The eclectic 13-song album is full of blues-rock ballads intertwined with harrowing tales of loss, pain and illness.
Melbourne blues-rock band FINN are set to release their new album Stonewalling on Friday May 28, a meditation on topics ranging from world wars to COVID-19.
Despite twisting and turning through some of the deeper aspects of the human condition, the album manages to maintain a sense of groove and lightness. The 13-track LP asks you to think yet still gets you moving, a balance that isn’t simply achieved but is easily felt.
Our first taste of Stonewalling came in the form of the seven-minute single ‘The Firing Line’, a sombre track detailing tragedy on the front lines of World War I.
A poignant introduction and taste of what is to follow, the song paints a vivid picture of a soldier’s demise on the front lines, embellished with bluesy electric guitar licks over a bed of acoustic rhythm.
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Frontman Mark Finn admits “it isn’t your conventional single”, yet with the company of songs like ‘Go to the Wire’, set in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and “Donald Trump Blues”, it couldn’t be better placed to introduce the album.
Speaking on his songwriting and recording process for the album, which happened over lockdown but culminated in a week at Sing Sing Studios in South Yarra, Finn speaks on his influences and why this collection of songs came to be so reflective of the turbulent times we were facing as a community.
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“I’ve never really been a huge fan of current, topical songwriting because it can be quite temporal. It’s the first time we’ve kind of done current topics like ‘Donald Trump Blues’ and ‘Second Wave’, so maybe it was just the environment.
“And I guess it was just hard to avoid the oppressiveness of the period. We didn’t want to sort of provide strong opinions on things and be political, we just wanted to try and capture a mood,” says Finn.
“One of the things I’ve always enjoyed and respected is the way artists like Bob Dylan would pick a topic and go deep. Like the songs ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Joey’. I think that can be quite liberating for a songwriter. You almost remove yourself or become a third party to this theme. It also opens up a great vocabulary on things. You can stick to this constraint or landscape and really go deep.”
The track ‘Go to the Wire’ is a tune, like ‘Donald Trump Blues’ and ‘Second Wave’, that’s reflective of this type of songwriting. It sees the band produce what may be the most harrowing corner of the album, inspired by the book The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku and his time in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Sonically, a plucked acoustic guitar offers a hopeful light amongst melancholic strings, offering a foundation for the lyrical content to really shine through.
“The story on ‘Go to the Wire’ is that I bought The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku, this book that speaks on the lessons he’s learnt in life, and they’re lessons for everybody, and this is with the backdrop of being a survivor of Auschwitz.
“The inmates had this expression, ‘Go to the Wire’, which was basically them saying go and grab onto the electric fence surrounding the camp, which was for them the best way out in a bad situation. And I think with such heavy material like that I just wanted to go deep on it and resonate those ideas into music. Music that people can latch onto,” explains Finn.
Good albums let you know what they are. They keep a string running from the first to final track which guides the listener through the world it creates in a way that’s interesting, but still unpredictable. It opens doors you thought were locked.
‘Stonewalling’ is one of those albums, because amongst the explorations of loss, death and illness comes a balance of groove, grit and movement, offering light to the darker moments.
“We make deliberate choices in the studio about the direction of the song. Then we get specific on what contributes to or detracts from that. We try and make a stamp or draw a line around what the song is, then really double down on that,” says Finn of the band’s creative process.
And it’s in each track’s self-assurance that we can find a real expression of creative control and cohesive storytelling.
Songs like ‘Dead or Alive’, a real blues-driven groove that will clearly be a high point at live performances, or ‘Tangerine’, with its charisma and screaming guitar tones, offer lighter counterpoints to the heavier narratives of the album.
The twists and turns these stories take us on are welcomed and made all the more enjoyable by displays of serious musicianship.
But the lyrics and songwriting are what really distinguishes Stonewalling as a standout local release. And what’s evident from speaking with Finn, is that FINN are not resting on their laurels.
Twenty-five songs came from their week at Sing Sing studios, yet only 13 made it onto the album.
The songs that didn’t make it will not be lost to our longing ears, however. Later this year, the band will release another album inspired by the sounds of Electric Light Orchestra and George Harrison.
Warmer, melodic flavours, shifting from the dark tones of Stonewalling, will welcome a new direction for the band.
Rather than offering an instruction, a way they think we should see the world, FINN give us a vessel for catharsis with their upcoming album. A meditation on deep and powerful subject matter, from concentration camps to the impact of the pandemic, with musicianship that allows us to be placed in these situations and understand them from a new perspective.
Stonewalling isn’t an album that forces you to listen, rather an album that lets you sit back and flow through these moments of pain. A ride that is very much enjoyable, and in contrast to its name, Stonewalling offers no barriers, just an experience we should all jump into.
Stonewalling is out on Friday May 28. For more from FINN, head here.