No sooner had Ned Collette established his robust partnership with the backing duo Wirewalker on his third album [Over the Stones, Under the Stars](/releases/2000458)* than the Melbourne songwriter [relocated to Berlin](/news/3804917) in 2010. Two years later, bassist Ben Bourke is absent due to fatherhood duties, leaving Collette and drummer/engineer Joe Talia to work primarily on their own. Recorded in Melbourne and Berlin, *2 doesn’t aim to recapture the apocalypse-minded heaviness of the last album’s full trio, but detours into low-key experimentation and tongue-in-cheek troubadour-isms.
Beyond the temporary reduction in roster – this album was originally going to be credited to Ned Collette + Joe Talia – there are several new elements at play. Collette plays mostly Spanish guitar here, though he takes up bass as needed. And he and Talia pile on synths and drum machines, not so much to mimic a band but to explore the open space around Collette’s songs in a different way. Such a playful approach paints Collette in a lighter mood, whether or not his wandering lyrics support that.
Still, you don’t have to behold the mock European suaveness of the film clip for [?Long You Lie?](/news/4466453) to recognise the single’s saucy funk licks and blurred synth tones as having one foot on the dance floor. It’s got a sense of humour, as proven by those would-be ominous backing intonations, and there’s a silly sweetness to the whole thing that can make one coast over the fraught visions of Collette’s lyrics.
That combination of Collette’s brooding lyrics with his reedy singing and the music’s unlikely funk component makes 2 fascinating, if not always fixating. Pairing folky reflection with looped and layered keyboard melodies, ?How to Change a City? is weirdly cheery and yet not without Collette’s usual philosophical pondering. Airy guitar twang and chintzy synths rule ?For Roberto?, an instrumental tribute to Chilean author Roberto Bola’o that trails a fog of ambience. While guest vocalists include Laura Jean, Biddy Connor, England’s Gemma Ray and Germany’s Mirjam Smejkal and Sascha Gersak, they are merely employed for atmospheric backing.
There’s a fair bit of murkiness here, actually, from the coolly repetitive detachment of ?Stampy? to the simultaneous emotional concern and remove that marks ?The Hedonist?. The intently rhythmic opener ?Il Futuro Fantastico?, meanwhile, doubles and layers Collette’s vocals while exploring a sheen of buzzing synth and combating guitar threads. Melbourne’s Byron Scullin plays saxophone, and the song ends with that instrumental voice couched alongside church bells and other spliced textures.
Again, this doesn’t have the heft of the previous album. It’s more a loose-ended reverie than a brow-furrowed concentration of elements, and more a step to one side than forward. But it’s rewarding in a different way. For example, the closing ?What Lights Have You Seen?? feels in danger of dematerialising as we listen, and yet the album is improved by its inclusion. Besides, with the lack of definition in these arrangements and the lack of answers in Collette’s words, it’s appropriate that 2 should end with a question.