Record Reviews

On Second Thought

Melbourne trio Sandpit made their reputation with an exceptional debut LP, released in 1998 through Fellaheen. A new reissue showcases its unorthodox guitar tunings, melodic invention and lyrical self-loathing, writes AARON CURRAN.

Hailing from Melbourne in the mid-1990s, Sandpit’s reputation as a recording act rests on two well-regarded EPs and one exceptional LP, 1998?s On Second Thought. Out of print for more than a decade, the album was reissued late in 2013, including its debut run on vinyl.

Sandpit were a trio fronted by songwriter Brendan Webb on fey vocals and Fender guitars, alongside Stephanie Ashworth on bass – though she was soon to depart to join a nascent Something for Kate – while producer Greg Wales had also taken over the drum stool by the time he recorded On Second Thought.

On the cover, a beautiful woman with dark hair stares groundward, avoiding every gaze. Out of focus behind her, an unidentifiable man is a stationary blur of gold lam? jacket, white shirt, cowboy buckle and silver jeans, propped against a scarlet curtain. The cover stars look more striking LP-sized than they ever did on CD. Time lends weight to the distance between them.

The same could be said for the disintegrating band that recorded this album, and the (autobiographical?) characters in these songs of internecine heartbreak. Self-loathing and wounded pride feature prominently, the listener put in the furtive position of eavesdropper, of diary reader.

?The crafted simplicity of the sound is striking – intimacy is established musically and lyrically.?

Spare percussion and brittle bass skip across On Second Thought in taut, precise rhythms, forming a sturdy frame for Webb’s unorthodox guitar tunings, winsome voice and revealing lyrics. The crafted simplicity of the sound is striking: the unadulterated production and spacious arrangements give focus to the (mostly) pedal-free guitars and unfussy amplification. That, apart from infrequent e-bow, melodica and violin textures, is all you’ll hear. Intimacy is established musically and lyrically, to direct and affecting result.

On opener and single ?Along the Moors? the sound is bone-dry, the band unwinding this knotty confession with the unsettled precision of a jilted lover divining symptoms of betrayal across a sequence of memories: ?Just for your records, it’s not your fault that I’m not all there. Yet nor are you true. Is it true? It’s doing my head in.?

Webb continues to sing of ?insecurity and vulnerability? on the stately-strummed and reflective ?Metamorphosis?, until a late shift stirs the tempo and volume to set the song roiling like wind on water before a hushed retreat. ?I Positively Hate You Now? is less certain of itself than its title suggests, as vulnerable affirmations coalesce into a skittering mantra of disdain and then peter out to a gradually-slowing close, as if someone had turned the power on the turntable off.

?Back in the ?90s every other review of Sandpit referenced Sonic Youth.?

?Walk in a Straight Line? alternates between faltering nerves and overconfidence, between self-pity and anger, illustrated by shifts in the band’s dynamic as well as the lyrics. ?Whole Again? is endlessly replayable, perhaps the best track here, with an exquisite instrumental coda that is the aural equivalent of the golden photograph on this album’s back cover, where a solitary figure walks along the shoreline of a deserted beach during sunset’s magic hour.

Back in the ?90s every other review of Sandpit referenced Sonic Youth. The comparison is still apt – they’re the only band mentioned in the marketing blurb stuck to this reissue’s shrink-wrap – and there is an obvious debt paid on tracks like ?Helicopters?, ?D.I./Inferno? and ?Crepe Paper Fortress?, as well as their mutual commitment to alternate tunings. But Sandpit show more restraint and melodic invention than much of the US band’s catalogue.

There are upbeat moments here, like the frenzied pop of ?Greater Expectations? or the introverted yet insistent ?Hold Yr Horses?, with its memorable chorus of ?You want to know, you really want to know?? and a singer sounding more driven by the moment. But all the surreptitiously-revealed scars and intimate intensities accumulate to instead position this album as a noisier cousin to contemporaneous break-up classics like The Boatman’s Call* and *Either/Or*, two records released within a year of *On Second Thought.

This humble Australian indie classic could stand proudly alongside those in terms of quality, consistency, atmosphere and thematic concerns. If only ?proudly? wasn’t so inappropriate a word for an unassuming work that wears its damaged heart so visibly.


####The ?On Second Thought? reissue is out [now]( digitally and on limited 180g vinyl through Microphone & Loudspeaker.