10 Track, LP (2012, Bedroom Suck)
It’s not often that you get a sense of continuity from a debut record. But for Boomgates – a group that includes Steph Hughes from Dick Diver, Rick Milovanovic from Twerps and Eddy Current Suppression Ring frontman Brendan Huntley – this first LP often feels like more than just familiar sounds.
Rather, it’s a continuation of themes unfinished: a vocal twinge from Hughes and the suburban Australian landscape painted by Dick Diver is recalled; a particularly swooning bass line and Twerps’ summery charm hits; Huntley’s voice cracks and a hint of his restless excitement fronting Eddy Current snaps into focus. Boomgates may be a band in their own right, but they are a band that comes with a prologue, eliciting more the rush of déjà vu than the mundanity of repetition, even when the songs are concerned with the latter.
Domestic distractions, relentless uncertainty and the constant threat of change feature on Double Natural, all via the forever duelling vocals of Hughes and Huntley. It’s a place where nothing is ever complete, every line an exercise in inevitability. For Huntley, he's seeing reliable things fade (“The sign outside your parents’ house said for sale/Now it's sold”), making excuses for his communication failures (“I blame it on my pen with the invisible ink”) and coming to terms with his own fear of commitment (“Not every beginning has an end/but I can't tell.”) Hughes’ feelings aren’t that disparate either, bemoaning the piling up of dishes and praising the stability of bin night before bastardising a turn of phrase with something foreboding like “There’s a storm brewing in my tea.” When Huntley murmurs, “I got stuck in a lift/that went down” as an introduction to ‘Natural Progression’ (with Hughes backing his calls of “It’s just a natural progression … to the end”), you get a pretty good idea of where their minds are at.
Yet the songs never sound anything but optimistic. Probably the most appealing aspect of this album is its constant sense of romance, or more appropriately, a sense of platonic appreciation. The closest it ever gets to requited love is only a hint. “Just when I thought it couldn’t get better/You started being more than just a friend,” Huntley moans on ‘Hanging Rock’, but the band’s persistent presence floods any hint of sultriness with ever-present company. The guitars of Hughes and Teen Archer’s Gus Lord noodle over familiar scales while Milovanovic’s bass plies a swooning charm over Shaun Gionis’ shifting drumming patterns, all working at a sense of joyful distraction. If there’s true romance to be had here, it lies only in two people shooting furtive glances at each other from across a busy room. For the casual observer, there’s too much going on to really take notice.
Double Natural is a record with feeling, one that knows its place and works within it to evoke feelings of nostalgia and familiarity. Hughes is, as ever, taking us far from the inner-city to the edges of urban sprawl, while Huntley is unmistakably himself despite the taming of his ragged edges by pleasant company. Familiarity with these characters, changed or not, is what makes certain moments on this record so special, from the image of Hughes struggling on a kerb with a bin full of last night’s empties on ‘Cartons and Cans’ to Huntley’s dark turn following the key shift in ‘Cows Come Home.’ Indeed, few tracks more ably showcase the interplay of Boomgates, with Hughes’ sweetened questioning (“Where do you go from here? Where do you wanna be?”) leading into the shift that soundtracks Huntley’s grunting dismissal of all her well-meaning prying. “All these things that make me nervous/I guess they’ve gone and served their purpose,” he sings. It says as much of the band’s expectations as what lies on the record.
It may be tempting to dismiss Double Natural on early listens as slotting into the well-worn Australian garage aesthetic: the jangling slacker charm harnessed by the member’s previous bands and their contemporaries (Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Bitch Prefect, Woollen Kits, et al). But isn’t that half the appeal? Boomgates feature common threads to dozens of local acts through their musical inspirations and the very characters that dot themselves throughout the scene.
In that sense, Boomgates are like an end point of the constant game of six degrees of separation that extends across Melbourne music. And yet every song on this album is humble and understated – rare qualities for a band many are intent on labeling a supergroup.
by Max Easton