The Beginning and the End of Everything
Josh Pyke Ivy League ★★★★✩
Even the Stars are a Mess
Whitley Dew Process/UMA ★★★★ THE title of Josh Pyke’s fourth album has some resonance with fellow Australian singersongwriter Whitley’s work. Both men arrived at their new albums after a crisis, although for Lawrence Greenwood, owner of the Whitley moniker, that meant quitting the music business and running off to South America to find himself. In that context Pyke’s temporary writer’s block during the making of his previous album Only Sparrows seems like no more than a bad cold. The positives to come out of these dilemmas is that Sydney’s Pyke and Melbourne’s Whitley have returned fired up with collections of songs that, while different stylistically (although not greatly different), are imbued with tremendous spirit, vitality and melodic invention. Pyke’s album opens with a wash of Beach Boys-style harmonies underpinned by acoustic guitar on the ballad Bug Eyed Beauty. Pyke’s output is traditionally wordy (think Middle of the Hill) and that’s so on the title track, a celebratory pop anthem where lines such as ‘‘ you’re the only song I ever want to sing’’ intertwine with the titleled chorus. The following Leeward Side is even more buoyant, a fast-paced strum in which Pyke pushes himself vocally to lift the verses and the chorus into singalong territory. Feet of Clay and Horse’s Head are equally infectious, hook-laden confections. There’s contrast in stripped-back acoustic tracks Haunt Your Love and the banjodriven Warm in Winter. Pyke’s lifelong friend Holly Throsby adds a further dimension on the song she co-wrote, All the Very Best of Us, an ethereal-sounding ballad in which the two voices boast an easy chemistry. Overall there’s a warmth, skill and familiarity in Pyke’s songcraft here that makes The Beginning and the End of Everything his best album so far. That’s an accolade he can share with Whitley. Even the Stars are a Mess is the Melbourne songwriter’s greatest moment, following on from the wellreceived The Submarine (2007) and Go Forth, Find Mammoth (2009). It’s a beautifully structured collection of songs, where a slightly skewed ambience meets dark introspection. The opening The Ballad of Terence McKenna (a reference to the American writer and psychedelic drugs adventurer) gives some clue to one of the ways Whitley went in search of self, but it is also testament to the power and emotional depth of the singer’s voice. The following TV is one of many songs to feature the 1950s organ Whitley took on his travels after leaving Australia in 2010. It drives a sinister glam-pop song contrasted with Whitley’s plaintive, stark chorus: ‘‘ I get my friends from the TV / I get my sex from the TV / I bury my heart with the TV’’. My Heart is Not a Machine is an ambient ode to love and longing, while Final Words lifts a sombre tale to the skies on a bed of delicious harmonies. All of Whitley’s structures here are fragile, beautiful, ambient and glorious. For someone who said he’d had enough of the music industry, it’s a strikingly confident comeback.