Melbourne’s Strange Talk are the luckiest strikers around, having survived both a label shift and a name change. Prior to gaining recognition from Australia’s Triple J (a radio station that spotlights emergent acts like The Kite String Tangle and SCHOOLFIGHT) in early 2010, and getting picked up by Neon Gold Records around the same time, the synth-pop four-piece played a few shows and released a couple of remixes as Thieves of Aon. Fast forward to last November, when they visited San Francisco for the third time: they confirmed they discarded the old moniker because it sounded too much like Kings of Leon. Now, Strange Talk’s debut album, Cast Away, is out on Wind-up Records, just in time for the nice weather.
A scene-stealing band, their fun live shows and well-produced recordings illuminate their picturesque music, which is reminiscent of a scenic stretch with breezy beach shacks. Though their self-titled EP was springy, it set the precedent for Cast Away, which is sickeningly sweet in comparison. Lead single “Young Hearts” is the universal centerpiece of the record; the Chainsmokers’ remix illustrates the song’s infectious gang chant.
Other tracks are just as catchy, if not sometimes teetering on cheesy. An ’80s synth hook redeems “Falling in Love” from its sappy, boy-band lyrics. “Another Day” finds DJ and bassist Gerard Sidhu exploring his dance floor sensibilities, which challenge drummer Travis Constable, whose fills and cymbal crashes are amplified in tandem with the percussive synthesizer. The two find a truce at the chorus, where the drum and synth finally synchronize.
Vocalist Stephen Docker contributes his classical violin training to an orchestral string accompaniment on “So So La La”, where Constable’s funk background also shines. The two spin a sad realization (“all these times you been faking”) into a sassy whimsicality (“so so la la / I couldn’t figure out a word you said”). It seems immature, but it’s sort of like a joy epidemic, and the strung-out sophistication of the composition makes up for any ridiculous lyrics. The difference between this and something like Matt & Kim’s “Daylight” and MGMT’s “Kids” is that Strange Talk doesn’t hint at psychedelic influence. They’re just straightforward and happy. This sunshine is most apparent on their self-reported favorite track “Is It Real?” which celebrates the feeling with a youthful vitality. “What if romance was a fraud?” they ask, wide-eyed.
After “Climbing Walls” (which recently received a second music video), the only moment of emotional weakness and Cast Away‘s only ballad occurs. “Come Back Home” reveals Docker’s emotional rock diva side, and also shows guitarist Gillan Gregory channeling his inner Brian May on the dramatic bridge. The band returns full-throttle with “Morning Sun,” which glissandos upward toward a viscous, bass-heavy groove on following track “Wanted (Dead or Alive)”. This final track takes us back several decades, confidently mixing deep techno a la Depeche Mode with retro Jackson-esque pop melodies.
Cast Away, with its throwback sounds, ultimately comes off as an artefact of an earlier age, something more along the lines of Phoenix or The Naked and Famous. (Perhaps it’s because the American release comes a year after its home release.) But the album and its utter lack of unhappy thinking does come just in time for summer, and makes for the perfect fair weather soundtrack. It’s prepared to meet you for some fun at the boardwalk, water wings and a rainbow power kite in tow.
In the meantime, find Cast Away on iTunes now, look out for the “Young Hearts” video due tomorrow on VEVO, and see Strange Talk May 16th at The Rickshaw Stop for POPSCENE with beloved local dance-punk act, The Hundred Days. Kudos to whoever billed them together. It’s going to to a fun night.