The Be­gin­ning and the End of Ev­ery­thing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews -

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.

Iain Shed­den

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