Album of the Day: Methyl Ethel, “Triage”

Psych-pop bandleader Jake Webb returned to the hallowed ground of his bedroom studio for Methyl Ethel’s new album Triage, a stark, one-man effort that marks the band’s third official full-length. Last time around, the Perth band’s art rock experiments were infused with the polished grooves and distinguished, L.A. cool of dance music guru and producer James Ford (whose clients include Arctic Monkeys, Mark Ronson, Foals, and techno alchemist Kevin Saunderson); he also produced and engineered Methyl Ethel’s breakout record, 2017’s Everything Is Forgotten. With these songs, Webb takes notes from Ford’s aesthetic on Triage while forging his own path toward funky, unconventional pop.

Though Methyl Ethel’s grooves here are the tightest they’ve ever been, the lyrics still skew vague, prioritizing abstract streams of consciousness over traditional narration. “I was alone again, couldn’t see it all,” Webb groans on “Post-Blue.” “It was unfolding forever / And the first light / So light, I held it inside.” At the same time, Webb applies a considerably more methodical approach to the arrangements than on past releases, building them around fragmented keyboard melodies. “Scream Whole” is one such track, a restless pop jam, interwoven with angst-ridden reflections on the power of emotional release.

As a result of producing and recording in an intimate, isolated environment, Webb imbues Methyl Ethel’s palette with new, expansive textures. The record’s most danceable songs (“Trip The Mains,” “Ruiner”) are littered with paranoia and anxious lyrical hiccups, subverting the pure pop energy of its frenetic drums and propulsive basslines. Nearly scraped from the record, “Hip Horror” unfolds as an eerie, uptempo pop rock number that taps into the recurring euphoria-turned-hysteria spread across the record writ large. Further demonstrating the record’s divergent moods is Webb’s voice, which holds fast amid all those ambitious runs and risky maneuvers—an impressive feat, given how his delivery ranges from spectral, Thom Yorke-ian bellows to whistling, double harmonic scale falsettos. By splicing hi-fi dance with emotionally-wrought guitar music, Methyl Ethel’s Triage exploits the common ground between trippy intensity and unmissable melancholy in a fresh, forward-thinking way.

-Angel Fraden

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