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The Antagonist (Kasumuen Records)

Thanks to the HRB National Drugs Library I can share these definitions.

Agonist: A chemical substance that binds to and activates certain receptors on cells, causing a biological response. Oxycodone, morphine, heroin, fentanyl, methadone, and endorphins are all examples of opioid receptor agonists. Antagonist: A chemical substance that binds to and blocks the activation of certain receptors on cells, preventing a biological response. Naloxone is an example of an opioid receptor antagonist.”

To which I can add my own, spawn from a misreading of this album’s title that at first made no sense but now seems wholly appropriate. Anagonist: a chemical engagement where on encountering the music of Sand Pebbles the effect is like partaking of certain drugs, be they hallucinatory, narcoticised, mellow, spiky or loved up.

It’s been a while – seven years give or take, the world nearly ending (or feeling like it might just) in that time, since their sixth album, Pleasure Maps – and while some things have changed, this has not. Sand Pebbles make psychedelic rock in ways that extend the term beyond the obvious sonic, lyrical or musical touchstones, concentrating instead on the tone.

So the circular pulse over which drums sometimes fall over and scatter, dry backing vocals (and even drier bassline) and snaking guitar that seems to evolve from basic synthesisers before our ears, of Elemental Thing is as mind-altering as Self Talk’s dark Velvet Underground sinuosity and quasi harpsichord jauntiness clashing – or merging, or both – over woodwind/melodica.

Likewise the hypnotic narcotic undertow of Russian Ending, where Luna’s Britta Phillips duets with Andrew Tanner and its surface chimes and swirls swim against the tide, is as fluidly enticing as Field Of The Lord, which locks into a chugging train rhythm that seems destined to carry a payload of permanently delayed completion, but then is overlayed with an almost soul brassiness that practically demands you dance, even if you aren’t sure where to put your feet next.

If the album’s opener, Sometimes A Great Notion, feels more direct and clear-eyed, briskly propelled and guitar duelling with keys, it keeps diverting like a beast charging forward constantly catching a glimpse of something in its peripheral vision: coming, wait a minute, coming, hold on, whoa, what?

Similarly, while the album’s closer, the open upper deck travelling Barry Michael Takes A Train, suggests Primary-era Cure doing a sunny day retake complete with a carnivalesque ‘60s organ, there is enough haziness within it to blur the vision.

And if you can put on the spry Sweet Tenderloin (an almost comic tale of scoring some black tar downtown) and not feel the need to match its Maynard G Krebs-on-bongos dance with loose limbs and even looser spirit, well, you’re a stronger human than me.

Properly psychedelic then, without enhancements – a contactless high. Is there a word for that? Feel free to use anagonist, it might just catch on.

If you’re in Melbourne, Sand Pebbles launch The Antagonist at Northcote Social Club on November 7.


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