Modern Giant: Satellite Nights

Jason MacNeil

Aussie popsters use some spoken word pieces to form a well-rounded record recalling The Smiths and any Down Under band worth their salt.

Modern Giant

Satellite Nights

Label: Popboomerang
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Australian Adam Gibson is an integral part of Modern Giant, but if for some sad or tragic reason the band fell apart, he would probably still do quite well, thank you very much. Gibson is a writer at heart, having made the shortlist for the Australian/Vogel Award for his debut novel manuscript. Modern Giant might be seen as Gibson's way to get more of his prose to a greater audience. Yet the songs themselves deal with life as he has experienced in Sydney. "We revere all these stories and images from overseas but I've felt that a specifically local perspective and local ideas haven't really, in a lot of ways, been given their due", Gibson says in the press kit. After one listen to this delicious pop album, if they haven't earned your "due," please shake your head or at least re-evaluate your record/CD/cassette/8-track collection.

Modern Giant's approach to songs contains no flashy guitars, no punishing solos and no smoke and mirrors. Instead, they let Gibson pave the way with tender, precious lines that bring to mind his forefathers like Go-Betweens and the Finn Brothers. Just listening to the first track, "I'm Not Broken", makes you realize they've probably listened to a lot of American pop and knew from the start they could do much better. The roots-y nature to the song is fantastic, letting the melody take hold before deftly adding some electric guitars during the chorus courtesy of Andy Meehan and Gynia Favot. A hint of the Smiths' signature jangle can also be recognized somewhat in the bridge. Perhaps the genius of the effort is it leaves as effortlessly as it enters. "Hell Is Other People" raises the bar in terms of tempo and intensity, rambling through the verses before drummer Simon Gibson fleshes out the 4/4 beat. It's nothing particularly special, but given the sludge out there now, it's a memorable run-of-the-mill pop nugget with Gibson and Favot harmonizing on the homestretch.

One of the quirkier numbers has to be "The Band's Broken Up", which immediately makes you think of the Streets as Gibson speaks his way through the mid-tempo melody. Gibson mentions bands that no doubt have some influence on him -- Midnight Oil, the Hummingbirds (whose lead singer Simon Hughes produced this record,) and the Clash are all name-dropped. Instantly infectious despite its odd presentation, the song is one of those you'll repeat just before it's over to truly appreciate it. It seems a highlight given how average or mediocre the ensuing "If I Close My Eyes" feels with Pavot on lead for the majority of the number. The nadir, though, is "San Sebastian", the album's equivalent of letting the air out of the balloon -- it's good for the first verse but slowly runs out of gas and falls flat. A group like Language of Flowers might have some success with this effort.

As with any good album, the group often gets back to basics with what they do best, and Modern Giant are no different with the stream-of-consciousness gem "Heartbeat", which has Gibson supported by waves finally hitting sandy beaches or a rugged shore and a tick-tick-tick tempo that flows extremely well. It's the type of song you hope might build into something larger but not so much as to screw up the whole thing. Modern Giant opt for the former, keeping it bare-bones and letting the end result be surprisingly strong, resembling an early demo-like arrangement the Edge might fool around with. Just when you think it's over, though, they add another lengthy portion that resembles Texas-meets-Elastica as Pavot seizes the lead vocals. "The best is yet to come", she sings, but you might have a hard time believing it as this song is the watershed moment.

After that, everything comes up daisies, roses, whatever bloody fragrant flower you can think of. "Keep On Movin'" is a punchy little ditty that would put any homemade mix CD (oops, did I say that, sorry, I never do that!) off on the right foot. Another nugget is the moody "Tie One On" that has a galloping tone to it while "I Thought That You Were Somebody Else" had to have fallen off the New Pornographers second album.


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