AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS
Comfort To Me (Virgin)
Well, didn’t see this coming.
That Amyl And The Sniffers are contagious in their energy and propulsion is not surprising. Built as a live band, rather than performance coming as an afterthought – and, crucially, able to reflect that on tape - they know how to use pace, force and dynamics, and back it up with the excitement of people letting loose.
Album number two from the Melbourne quartet is a direct injection into your veins of chemist-grade chemicals that will have you flinging yourself about with nary a thought for the danger you pose to passing ships, family and even socially-distanced people on your morning walk/run/rampage. This, in case it wasn’t clear, is a bloody good thing.
Equal parts the forever-onward rhythm section of Bryce Wilson and Gus Romer and the duelling front “voices” of Dec Martens’ guitars and none-more-compelling singer Amy Taylor, it’s a record that starts just short of full tilt and dings that bell on and off for a sniff under 35 minutes. A record where even the slowest song of the 13, Knifey – which, incidentally, is also the second longest at 3 minutes 31 – seems relentlessly on the march. And then is immediately pursued into the middle of next week by the fastest song on the record, Don’t Need A Cunt (Like You To Love Me), which, incidentally, is the shortest song on the record at 1 minute 31.
Nor is it that much of a shock that their writing and arrangements reflect a growing sophistication that isn’t about more complexity necessarily – though it’s there, and more about that soon. After all, playing more, writing more and, well, knowing more, should show up in your work. Unless you’re the Chainsmokers.
While their debut was a lot more than just a punked-up re-run of old-school bovver boys with Lobby Loyde dreams, Comfort To Me is as confident and moving freely when they’re a Nuggets-era garage rock group, a fast metal bunch about to play a tricky solo behind the head, and, in the pinned eyeballs Choices, an Oi! band who aren’t here for any pussy soloing or guitar wankery.
The choppy swing of Hertz pitches them between sped up desert rock and (via Romer’s rapid groove bassline), punk funkers, Fishbone, while Freaks To The Front would have blitzed them at a Hard Ons gig back in the paleolithic age/my teens, and Laughing is a heads-down quick grind while Don’t Fence Me In imagines early AC/DC smashing it up with the Dead Kennedys.
In other words, a decent dose of get that up ya, for sure, to establish their ground, but also a nice bit of check this out, it’s cool isn’t it?, to invite a few more people in. That’s just smart as well as exciting. What’s more, Taylor’s singing does allow for some nuance, or at least some shading, that sees her more than belting you in the face.
That said, it is Taylor where the real surprises come on this album. Not her vocals, which remain on the instinctive side of things, but her lyrics. You know, the stuff some people can’t get to because they’re caught up with the delivery, or don’t bother with because they they’ve seen the haircuts and assume it’s all shouty expletives and mullet connections.
On the band’s debut she was often sharply funny as well as pointedly biting: her anger sometimes edged with derision, sometimes with disgust; her humour self-aware but not self-basting. What she wasn’t, really, was particularly exposed, emotionally and intellectually. Well, that’s changed.
While Taylor briskly smacks down controllers, whether they be small-minded (“Not in your scene/That shit’s limiting/I like elements of everyone and everything”) or small-appendaged (“I’m a businesswoman, run my own company/I don’t need to kiss arse, my success speaks for me/You can do you, but you do it measly”), here are songs where opening up to someone – opening up to missing someone as well – can come out as comfortably to her as shutting down dickheads, and she can say “I’m drowning in ya”, and we know she means it because “I said what I felt and I said it with intention”.
This is a record where she bluntly explains in one song that all choices are hers (“My voice is my own/My life is my own/I own it … You’re disrespecting me with your opinion/The choices you make a limiting”) and just as easily say in another that there is a place for sharing the load with someone (“Wish I could love me for all of my flaws/Like I love you for all yours/I’m grabbing your hand in the darkness… Thank you for carrying all of my weight”).
A record too where she addresses the “basic politics” of being sexualised by others and then fielding complaints when she exploits it herself, in the same song as she wonders if she is really growing her consciousness in a bushfire-dotted homeland where “the farmers hope for rain while the landscape torches”, all as she confronts Indigenous disdain for government good intentions, before ending with a couplet you won’t find in any AC/DC song: “Disdain and excitement dually, the illusion can be fleeting/I love feeling drunk on the illusion of meaning.”
Perhaps most daring of all though, is Taylor happy to go from blunt (“Don’t fucking touch me/coz I’m in a rage”) to suggestive (“I tell you time is not linear/Especially when we are here in this car/Your hand in my hair, my hand in your hand”), from visceral (“I’m a sick demented monster with my hands around your throat/My knees inside of your guts”) to evocative (“Verandah and the hot tar/Gyprock and gum trees/45 degrees in the drought/There were snakes in the grass when the storm’s rolling in”).
That’s pretty alright isn’t it? And all this while you’re throwing your body around to Taylor and the blokes punching out some rock ‘n’ roll business. Gets you high and low.