What makes a great album? In today’s era of instant gratification, it is all too easy to let something beautiful pass us by, and indeed it appears as such with Methyl Ethel’s third work, Triage. Six months since its release, yours truly remains completely and utterly hooked to one of the most infectious sounds erupting from the (unfairly) increasingly passé Australian scene.
After countless listens, I can confidently say I’ve “counted everything twice” and “measured it and cut twice,” as band frontman Jake Webb coos in the infectious Real Tight. Triage is a sensational album from an increasingly interesting and adept artist. This record is without doubt one of 2019’s finest and, if you haven’t listened to it yet, get it on right now.
To those of you unfamiliar with Methyl Ethel, it is the titular project of Jake Webb, a Perth-based artist who – like my favourite artists – tends to do everything in-studio himself, growing in ambition and capability with each release. Likely most noticeable for his androgynous voice with spectacular range, Methyl Ethel released two albums prior to Triage, and it was the lead single, Ubu, from second record Everything Is Forgotten that wormed its way into my head and got me paying serious attention to Mr. Webb. On his third album, composition shifted to more piano-based foundations that are likely here to stay, yielding more complex melodies and song construction.
Gentle chords presage album opener, Ruiner, before building to the imploring cry “I, I am just a child,” as propulsive drums support a thumping bass and arpeggiated keyboard, conveying a sense of anxious urgency (“that’s not good enough, that’s not good enough”) that echoes throughout the entire album. It is no surprise that this feeling pervades the album. Webb himself stated that Triage is about “Just 2018. My life in 2018… and the world in 2018. I dunno, it’s just, that’s the specifics of it really,” and who isn’t anxious, looking at the world today? The press release that accompanied the album gave a little more colour – Webb turned thirty and this is his third album – “Triage is a more reflective album – one that explores the notion of coming of age, only to reference it for the snapshots and passing memories that it has become.”
The anxious urgency builds to explosive releases of musical euphoria, exemplified by the stratospheric All The Elements, where Webb’s pleading opener, “I seem to make apologies more often than twice,” gives way to a knee-buckling guitar that is at once totally arresting and utterly compelling. Bright, staccato plucks overlay the soaring orchestration, carrying your ears away on a wonderfully soft cloud, high into the heavens of musical joy, wrapped in a blanket of cathartic vocal wonder. All The Elements serves to highlight Methyl Ethel’s artistic range ahead of majestic dream-pop single, Trip The Mains, in which Webb demonstrates his expert handling of synthesiser hooks and pop melody to create a masterfully accessible, melancholy-infused sample of his increasingly unique sound.
The record is not faultless – on Post Blue, the opener to side B of the LP, Webb’s vocals can veer a bit dangerously towards Matt Bellamy-esque overkill, although the pulsating synth-driven chorus saves the song from overt disrepute and subsequent tracks such as Hip Horror, with its haunting piano hook and compulsive cries of “Right at the front, hide at the front,” sustain the ambiguous energy of the album right through to close.
Ultimately, this is a superb record from an artist going from strength to strength. I have yet to hear anything as compelling in indie pop this year and am certain Jake Webb will both scintillate live and continue to positively surprise on-record. We say we tell you to listen to good music before you die and this is indubitably an album to encapsulate this ethos. Add this record to your collection immediately. You can thank me later.
Triage was released in February 2019 via 4AD Records.
The Snobs will be seeing Methyl Ethel live at Electric Brixton on 13 November.
You can buy tickets here.