If you’ve lived in Melbourne within the last decade, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the term ‘doll-wave’. Used pejoratively by some and affectionately by others, the sardonic label described a then-burgeoning wave of Aussie slackers obsessed with the disillusionment of modern youth. Tapping into the rich vein of laconic jangle-pop laid bare by the Triffids and The Go-Betweens, flagship doll-wave outfits—such as Dick Diver and The Twerps—funnelled their existential crisis into their music, writing songs about worthless university degrees, dwindling housing affordability, and the promise of an Australian dream perpetually out of reach. For young people of the time, doll-wave felt sincere, tangible and real; it was a shock, then, to witness it fizzle so quickly into obscurity. Today, if you mention doll-wave without tongue firmly in cheek, you’ll be met with a flurry of eye-rolls and sneers. Doll-wave, however, was no mere flash in the pan, manifesting in the sound of several modern acts: in the regional drawl of Courtney Barnett, the motorik pulse of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and, most recently, the infectious charm of quaint Melbourne five-piece, Crepes.
Like Crepes’ impeccable debut, Channel Four, In Cahoots is singularly driven by frontman Tim Karmouche’s excellent song writing. You won’t find any instrumental heroics here—just tightly-wound grooves, which coil around the ever-laconic Karmouche’s avuncular melodies. This lean, utilitarian sound is informed by a decidedly new wave aesthetic: the one-two punch of ‘As You Go’ and ‘Dark Demons’ recall the glory days of Talking Heads, replete with stringent bass grooves, deft keyboard polyrhythms and a hefty pinch of irresistible kitsch. Lead single ‘Bicycle Man’, a vaguely psychedelic ode to two-wheeled transport, feels like a sly wink at Syd Barrett, while the cavernous riffs in ‘High Time’—sung by guitarist Sam Cooper—impute a hint of surf-rock flair to Crepes’ traditionally bare-bones aesthetic. These songs are carefully structured, precise: In Cahoots is, no doubt, a very lean cut.
Only when Crepes crack open their sound, however, is Karmouche truly allowed to shine. His yearning performance in ‘I Was A Kid’, a jangly slice of sepia-toned Australiana, absolutely shimmers with nostalgic melancholy: the buoyant chorus—‘I’ll put the sad times in my dusty old rear-view’, Karmouche sighs—cuts with the same emotive piquancy of a Wilco hit. ‘The World Ain’t Too Far Away’, a dream-like sequence of outback minutiae, evokes the same sense of reverie: the warmth of childhood memories, but also a distant sadness too; a faint longing for the simplicity, opportunity and promise of youth. It’s this feeling that defined doll-wave, that rendered it so attractive and relatable, and In Cahoots captures it in spades—and, thankfully, without a single reference to student allowance.- Thomas S.