DEEP SEA ARCADE
Here’s a tricky proposition, or maybe a set of impossible demands.
How to make rock music that moves without sounding like you have just discovered people can dance? How to make psychedelic music that doesn’t come across as if you’re just perma-stoned or the engineer’s finger got stuck on the phase button? How to not let go of your ‘60s pop roots while giving your ‘90s childhood free reign?
Then there’s how to blend electronic sounds with a guitar band without slipping too far into wholly processed sounds or token squelching in the middle of a mega riff? And how to get all that happening without losing yourself in a sonic sea?
Oh yes, I almost forgot: how to do all that without someone comparing you in some way with Tame Impala, no matter how inaccurate?
Back after an extended absence which, at least to those outside the creative hub of Nic McKenzie (vocals, keys) and Nick Weaver (guitars), looked worryingly like a prelude to a breakup, Deep Sea Arcade bravely – foolishly? – take on these demands.
This is a record where the emphasis, the default setting really, is on a kind of thoughts-unnecessary movement even as the lyrics pick apart personal as well as relationship failings. Not a dance record as such, but certainly one you can shift your body to.
Rhythms lean into dance rather than jump in, holding up space rather than pushing it hard. It’s perfect for people who would rather suck on a glowstick than (and you can hear the disdain as they would say this) “bust some moves”, but can’t help it when their bodies start to act independently.
Even at their slowest, say, Outlaw – a song which suggests more satisfying Noel Gallagher influence than brother Liam could muster on his most recent disappointment – there is no stasis but rather a kind of a mass of bodies gentle waving limbs with upturned faces casting beatific smiles.
Or, on the album’s first highlight, Learning To Fly, where McKenzie’s voice is nearly as light as air and Weaver’s revolving riff intruding on the rising-and-falling keyboards is like an injection of Lindsey Buckingham, the rhythmic curve is outward and freeing.
Even at their fastest, say, Some Of Us – a song which suggests a morning dose of Inspiral Carpets for that bike ride to school – there are shapes being thrown rather than bodies being hurled. Or, with the album’s last burst of sharp elbows, Joanna, the sugary pop trills over a garage-y grinding, make you shake your head distractedly to shuffling feet rather than punching the air.
You might find yourself mid-song thinking I’m dancing to this? Yep, you are.
If the talk of beats suggests lightness, neither the sounds nor the words play in this pool. While something like Some Of Us swings under the psych layers, there are some thick tread drums here, from the dragging backbeat of Close To Me and the stiffer patterns of Make It Real to the heavy fists of Joanna, the latter also offering guitars that come with a similar closed hand hammer.
Weaver’s Suede-like guitar pokes through the soupy atmosphere of the sharp-tongued Downtown Star (as “now that you’re home you’ve got holes in your clothes … kiss my downtown star” - that downtown star being the place also described as one where the sun don’t shine) for something appropriately touched with sleaziness, and breaks out of the disco-rock of Oh Julia before the synths come and retake control.
In fact, this is where the weakness in Deep Sea Arcade’s otherwise admirable bid to retool their approach begins to show itself. There isn’t enough sharpness poking through the thick wall of sound erected by them and producer Eric J - be it guitars, a pronounced snap in the drums, more prominence for McKenzie’s voice, or some thinner, angled sonic element - to focus the ear and mind.
Dancing still happens, some swooning on the cloud of dreaminess is there, and the hooks do catch, but the “everything in” approach begins to blur the songwriting on repeated listens, lessening the impact of songs. We’re not talking failure, if anything it suggests Blacklight might come to be seen as a transitional record, the next album finding the clarity in sound to match the certainty of purpose.