Beat Magazine’s Album of the week by Big Scary, The Big Scary Four Seasons. They are no longer the next best thing in Australian music, they are the best thing.
What started out as a deceptively simple premise – record an EP named and inspired by each seasonal turn – has turned out to be a major creative project for local Melbourne duo Big Scary. With the onset of Summer, comes the final piece of the seasonal set. The completists among us will already be chasing down those last limited copies, but to celebrate they’ve gathered the lot for one handy compilation.
Gathering all four EPs of the last twelve months however, places a curious dilemma on the record’s sequencing. It neither breaks up each individual EP’s running order for a particular effect, nor does it adhere to chronological order. Instead, it opts for a comprise that involves shuffling the EPs into a particular arrangement. In the end it’s a minor niggle and still manages to comfortably achieve its goal: a concise introduction to Melbourne’s best unsigned band. Collected together, these thirteen tracks demonstrate that, despite their meagre set-up, Big Scary have more ideas in just one release than many bands manage to garner across entire careers.
There’s acoustic revelry both sprightly (Spring) and melancholic (Home); atmospheric swells of ambient warmth (Summer) and frosty introspection (Winter). There’s touching poignancy (Thinking About You), rousing rock ( Hamilton) and one sure-fire anthem (Autumn). In short, there’s no end of the musical spectrum that Big Scary don’t touch upon. You constantly have to remind yourself that this is the sound of the fulfilled ambitions of a two-piece act.
In the case of both strummer Tom Iansek and drummer Jo Syme, talent abounds. Iansek’s falsetto is capable of shattering expression as well as warm emotion, but when it combines with Syme’s voice, the resulting harmonies are nothing short of breath-taking. Neither are slouches instrumentally either, aside from the core elements of guitar, piano and drums there’s the extended palettes of those instruments: organ, keys, glockenspiel, xylophone, percussion and timpani to also contend with. Despite the lush arrangements found throughout, particularly from season-to-season, the duo have a keen idea of space. Interestingly, the minimalism of their musical palette emphasises their silences as much as their embellishments, but never feel restrained by the confines of their set-up.
Even being a compilation, there are still surprises to be had. Such as the way each season coalesces when stood side-by-side, or finally recording a version of live favourite Tuesday Is Rent Day. Coming after the epic swell and Eno-esque rumbling of Summer, it’s a rude awakening. A punky assault of jagged time signatures, that slides into an irresistible lick o’ blues rock. The lyrics meanwhile, perfectly capture financially-starved student squalor “Sitting on the couch as you’re sitting on your high score / Cereal for lunch while you are checking your e-mails.”
It’s also perhaps Syme’s best recorded drums performance yet – fuelling the conspiracy that she is in fact the curtly-bobbed reincarnation of John Bonham. It’s lashed with humour and good rollicking fun, following it in kind is the equally shaggy All That You’ve Got. Combined, they act as a handy reminder of the pair’s potent ability to rock – which they haven’t this hard since Hey Somebody – but this stripped-back assault will probably also dredge up those early White Stripes comparisons.
Those allusions quickly disintegrate however, as there is far more to Big Scary than boy/girl garage rock. And as if you needed proof, Summer’s Last Gasp arrives on a buzz of cicadas and sweltered chirping. This picturesque scene ushers in a beautifully naive toy piano with a melody backed by a gently plucked acoustic guitar. It says all it needs to in just under two minutes, and yet perfectly captures its nostalgic mood, acting as a microcosm for Big Scary’s abilities in general. Despite the natural restrictions of their configuration, they are able to execute their grand ambitions with the greatest of economy.
Witness the way in which Microwave Pizza builds upon its simple chord and melody or how The Deep Freeze employs naught but stark piano and mantric humming for its haunting atmosphere, ending the album on a reflective mood.
There are no smoke or mirrors with Big Scary either; no big production trick in their marvellous diversity and appeal… in fact you can literally hear the squeaks of the piano stool, the scratch of the strings. The signs of an independent collective whose DIY aesthetic only adds to their character, an easy group to champion because they’re so real. Their aim and focus in recording has always been to capture something of the spirit and character of the place in which they are recording and Four Seasons does that in spades. Its moods and textures – the wheezing relief of Home, the bitter ache of Winter or the cathartic sprawl of Thinking About You – are so remarkably felt, it’s almost tangible.
As a collection of songs and releases of a single band’s recorded output, Four Seasons is like no other local release of 2010. Standing above and apart in its ambition, diversity and sheer enjoyment. Its finer details can be appreciated individually, but it is collectively that it sharply pulls into focus a remarkable portrait of a thrilling band that is resolutely contemporary. A well-deserved summary that acts as the crowning achievement of a victorious year for the group, Four Seasons proves to be the defining turning point for Big Scary, for they are no longer the next best thing in Australian music, they are the best thing.
The Big Scary Four Seasons is out now where all good Independent Music is sold