“Asinine white light, come feed me. Come remind me of my grievances”. Although Methyl Ethel commander Jake Webb’s lyrics tend to be wrapped in intriguing yet esoteric literary references that make it stand out from other indie rock releases, one thing that is crystal clear is that there’s a self-deprecating voice running through their new third record ‘Triage’, one that’s riddled with guilt.
To prevent listeners from feeling too downbeat, the Australian addresses his guilt with an eclectic and interesting mix of music moods: upbeat head-nod-inducing tracks, soothing synth fantasy, edgy piano, as well as the more contemplative sombre moments.
One thing that is really likeable about Methyl Ethel is their incandescent and glistening synths, which pleasantly sooth the ears. The album begins frantically with the passionate and energetic ‘Ruiner’ which features these aforementioned keyboards dragged along by rolling drums that are reminiscent of compatriots Tame Impala‘s ‘Elephant’.
At the same time Jake Webb is giving himself a blunt and demoralising telling-off: “I’m just a child. Kick and cry, endured and tried”/”Cause I’m a ruiner. Yeah that’s not good enough.” The track’s final chapter mashes up a dog bark and concludes with gospel elevation. These are examples of little production details that go unnoticed on the first listen. Unlike the immediacy definition of the album’s title, Triage is slow-burner that’s magic is revealed on repeated listens.
‘Ruiner’ is followed by lead single ‘Scream Whole’. A wonderfully inventive, memorable and shape-shifting song. It begins with a fluttering Renaissance-setting harpsichord with Jake Webb singing in an unusual stuttering syllabic tone and then in the bridge there’s crashing percussion and R&B humming. In the track the protagonist has finally found a place to unleash their bottled-up self-deprecating grievance. The song was inspired by a big hole in a garden belonging to Jake Webb’s friend, in which his chum would scream into as an emotional release.
Other spirited tracks include the Foals-esque ‘All The Elements’ in which the song’s character finds it difficult to express their thoughts while stuck in a cognitive sanity-losing maze, the most lyrically accessible new wave ‘Trip The Mains’ which uses electricity-metaphors to express the circuit-breaking aspect of a break-up and ‘Hip Horror’– which like most songs with ‘Horror’ in title feature slightly-haunting piano chords. The latter, which is ultimately about truth and deception in a world run by “cruel world titans”, is typical Jake Webb writing with it’s amalgamation of understandable universal themes with imaginative imagery, this time it seems to be white knights, werewolves and Charles Darwin.
Among the indie rock compositions is ‘Post-Blue’, an epic over 5-minute composition that is Methyl Ethel‘s most beautiful song to date and Jake Webb‘s most impressive vocal performance. He takes on the role of both sides of a dissolving relationship, from the desperate partner trying to cling onto their companion like a feather flying away in a gust of wind to the decisive leaver that’s slowing drifting from their co-existence.
Webb’s voice-holding is stunning as it soars, echoes and swirls with yearning passion. Although the slight criticism of Jake Webb’s voice is that it’s never really original, easily comparable to others throughout the album. On this particular song it sounds like a combination of Matt Bellamy (Origin of Symmetry-era Muse) and the otherworldly Egyptian style of newcomer Tamino, which admittedly is no mean feat.
The vocals stand out particularly on this track because for the majority of the album lead singer Jake Webb arguably sounds like Brandon Flowers, which makes Methyl Ethel sort of sound like The Killers if they made more contorted and more ambitious indie rock.
Triage is out now on 4AD.