What has particularly struck me with this second album from Holy Holy is the areas they didn’t go, the choices they didn’t make. In essence the decision not to go big, bigger, grand - an option seemingly the obvious next stage after the 2015 debut, When The Storms Would Come.
That album, which sat between the expansion of classic rock of the 1970s and ‘80s and the indie inversions of bands such as Death Cab For Cutie, seemed not just a solid start but an introduction to the horizon-gazing songs to come and the guitar hero-in-waiting.
The promise was elevated by the live shows growing in confidence in the past year or so, teetering on, or over, the edge of inspiring often enough to make even disinterested observers think there’s a turn coming for these blokes. A turn in sound but also reward.
Add to this the fact that Holy Holy, which was a two-man project of singer/songwriter Tim Carroll and guitarist/songwriter Oscar Dawson first time around, now includes permanent members Graham Ritchie on bass, Matt Redlich, very prominent on keyboards, and drummer Ryan Strathie (once of the superb pop band Hungry Kids Of Hungary), and the scope widens considerably.
So it is surprising, and oddly enough both satisfying and a teeny bit disappointing, that Paint doesn’t go the full tilt boogie.
Which isn’t to say it could in any reasonable way be described as muted, even as That Message comes at you more croon than hoon to start the album, and later, December coos and sparkles like the perfect accompaniment to an old school surf movie where graceful arcs are carved.
Paint has big blue skies open to it sonically and emotionally and takes them. Crank this up and there’ll be times when you’re chucking rock god poses in front of a mirror and if you have yourself aviator sunnies I’d recommend digging them out the next time you play Holy Holy in the car, which you will pretend is a convertible.
Shadow, which opens with a gently exploratory tempo and the kind of ‘80s synths that appear frequently through Paint, builds on its guitar mix of fuzzed middle tones and beginning-to-soar solo lines, those keyboards arming up too. And Carroll throws forward vocally, leading us, not just pointing the way.
Darwinism spotlights Dawson’s playing in a thrilling explosion of sound that feels like the climax of a great show, a blurring of lines between Mercury Rev’s euphoric psychedelia and Simple Minds in that heady, brief period between New Gold Dream and (shudder) Don’t You Forget About Me. All this while being wrapped around lyrics chronicling severe personal failings that are anything but glorious.
Then there’s True Lovers which gleefully casts itself for a movie soundtrack: big, thick synths, big gesture guitar solo and Carroll singing up and out, all add up to a sudden desire on any listener’s part to call out “I feel the need, the need for speed”.
Meanwhile Amateurs has guitar and keyboard sounds that practically glisten paired with a rhythm that would totally have disgruntled breakfast club habitues dancing across the desks.
The only thing more ‘80s than these songs would be a Paul Keating rant and a Parramatta premiership. And, bar an Eels title, there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
In fact, that slight disappointment I feel comes down to the grandiose part of my psyche quite enjoying a rock band getting right to the edge of bombast. And Holy Holy have it in them if they so choose.
However, what Carroll and Dawson have done cleverly is left room. Not just room in Paint’s sound, which isn’t as full as it first appears, but room to grow further next time if there is a Steve Lillywhite-equivalent producer to push them
Doesn’t mean they will: that indie inversion thing is not necessarily going to disappear for them. Doesn’t mean they should: control and power-in-reserve are admirable parts of Carroll and Dawson’s work.
But all avenues are open to Holy Holy who are on their way to being exactly the kind of inspiring mainstream band we need.But all avenues are open to Holy Holy.