A bigger, bolder second album proves that growth suits Amyl & The Sniffers pretty damn well
“So, what’ll you do for an encore?”
Australia’s Amyl and the Sniffers, a punk band that quickly shot up from Melbourne clubs to snagging the 2019 ARIA for Best Rock Album for their self-titled debut, was a refreshing blast of attitude, songs and more chops than they’d give themselves credit for.
Heady times for a band not far removed from not existing.
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Two years later, Amyl & The Sniffers are back with its follow-up, written and recorded over a timespan that included multiple COVID-19 lockdowns. That allowed them more time to create, but it also meant that the band, known for its live shows, would have to put together what became Comfort To Me with an extended absence from the road and nowhere else to put that energy.
Artist: Amyl & The Sniffers
Album: Comfort To Me
Label: ATO Records
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
The result turns out to be an album that’s familar, but not Self-Titled 2. It shows a band that’s grown while still raising a racket that has you checking your speakers to see if the sweat, beer, spit and even trace amounts of blood came through.
Given the events of the last two years, well, just about anywhere, including the Melbourne-based band’s own country, it would be easy to assume that Comfort could lean more political.
It is, but more often in the “personal is political” way, although one of the album’s best songs (“Capital”) extrapolates from the personal, as singer Amy Taylor opens with the lyric that gives the album its title — “Comfort to me, what does that even mean? One reason, do we persevere?” and proceeds to look with increasing awareness at what’s happening around her — from climate change-induced wildfires (and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s handling of them) to Australia’s mistreatment of its Aboriginal people — “Of course I have disdain for this place, what are you thinking?/You took their kids and you locked them up, up in a prison.”
Taylor’s more than capable of dishing out defiance and rage, but it’s tempered with vulnerability and, in the case of “Knifey,” dread. Sure, she may declare “Out comes the night, out comes my knifey/This is how I get home nicely”, but she’s resentful and tired at having to do that and for other women who do, as she changes that “I” to “we” at the end.
The defiance shows up early, in “Freaks to the Front”, where she includes herself in the number (“I’m short I’m shy I’m fucked up/I’m bloody ugly/Get out of my way/Don’t bloody touch me and the mosh-ready “Choices.”
“Security” is another standout. If the Cosmic Psychos had a “Nice Day to Go to the Pub,” Taylor’s day is less so, as she’s stuck dealing with some judgmental jerk working the door (“Will you let me in your pub/I’m not looking for trouble”, I’m just looking for love”).
The album is full of contradictions and contrasts. Sure, in “Hertz”, Taylor sings about wanting to be swept away to some place, perhaps a nice beach, without the sometimes overwhelming sensory inputs in the city, but then later on in the twisted love song “Maggots” delivers the line “C’mon maggot, put your maggots in me.”
VIDEO: Amyl & The Sniffers “Hertz”
Taylor’s the star of the show, but while her energetic charisma and sensbility are front and center, it’s never at the expense of the rest of the band.
Guitarist Dec Martin’s more than capable of whipping up riffs and solos (at times metallic in spirit if not length) to keep up.
Drummer Bryce Wilson and bassist Gus Romer likewise deliver enough bashing muscle to ensure that whatever Taylor dishes out, they can serve it up.
VIDEO: Amyl & The Sniffers “Guided By Angels”
Comfort’s production, less murky and no longer pushed into the red, brings those contributions more to the fore. Bigger and cleaner don’t always mean better, but in this case it does. Amyl and the Sniffers have become better players and they put their unplanned time off to good use in the songwriting department.
Even if you might be able to play spot the influence at times, it matters a lot less when a band tackles familiar turf with smarts, skill and an unerring sense of how to create something that’s a blast to play loud.
The bottom line for Comfort To Me is that growth suits Amyl and The Sniffers pretty damn well.