Unpopular advent 2021 – day 16

The Goon Sax – ‘Psychic’ from Mirror II
Quivers – ‘Videostores’ from Golden Doubt

It’s barely five years since Goon Sax ‘topped’ our advent series but this year the group released their third LP in ‘Mirror II’, and, well, here we are again. In truth, ‘Mirror II’ was the record that slipped in and out of the shortlist for 2021 several times, and I’m still not convinced that it deserves its place here as an album. It feels a shade too piecemeal, too disconnected, as though the ingredients that worked so well together in the past have begun to separate. Specifically, for me, the songs where James Harrison channels Jonathan Richman through the lenses of The Cannanes and McTells may be charmingly awkward and brittle, particularly on the lovely ‘Temples’, but now feel oddly out of kilter with the rest of the record.

That said, when ‘Mirror II’ is good, it is startlingly so. The triumvirate of ‘In The Stone’, ‘Psychic’ and ‘Desire’ are amongst then most memorable tunes of this or any year and it’s no surprise that these are the three originals the group performed in their terrific ‘Live on KEXP at Home’ session. In truth it was those performances that had me revisiting the album later in the year and that convinced me to pull it back from the sizeable reserve list for this year’s advent series.

So if the special chemistry that so obviously exists between the trio might sometimes fizzle into damp squibs, it is true too that when their elements do meet in the right conditions then there are gloriously fizzing reactions that leave intriguing new compounds. And at the risk of labouring the chemistry metaphor, the interplay of Louis Fortster and Riley Jones’ voices in particular is like sprinkling some of that Mystical Fire Dust in the wood-burner and marvelling at the nuances of colour. Mesmerising.

I’ll admit I’m nervous about what their future experiments might bring, but that is all part of the pleasure, isn’t it? Maybe we need a few disappointments to truly be thrilled.

If Goon Sax have given us an album of new pleasures on ‘Mirror II’ then Melbourne’s Quivers have collected some old(ish) favourites with a few newer numbers to make up the terrific ‘Golden Doubt’ set. A summation of their work during the years since 2018’s raw and compelling ‘We’ll Go Riding On The Hearses’ (originally released on cassette, this collection gained wider availability in 2021) it collects tremendous singles ‘Videostores’, ‘When It Breaks’ and ‘You’re Not Always On My Mind’ in slightly revised forms alongside seven other numbers that are every bit as fine.

The ten songs on ‘Golden Doubt’ resonate strongly with the strange desperate need for love and (re)connection after loss; that point where grief gives way to hollowed-out desire, all the time pursued by doubts of self-worth and the haunting question marks around what we may or may not deserve. If that sounds inordinately dark and broody though (I’ve just read it back through, and it does), this is far from the reality of the sound that Quivers make, which is ravishingly joyous. As they point out to us (and themselves?), after all, ‘Nostalgia Will Kill You’.

Now I remember being charmed (devastatingly so) by ‘You’re Not Always On My Mind’ when I first heard it early in 2019 and its brilliance has hardly dimmed through repeated exposure. It is an extraordinary piece of exquisite Pop that delicately balances themes of loss and love on wires taught with anxiety anticipating release. ‘Videostores’, on the other hand, is a gorgeous funeral dirge, moving in a blissed-out state through personal and universal loss. “Now I know the future starts slow. Moving through molasses as you’re walking me home” sings Sam Nicholson, perfectly capturing the hallucinatory qualities of attempts to escape grief and to move on in life.

‘Golden Doubt’ is a treat of a record whose surface sound may be immediately accessible, but it is also one that rewards repeated listening with an emotional depth and subtle complexity. It marks Quivers as ones to watch for sure.

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