The Goon Sax want us to think about them
We live in meta times but few bands to debut in the Twitter age have been so hilariously self-effacing as when the then-high schoolers in Brisbane’s The Goon Sax sang “Does it mean anything to you? / Am I doing what anyone else could do?” on their excellent 2016 debut album Up to Anything. That’s one of two standout phrases that could’ve been about the music itself, the other being the opener and title tune’s sheepish admission, “I want people to think about me / I want people to wonder about me.”
Both of these tunes in question are sung by Louis Forster, whose dad is Robert Forster of Aussie college-rock legends the Go-Betweens. As you’d imagine, more has been made about that lineage than Forster would like; it’s not what he had in mind when he wanted to be trending between our synapses. But unlike Jakob Dylan or Sean Lennon, part of the reason to note it is because his band has the uncanny wit and tune sense of his dad’s band, not to mention the same two-singer/songwriter dynamic (R.I.P. Grant McLennan) and a woman on drums, Riley Jones, who’s quickly turning the trio into a three-singer/songwriter operation as of the just-released We’re Not Talking.
The new album develops in all the ways you’d expect and hope, with tighter musicianship (Jones had only been drumming for a month before joining the band three years ago), bolder arrangements (orchestral bursts, trumpets, and double-time percussion all adorn opener “Make Time 4 Love” alone), and sharper dynamics: “She Knows,” “A Few Times Too Many” and “Make Time 4 Love” cut to the quick more urgently than anything on Up to Anything, which was desperate in its own way but often paced like it was in no particular hurry to wander home from school.
Now 19, Forster, Jones and the wonderfully shaky foil James Harrison fight off the stagnancy that may have kept their metronomic rhythms in droning Velvet Underground territory with an expressed desire to fold their love of Prince and Solange into their tunes, among other things. They don’t quite escape — “Love Lost” starts off a hell of a lot like Parquet Courts, the most Velvets-damaged band in recent memory — but it’s a stunning development nonetheless. “Get Out” tricks up its peppy tunebursts with a riff that the Pogues would’ve arranged for pennywhistle, and the bass hits some unexpected minor notes.
In fact, it’s Harrison who owns the best track here, “A Few Times Too Many,” a queasy, mind-losing jangle-rocker that flips “Up to Anything” on its head by lamenting he’s thinking about you too much. Eventually the slower tunes grab hold too, particularly the two Harrison/Jones duets, the synth-and-drum-machine-powered “Losing Myself” (try Jones’ ooh-ooh-ooh hook), and the sweetly harmonized closer “Till the End.” Forster and Jones’ “We Can’t Win” is a first, too, a clap-along piano ballad that builds steam as it progresses.
For all the expanded musicality of We’re Not Talking, though, it’s a small shame that the band remains at their most quotable on the debut, capturing a particularly self-deprecating form of loneliness and teenage awkwardness in lines like “Home haircuts / Do they ever go right?” and “Sometimes I feel like my clothes are wearing me” and “I eat ice cream on my own” and especially “You don’t have to hold my sweaty hand / I completely understand,” or even their spins on existing tropes like Forster longing for a boyfriend or Harrison hating the telephone. Their new realizations as they grow into dating, like “It’s so hard to be who you want me to be” and “Does no one ever feel the same as me?” and “It feels like I’m losing myself” just don’t feel all that new. The preponderance of the word “lonely” across the lyric sheet tells where Anything showed; maybe “it feels like I’m losing myself” is subconsciously meta as well.
But the Goon Sax are still, well, absurdly young, with two good records behind them before their 20s have even begun. And Jones’ solo showcase “Strange Light” may have the most fully realized lyric of the lot, starting at “I fell in love with the first boy I ever saw” and turning to the grayscale “you check the bus times” in a narrative worthy of, well, an Australian college-rock band who shall remain anonymous. We’re not talking.