10 Track, LP (2012, Rice Is Nice)
Related: Wolfmother, Theredsunband, Good Heavens.
When the first incarnation of Wolfmother disintegrated amid no little acrimony in 2008, it seemed that keyboard/bass player Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett had jumped ship from one of Australian rock’s biggest cash cows. However, as Andrew Stockdale and Wolfmother careered around the world playing to those millions seemingly blinkered to the fact his lumpy new band were clearly without grace or soul, it appeared that those two more discerning musicians had made the right decision. Now they are vindicated even further as – with Sarah Kelly, formerly of theredsunband – they have created a better album than any from Wolfmother.
Initially Kelly’s project, Good Heavens are an attractive blend of her cultivated, patient and confident songwriting and the other two’s advanced understanding of exactly where to place noise and distortion. There are a number of superb moments on Strange Dreams that are filtered majestically through the Velvet Underground/Lou Reed filter. Or perhaps more modern touchstones would be sublime Norwegians Serena Maneesh or the more placid moments from Black Mountain. The album’s title track is very fine indeed in this way – considerably better than the high-octane single ‘It’s Not Easy Being Mean’ – while both ‘Know Your Own Heart’ and its closing reprise have that dark and thudding quality that should make them a formidable prospect when confronted live.
But there is plenty that elevates Strange Dreams above any notion that it’s a stoner or drone album. One is Kelly’s (mostly) deft and soft songwriting touch; another is her voice. Mazzy Star’s influence pops up at various points, with Kelly’s singing just as unobtrusively lovely as Hope Sandoval at her most ghostly. Also preventing the album from slipping entirely into psychedelic territory are the sudden welcome bursts of punk-like energy. ‘Are You Sick?’ has the fast and loose sheen of Elastica or even early Nirvana, while ‘It’s Not Easy Being Mean’ is a juddering call to consciousness after the hazy introduction to the record that is ‘Know Your Own Heart’. This is not an album that stays in one place for long, even if its influences are fairly consistently switching between thinking-man’s rock of both the ’60s and ’90s.
Interestingly, Good Heavens were formed only after Kelly came to label Rice Is Nice with a set of songs in need of a home. The label went about finding musicians who would fit her aesthetic and came up with the ex-Wolfmother pair, who were between projects with The Slew (their band with Kid Koala). So there is a lack of familiarity between Ross and Heskett and Kelly, which gives the album the added exploratory quality that comes from artists working each other out. The energy forged from this is audible and makes for an at times sultry, at times blistering, debut.
Listen to 'Strange Dreams':
by Barnaby Smith