[sic] Magazine

Methyl Ethel – Oh Inhuman Spectacle

Peculiar, accidental greatness. The dastardly Germans probably have a word for it, of course, but whatever it may or might not be it isn’t “gesellchaft”, the name of a glorious set of shadowy repeats, spacey oscillator action and beguiling vocal wobble that resides on Methyl Ethel’s debut album, Oh Inhuman Spectacle. The thing about lightning, though, is that it rarely strikes twice. So it proves for Jake Webb, who from his home in Perth, Australia manages to dabble in a wide range of psychedelia and synthy dream-pop with little of the same consistency. That said, 4AD clearly have grand plans for him and you can tell why.

Originally released last year and shortlisted for album of the year at the Australian Music Prize awards, Oh Inhuman Spectacle undoubtedly has its moments and the label will want more of them when Webb gets around to his original-material label debut. In this vein, the single “Rogues” has a woozy 12-string guitar melody that is kept from floating off entirely by a slinky bassline and it’s a trick worth repeating again. The warped and scuffed guitar in “Obscura”, too, ensures its toe-tapping groove doesn’t get ahead of itself and shows advanced – if budget – understanding of rudimentary song-craft. And the choppy vocal harmonics in “Unbalancing Acts” are a delight as well, but a delight without question pilfered from Animal Collective.

Webb needs to make sure his own voice is heard and to step out from the shadows of his record collection, which amongst others is bound to include work by Karin Dreijer Andersson, The Flaming Lips, Youth Lagoon and Angelo Badalamenti. Second single “Twilight Driving” is a case in point. Its twinkling jangle is pure Beach House and yet, on this occasion, Webb goes further than straight facsimile. His girlish falsetto rings with confidence, and his arrangement is the strongest Oh Inhuman Spectacle has to offer thanks, in part, to a heartfelt sax solo. Write what you know, they say, and this rose-tinted vision of early morning life with a loved one is so effective simply because it’s true.

This all makes Webb’s other overcooked synth-pop epics that bit more disappointing though, his tendency to fall back on overly tasteful grooves and pillowy laments just as indicative of faltering direction as tracks that finish too soon or take too long to get to the point. Some of these fledgling faux pas will no doubt be ironed out by 4AD, but Webb’s intimate, raw production actually does him a favour, allowing much of the above to be glossed over. His songs are those of wide-eyed naivety. Strip away the hum of his album’s bedroom recording, for example, and you risk the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. And the Germans definitely have words for that: Schüttet das Kind mit dem Bade aus. Achtung baby, indeed.

Best track: “Also Gesellschaft”

~Oh Inhuman Spectacle is re-released May 20th 2016 via 4AD.~