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Thursday, 2 October 2014 |
An aching return from the treasured group. Flawed but not condemned, the wait may well have never ended.
For a time, there seemed nothing that could hold back.the rise of Augie March. Lead by the talented but foreboding front man Glenn Richards with a gathering of fellow escapees from Shepparton in central Victoria, a common aura would bind them in the early years after first playing in 1995. The knowing but bright litter of songs would enter the consciousness of many a soul around Melbourne’s inner North until in the year 2000, debut album Sunset Studies was born.
There was a curious darkness to the lowered gaze that seemed to haunt the band both on stage and in the studio. Coarse but intent, the mood wasn’t wasted. Acclaim would be lavish but so cruelly sparing, as is the lay of the land. Through 2002’s Strange Bird, the slow burn smouldered until a quite miraculous spike as 2006 single “One Crowded Hour” took wind and fell in the door on top of the pile of that year’s Triple J Hottest 100. Third album, Moo, You Bloody Choir would rise even further on the back of the single’s success.
A bump in the road was inevitable and 2008 follow up Watch Me Disappear wasn’t ominous in name only. Saved from gathering dust only by the title track, a hiatus grew nigh. Weary but not expended, hardly a peep from the Augie March camp would be heard for five years.
Now in 2014, scraped from what might have been doomed to heritage, we’re livened with a new offering. Patched together remotely as Richards cowered away in suburban Hobart, the traces of strained ties are ever strong. Havens Dumb, while so anxiously anticipated, leads off with the sort of meandering misery that should have been cast aside at the first exchange. With Richards in isolation, wiring back and forth with the other band members in Melbourne, negotiating the trial and error and trial again pleasantries afforded them, the long way round seems to have picked up little joy along the way.
“AWOL” is a lifeless opener, devoid of the depth and mystery granted by earlier outings. Nowhere are the intricate melodies traded between Richards and fellow guitarist Adam Donovan, space given only to a relentless, docile barrage of chords that does little calm the needy as Richards’ vocals
“After The Crack Up”, though a first single drawn, is mournfully forgettable. While the only notable outing for Kiernan Box’s keys throughout, Richards’ lyrics, be they worthwhile or not, are lost in a wash of sickly harmonies. Fortunes fall further from hope as “Bastard Time” throws borrowed strings across puzzling, grief-riddled lyrics that fail to even engage and only repel the curious ear.
By the midpoint of the album, only a vacant furrow has been glimpsed. However, welcome and relieving change of gears is presented in the form of “Father Jack and Mr. T”. Charming and genial, there’s a fluttering hark to the stationed links and phrases that drew such love for Richards’ pen. Through the gentle, spatial strums of an acoustic guitar are gently lifted and the relationships left behind become storied – suddenly, all is forgiven. The reality of the rhyme leads to “nobody’s free, brother lock and sister key” sings the line amid the gorgeous, measured surrounds. A gem uncovered.
Limping on, the relapse is all too soon before “Definitive History” rises again. Well crafted, but dense, producer Paul McKercher may have pulled the reigns tightly on this one as the flighty vocals shine over an ivory driven melody. Richards again, pensive in his line of thought, as has been the strength throughout the journey. Seeing the big brown land from his cynical but attentive vantage point holds strong resonance with both the listener and the Augie March cause.
Again dipping below the clouds, a sadly recurring theme to Havens Dumb, there’s a twinkling spark. “Millenarian’s Mirror” shimmers to life, swaying through the layers of deft guitars and Richards’ warming tones. The distant steel slide gives flight to a soaring chorus of dreamy voices. Matchless timing and a listener left pondering why it took so long… a late peak indeed.
Lazing through “Sailing To The Moon”, “Never Been Sad” warbles in and out of existence through a mellow mix of keys, strings as Richards’ lilting presence looms over. A tense listen fades into the distance before “The Crime” warms into a scene truly missed throughout.
It is not without misfortune or consequence, the greatest pleasure taken from the brushes of drummer David Williams are spread across the album’s finale. A bar room ballad, reeking of worn timber floors and long spilled ale that collapses at the feet of the listener lends grace and purpose to an otherwise painfully slow train.
All alive and considered there is much owing. The silent years have seemingly done little to calm the glares in the room. The dictator will always prevail where there is a flickering common desire to toe the line. A legacy this strong has its roots in time honoured method, not something to be ignored. While accounts of internal resentment and bitterness will only add to any rumoured ructions, Augie March are stronger together than apart. Indeed, so are many fortunate to feel kinship to their wares. This much beckoned homecoming is under sufferance for all concerned.
Key Track : Father Jack and Mr T
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