The second full-length has to be one of the more pressured releases from the perspective of the artist. After establishing a structured tone with an initial LP, the focal point then becomes to what extent the musician(s) adhere to said tone. You can play it too safe and hear the cries from critics on lack of expansion or you can change too much at once and isolate portions of your fan base; it’s all about balance. New South Wales duo Hockey Dad have found a solid balance with their sophomore LP, ‘Blend Inn’, building off the influences that moulded their first album.
2016’s ‘Boronia’ put the Aussies on the map, a well-honed offering of surf rock with hints of indie pop and post-punk, but it only showcases a slimmer of vocalist/guitarist Zach Stephenson and drummer Billy Fleming’s talents.
For the latest release, the longtime friends took to Seattle to record at Robert Lang Studios, the structure seen on the artwork as well as the site of Nirvana’s last known recording session. The location seems rather fitting, considering just how ‘Blend Inn’ turned out. There are moments evocative of everything from 1960s pop rock to modern post-punk revival, but the overarching tone is about as 90s as inline skating and Animaniacs.
The first single, ‘Homely Feeling’, enters on a darker note than any previous Hockey Dad song, mimicking the brooding intensity of Seattle’s effervescent, punk-leaning grunge scene. Stephenson channels early Cobain (think ‘Blew’, ‘Love Buzz’) to pen a repetitive chorus wrapped in nearly identical verses. ‘I Wanna Be Everybody’, the second offering from the album, lifts the intro straight from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, towing the line between inspiration and infringement. If it weren’t for the nasally rasp of Stephenson and tonal build, it may be difficult to distinguish this song as its own entity.
Lyrically, it’s one of the more endearing efforts touching on the all too well-known trope that life would be better in anyone else’s shoes. The simplistic, angsty concept is flipped on its head with a vulnerable moment of appreciation for bandmate Fleming in the last verse, “Thank god I’ve got a friend to share with/Must be fate there ain’t no way to have planned this.” It’s touching to see the passion these two share for their friendship and musicianship.
Tracks like the opener, ‘My Stride’, and ‘Disappoint Me’ carry the kinetic grit of post-punk into blistering hooks, a sound reminiscent of contemporary indie artist Catfish and the Bottlemen. If you can make it through these scorching pieces without an urge to purchase a convertible and/or pair of Aviators, have another listen.
If chasing the swell or shredding asphalt is more your niche, Hockey Dad is amply equipped to suit your needs. ‘Running Out’ and ‘Stalker’ are face-melting, beautifully-distorted messes of garage punk, suitable to serve as the soundtrack to wipeouts and scraped knees worldwide.
In truth, the influence of a plethora of subgenres does little to deter the notion that Hockey Dad is a surf rock band at heart. While there are elements of indie pop (‘Join the Club’), shoegaze (‘Eggshells’) and Australian rock from the 80s (‘Sweet Release’ in which Fleming provides lead vocals), these are styles that were all birthed with surf rock. Lo-fi, grunge, garage, indie and a plethora of other genres can trace at least some parts of their sonic structure back to Dick Dale and the “wet” guitars that enticed the masses in 1960s Southern California.
‘Whatever’, a sun-soaked ballad, is a prime example. Even though the hazy, low-fidelity contribution could easily be mistaken for 60s pop-rock, there’s something about the psychedelic rhythm that mirrors the texture of the ocean and sticks in your mind like sand on wet feet. The group could’ve escaped the mold of surf rock, but instead further embody the genre and its reach with each release.
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The sole gripe one many have with this addition to the Aussies’ body of work is lyrical substance. The content grows beyond the pining for girls trope of ‘Boronia’ (not that it’s gone, ask ‘Danny’), yet it feels like there’s something missing. Most songs felt rushed as if they were written near a deadline or in a short period of time. The concept of ‘Blend Inn’ is the anxieties and uneasiness of being away from home, a noble idea but one executed in a lackluster manner.
All in all, the 90s-centric sophomore release makes for an enjoyable listen. It exhibits the reach of the New South Wales duo and their talents, but to really believe the emotion behind the songs there has to be a bit more in the semantics.
- My Stride
- Homely Feeling
- I Wanna Be Everybody
- Join the Club
- Disappoint Me
- Running Out
- Where I Came From
- Sweet Release
‘Blend Inn’ is out now via Kanine Records, catch Hockey Dad on their supporting tour in March