One band that seemed to both be confined by and outstrip the ill-fated "dolewave" genre pigeonhole was South Australia's Old Mate. It may have been in the name; it may have been in the droll drawl that lead Pat Telfer (Bitch Prefect) delivered his sometimes-weary, sometimes-jacked-up lyrics. But just as many of the bands that were tarred with that brush over the last two to three years have moved on by incorporating stranger tics and tricks to their bag, Old Mate's new album It Is What It Is (out through SDZ Records) explodes, its core aesthetic spreading in every direction like the impact of a paintball on a white wall. Don't let the kangaroos boxing on the cover dissuade you from acknowledging that we are entering a whole new world.
'Medicine Man' is a gargantuan jazz blues number - seriously. Sure, it's used and abused and flung in the corner to dry, but the 12 bars, the solos, the howling space, the husky vocals are all present and accounted for. It's a strange opener - it's a strange choice, considering the band's back catalogue - but then nothing should surprise you with these guys (remember the other half of Bitch Prefect is the chameleonic Liam Kenny...). From then on we are taken to one surrealist vignette to the next, in a battered limousine al Carax's bizarrely brilliant Holy Motors film from 2012, with Telfer the ever-present ringmaster of the macabre. 'Requesting Permission' is back on terra firma, a downer jangle with dour vocals a la Brisbane act Dag, with a melancholy that reminds me of the solo work of Neil Young in his early years - really - or that first recipient of the Grant McLennan Fellowship back in 2007, Charles Curse. But this isn't the needle and the damage done. We step up with 'Something', a vocal that sounds like Macka from The Onyas having a go at an acoustic number. It isn't overtly funny though - the tempo, the backing vocals, the 'hey hey hey hey hey heeeey, hey' lending a desperation to proceedings. 'February' is a lament in a netherworld saloon - the Gothic drawl reminiscent of another dormant Aussie act, Nikko - holding that plodding, maudlin beat for its entirety, and drags you down with it.
Then we hit a sonorous contemplation with 'Stressin'', a lysergic percolation of languid rhythms (for some reason Im tracking back to some of those subterranean grooves the Stone Roses often doled out) in what is generally an instrumental track, except for some growled, rolling-around-the-mouth vocals (and yet another video featuring that post-Soviet kid in the nightclub, which really looks like a sequal to the film Orphan); the sax burbles into the fervour underscoring 'Know What He Wants', a fine addition here; 'Him' re-enters the Young orbit, albeit in a warped fashion, offering layered nuance that promises more than it gives, with lyrics that imply never learning from mistakes; and closer 'Truth Boy' evokes another crooked minstrel of the Australian musical landscape, Nathan Roche, although there are no Sydney references in sight, just some Aussie sardonic sneers...
It Is What It Is is a bizarre and inexplicalby attractive record. The title tells it all, thus making this review, or any really, redundant. Old Mate, Telfer, the music - it is what it is. Deal with it - get it here.