Tuesday, March 10, 2015

REVIEW: Dick Diver - Melbourne, Florida

Melbourne, Florida, the third album from Melbourne, Australia's Dick Diver, is their first to be officially released in the United States.  However, they are not unknown here.  They toured last year and their prior work has attracted positive reviews (for example, here).  And I certainly qualify as a fan, as I rated their 2013 LP Calendar Days the top album of the year (link).  It seems that this release could present a challenge for the band, because fans naturally will compare the album to Calendar Days and new listeners will be listening to see whether the band can hit the marks necessary to make it in the crowded US market.  But if the band feels the pressure, it doesn't show.  What they have managed to do here is make an album that still sounds like Dick Diver, but pushes past their previous boundaries in triumphant fashion.

By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Dick Diver is a four-piece consisting of Al McKay (guitar), Rupert Edwards (guitar), Steph Hughes (drums) and Al Monfort (bass); all members write songs and sing.  The name of the band is taken from a character in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night (although I suspect many confronted with the name for the first time assume something ruder).  They play guitar pop with themes that address the lives of young Australians, with poetically-phrased and often acerbic observations about various facets of life, presented in a style sufficiently reminiscent of The Go-Betweens to be endearing but in all ways that matter individual enough to be their own masters.  Their past records include upbeat and somewhat noisy indie rock and  slower paced songs with minimal instrumentation.  In my opinion their forays into rock have been wonderful, as "Calendar Days", "Lime Green Shirt" and "Bondi 98" from their 2013 LP illustrate.  But for me their real sweet spot is crafting the less noisy tunes.  In that space, they show a genius for using space, fewer notes and sparse lyrics to make a perhaps surprisingly big impact emotional impact.  As lyricists, they are ahead of most, but they also seem to know that the melancholy and mundane can be eloquently expressed with a phrase, a few pauses and a guitar strum.

On Melbourne, Florida, the band continues to create the type of songs on which they have made their reputation, but with more sonic range and, at times, even sharper songwriting.  They include rockers "Waste The Alphabet" and "Tearing The Posters Down", to which you can listen below, and wonderfully rich pop tunes such as "Year In Pictures", "Percentage Points" and "Private Number", all of which have a nostalgic '80s feel.  And of course there are those quietly lovely emotional grenades, such as divorce song "Boomer Class" (a current musical obsession of mine which can be streamed below) and "View From A Shakey Ladder".  Working again with producer Mikey Young and secluded in a sheep shearing shed along Apollo Bay, the fine songwriting is accented with piano, steel guitar, saxophone and trumpet.  To my ears this album makes better use of Steph's vocals to complement the male vocalists and as well as a lead, and the performances from all parties are assured.  Lyrically, the foursome still cast a sharp and melancholy glance at the world around them, but the boundaries seem more international and the scope seems to look nostalgically backwards and resignedly forward.

Melbourne, Florida is released today, March 10, by Trouble In Mind Records worldwide, except Australia, New Zealand and Japan, for which the release was handled by the band's home town label, Chapter Music, on March 6.  By now, you should take my word for it, but if you have any doubt about this album, you can stream it here.

Trouble In Mind Records page for album
Chapter Music page for album

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