Review by Doug Wallen
The best and most immediate thing Harmony have going for them is how much they don’t sound like other bands. It’s not just the counterintuitive tangling of punk and gospel impulses, or Tom Lyngcoln’s wounded-dog howl, or his muffled style of anti-production. It’s all of it collectively, so raw and confronting. Despite a heavenly three-piece harmony section and (arguably) themes of redemption, the Melbourne band’s death-fixated second album inhabits an arena-sized discomfort zone.
At first pass, you could accuse Lyngcoln of being his own worst enemy – the muddied home recording makes it hard to discern some of the lyrics he’s pouring himself into so intensely. But there’s a lyric sheet and, to be fair, to clean up Harmony’s act would be to render them another band altogether, like asking The Drones to start specialising in fizzy electro-pop singles. Like The Drones – with whom Harmony have toured – these guys are tough-as-guts, limbs-sprawled counter programming to every shiny, happy, radio-friendly act in Australia.
Carpetbombing is a celebration of that damaged, self-reflective side of the Aussie rock spectrum. The album even opens with stark spoken-word from Cold Chisel legend Don Walker, whose solo records very much mine that same seam. As much as ‘Cut Myself Clean’ and ‘Diminishing Returns’ are potent singles, this is definitely an album, from Walker’s foreword to the half-minute interlude ‘Underground’ (with its genesis in the Paris train system) and the stream-of-consciousness, almost rap-like flow of the 85-second ‘Prayer for War’. These aren’t songs to hear individually, but as (dis)arrayed pieces of a larger whole.
“It’s not punk in the traditional sense, but the spirit is there in spades”
Highlights? There’s the caved-in romance of ‘On Your Summons’ (“My heart just falls apart on your summons”), which Lyngcoln has said contains “the most fucked chorus I have ever had to sing in any band” – and that includes his pummelling post-punk veterans The Nation Blue. Then there’s the spookiness of ‘Pulse’, like a ghost troupe serenading us from the attic. There’s the uncertain guitar noodling of ‘Unknown Hunter’, the choral rise above the clatter on ‘Cold Storage’ and the apocalyptic evocations of the closing ‘Carpetbomb’. Best of all is ‘Vapour Trails’, on which Lyngcoln transforms from down-and-out choirboy to old-school country romantic, with sweetish spoken-word and R&B backing vocals to boot.
Lyngcoln has a way of dominating the attention, but the trembling vocals of Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Erica Dunn take the songs to unexpected places. And it says something of Lyngcoln’s overshadowing vision that bassist Jon Chapple, who has gnashed his teeth previously in mclusky and Shooting at Unarmed Men, takes on the role of straight man here. Completed by Lyngcoln’s wife Alex (Remake Remodel) on drums, Harmony remain an unlikely contraption that really shouldn’t work. But again, that unlikeliness makes all the difference.
There’s one more way in which Carpetbombing is unconventional: it’s a minimal and meandering record, for the most part, released on a punk label (Poison City). It’s not punk in the traditional sense, but the spirit is there in spades. And like the best punk music, Harmony doesn’t work when left lingering in the background. You need to crank the volume and let it surround you.