Scott & Charlene’s Wedding. No, not the fairy-tale wedding from TV’s Neighbours that you’ll find on google. Craig Dermody’s alternative Oz-rock act, whose name neatly captures their observational, pop-culture-conscious outlook. Part of that growing wave of Australian ‘Suburb Rock’ that Courtney Barnett’s success is bringing to attention, the band have returned to their native Melbourne to cut their fourth full-length release after a globe-spanning tour and a stint in New York. Worn down from their travels, with a fresh injection of big city cynicism.
‘Mid Thirties Single Scene’ is an album that’s perfectly named. Stuck in a life-leeching job, romantically disillusioned and saddled with a fledgling mid-life crisis; that’s what this album sounds like. Dermody’s conversational lyrics, always his strongest suit, are the same witty snapshots of everyday life they’ve always been. Only now they’ve been slow-cooked in a bittersweet sauce of world-weary disappointment. ‘Am I happy yet? Let’s just get on with it!’ Dermody cries on sixth track ‘Bush’. Other lyrical highlights include ‘Scrambled Eggs’ where Dermody reminisces on a long-lost romance, and compares those heady days to a present where his crowning achievement is his ‘immaculate’ scrambled eggs. Bitter, banal, but putting on a brave face, Dermody’s observations should ring true with anyone stuck in the same rut.
Musically, ‘Mid Thirties’ is little different from the band’s previous outings. The Velvet Underground are still their guiding star, with lo-fi production, jangly guitars and the occasional fuzzy solo. The loose, band-in-a-garage aesthetic suits the album’s theme – it’s the sound of teenage rockers, but with some of that young-punk energy fallen to an exhausted grunginess. ‘End Of The Story’ plods drearily along like the early-morning commute, with Talking Heads-style background noises giving it a constructed chaotic edge. ‘Don’t Bother Me’ echoes the old-school 70s rock of The Only Ones, whilst arm-waving nostalgic daydream ‘Hardest Years’ could be a distant distorted cousin to The Mountain Goats, especially with soul-stirring addition of a soaring church organ.
Dermody’s irritated-pedestrian vocals lie between Barnett’s semi-spoken deadpan and the breathless snarls of Wil Wagner, of fellow Melburnians The Smith Street Band. He makes little attempt to hide his Australian twang, and doesn’t let petty details like singing in tune get in the way of his impassioned delivery. Credit to him, he makes this off-key rambling work. It’s hard to imagine another voice tackling Dermody’s freeform confessional rants.
But for all the pessimism of its subject matter, ‘Mid Thirties’ is an oddly life-affirming release. It’s not melancholy so much as reflective. An ode to a time in your life when you’re forced to re-examine your expectations, and SCW capture that feeling with enviable ease. If you’re a Courtney Barnett fan, ‘Mid Thirties’ can tide you over whilst you wait for new music. But if you’re single and dissatisfied with your post-twenties experience, this album might just be everything you’ve been desperately trying to express.
‘Mid Thirties Single Scene’ is available now on Fire Records.