smile lurking in the gloom?
Why so glum chaps? After all, it isn't every dream pop band out of Brisbane that gets a worldwide release on on L.A.'s uber trendy label Felte just two years after recording their debut single in a shed and releasing it on the infinitesimal Lost Race label (founded by singer Danny Venzin and specializing in "unpopular music from Australia"). Then throw in the facts that the group has recently completed a successful three-month tour and possesses a fan base growing by the day... well, you'd think they'd be downright chipper.
Little chance of that, however, being that Nite Fields have seemingly taken it upon themselves to single-handedly preserve the by now vintage sounds that fueled many a somber Goth shindig and/or midnight java-fueled philosophical chinwag. Of course, at that time those sounds came from early New Order, the Cure, Joy Division and Spacemen 3, and Depersonalisation contains more than passing references to each. There are even echoes of the Smiths ("Like a Drone" sounds like a Meat is Murder outtake with Nick Cave sitting in on vocals). Not a lot of euphoria coming from the founding fathers then, and likewise Depersonalisation has a similarly dour, brooding atmosphere.
As you may have already ascertained from the title, Depersonalisation is a record mainly about dissociation, disconnection and disappointment. Fortunately, the group had both the smarts not to wear out its welcome (Depersonalisation clocks in at a scant 35 minutes) and enough decent songs to reach the finish line. While there's nothing particularly new here, Nite Fields do make a nice job of blending their aforementioned influences into something pleasantly familiar with a powerful audio kick (the record was mixed by Nigel Lee-Yang). It's all a bit like a finding a an '80s vinyl LP your former Goth self had forgotten to open and discovering it actually sounds pretty good a decade and a half into the 21st century.
Like the music over the opening credits of a film, the bleak landscape instrumental "Depersonalised" sets the mood and leads nicely into "Fill the Void", one of the record's standout tracks. Venzin's sleepy but oddly charismatic baritone weaves in and out of the guitar and synth soundscape to nice effect. The upbeat "You I Never Knew" has a catchy guitar riff so unmistakably 1980s that it'll soon have you referring to your iPod as a Walkman. Catchy in its own doom-laden way, this is the album's debut single and deservedly so. The aptly named "Come Down" is an otherwise interesting blend of sounds marred by an irritating percussion effect and the realization that vocally Venzin is pretty much a one-trick pony (though the one trick does work nicely throughout). "Pay For Strangers" is a moody instrumental soundscape that upon first listen sounds vaguely akin to Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" played at half speed. Actually, it's much better than that and one could imagine Venzin eventually getting involved with film soundtracks if he hasn't already.
This is followed by the ominous strains of "Hell Happy", which probably won't be covered by Pharrell Williams anytime soon. The almost poppy "Prescription" ("another fucking love song" as Venzin puts it) is an unexpected delight after three rather gloomy tracks. Featuring another ear-catching guitar figure and one of Venzin's best vocals, it suggests a desert island disc weekend getaway with the Smiths and Wild Nothing. The Smiths-esque "Like a Drone" features a lovely melody, an evocative female vocal counterpart as well as some deliciously sharp chords not heard since "There is a Light That Never Goes Out". Pretty nice bridge too; this is one song on Depersonalisation that ends too soon.
By the time the languid, atmospheric strains of "Winter's Gone" have engulfed your ears, there's a vague sense of having heard it all before, but the mix of echoed guitars, synths and sound effects is still a pretty heady earful. Yet another interesting moodscape, the track features some interesting ambient style guitar work in the vein of Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie along with strangely evocative effect-laden sax playing.
On the group's Facebook page, Nite Fields cites "Michael Hutchence on a rope" as an influence. While that may or may not be true, Depersonalisation is a record that certainly wears more familiar musical influences on its sleeve but also shows the potential for forging a more personalized sound. Let's hope the next offering is INXS of simply a sum of those influences.