Floodlights are a fresh-faced, coed group from Melbourne, Australia who make music that sounds exactly like one might expect from a fresh-faced, coed Australian indie rock group. At one point in indie history, bands might have flinched at being described as “shambolic”. Now, Floodlights proudly proclaim it in their press kit. Their debut album From a View is something of a paradox—a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music. Except for the bassist, they sound like they are not necessarily great at the instruments they play. Whoever was behind the desk, though, must have been an absolute pro.
Immaculate production aside, there is a tradition of this type of music in Australia and New Zealand, and Floodlights are a fine addition to it. From a View offers nothing new; it is a strictly classicist Antipodal indie guitar pop recording. In 2020, it’s not like this kind of music is smothering the airwaves and streaming services, either. In that sense, the album might be viewed as a “breath of fresh air”. The opener, “Water’s Edge”, starts with a pleasing, by-the-book, couldn’t-be-more-earnest guitar arpeggio followed by a gently-sighing blues harp. Louis Parsons comes in with some ultra-earnest vocals in his heavily-accented, world-weary croon. Then the steady beat drops in with some mildly-distorted rhythm guitar. It’s excellent road music, especially for going “in search of something”, whatever that may be. The chorus, featuring backing vocals from co-guitarist Ashlee Kehoe, is rousing, and then the arrangement breaks down to allow the listener a moment to take it all in. Then it’s back to more ultra-earnest, by-the-book indie guitars. For someone of a particular state of mind, it’s cathartic, exhilarating even.
If the catharsis takes place on side one, track one, however, where does one go from there? Floodlights’ answer is to do it all over again. Road trips last longer than four minutes, after all. Nearly all of From a View’s remaining ten tracks are variations on the arrangement established on “Water’s Edge”. Guitar riff intro, vocals, beat, breakdown/instrumental, bring it back. On “Matter of Time”, the introductory riff is in double-time, and the beat is faster and more driving. The start-stop, sing-song chorus recalls early Go-Betweens at their shambolic best and establishes the song as an album highlight.
Tropical Fun” and the horrifically-titled “Don’t Pick That Scratch” are edgier and noisier, with a tinge of anger making its way into Parsons’ voice. Post-John Cale Velvet Underground are probably ground zero for the general type of music Floodlights and countless of their ilk play. “Proud and Well” goes full-in with a droll, Lou Reed-like spoken word bit over classic, scratchy pawnshop guitar.
The most legitimately edgy thing Floodlights do on From a View, however, brazenly swipes the harmonica riff from the Smiths’ “Hand in Glove” for their own “Thanks For Understanding”. Otherwise, the latter song is buoyed by aggregable traded vocals between Parsons and Kehoe.
The spacious, ultra-earnest music on From a View begs for some quasi-literary, incisive, or at least interesting lyrical considerations. In this department, Floodlights fall markedly short of most of their forbearers. The album is full of clichés and tropes, from an imploration to “see how the shoe fits on the other foot” to Parsons’ declarations that he is “an open book” or has “hit a crossroads”. Even the spoken word piece fails to get more pithy or profound than “life’s a lot like dodging cars”.
Floodlights’ breakthrough single “Nullarbor” was an actual self-recorded track about taking a road trip. It is not included on Like a View, an album that sounds more like road music for a package tour.