It was around Christmas time in Melbourne, and during the festive season of busking and street performances, my attention was diverted from following my girlfriend around every shop that she saw, to following a more melodic inclination. It was a performance by The Amber Isles, and a very good one at that. I decided to give their debut album, Running, a listen…
You can immediately see why the opener, also titled ‘Running’, is a piece of work that the Melbourne collective are proud of. A slow burning track that evokes the feeling of a relaxed country drive on a sunny day, the song provides wonderfully moody harmonies with twists, turns and changes of pace that keep you interested throughout. Elongated, washed out lyrics such as “Hanging out to dry, caught beneath the fire/burning through the days, we can taunt the wires” compliment the fluidity that this track achieves, and a near 3 minute outro manages to stay interesting, with a rousing guitar segment ensuring that the 7 minute mark doesn’t seem too long in culminating a lovely auditory experience.
The effortless nature of their first track continues into their second, ‘The Game’, which almost feels like a sequel. “Running like the Thames on a river” is a nice lyric, and touches on seemingly common themes of escapism and troubled side of youth. A traditional rock inspired ending to the song demonstrates a subtle change in tempo, proving that the band can go beyond the stylised new folk that is present in much of this album.
‘Folds’ stands out in that it feels like a polished piece of work, but then again so does the album in general, within the style that the group abides by. Shortcomings lie in the similarities that are omnipresent throughout, such as the slow build-ups and washed out vocals. Most tracks eclipse the five-minute mark, which without any real injection of pace or energy, is perhaps a little too long and played out.
‘Come on’ provides a more youthful, brazen outlook, and offers a more light-hearted perspective. This is exemplified by lyrics such as “with the grass on our backs, yeah / and our skin kissing the sun”, which creates an altogether different vibe to the more lucid musical direction that this album generally heads in. ‘City waves‘ is a tranquil number that works well with some harmonic backing vocals from the group’s female counterpart. This input adds a nice balance and is something that I think would work well for the band going forward.
The performance that I happened upon was exciting for me; It had a different feel to your average busker in the street, half-assing a cover of Ed Sheeran. The drummer was garnering rave reviews for his energy and style, eccentrically alternating between two pan drums whilst crouched on the floor. They are a cohesive, 6-piece unit with originality and lyrics that make you stop walking for a moment.
You can see what they are trying to do with this album, and it is a very solid piece of work for what is their sophomore release. You do get the sense that they are trying to recreate the magic of ‘Running’ on some of their tracks, and it is when they deviate musically, i.e. ‘Come on’ and ‘City Waves’, that their best work is found. It’s this lack of diversity that may struggle to keep your average listener’s attention throughout.
Overall, it’s an album that indicates promise although ultimately lacks the necessary verve and identity to break the mainstream. The solution lies in channelling the energy of their live performances into the recording studio. However, this album is still something to be proud of, from a band that are perhaps still finding their feet.
The Amber Isles are playing at the Howler, Bruniswick on January 19th.