Wollongong songwriter Adam Buckland gets bonus points for balls. He opens a track on his new release Burn the Archives with the drums from that colossus of garage-rock dance floor anthems, Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’. Indeed, for the first six seconds, the two songs are the same. Fuck up what comes next and in some quarters that’s a bashing offence. Miraculously, when Buckland breaks ranks from the original, it works. It takes a few listens to sever the synapses straining to hear Iggy but once they’re snipped, Buckland’s pop track ‘Rose Controls’ stands tall. So who is this brave man, willing to appropriate Iggy Pop’s most famous drumbeat?
In the late 1990s, Buckland sang and played guitar in Wollongong pop punk band Fugg. The guys from Fugg wore silly matching suits, a la TISM, and provided light(er) relief when Wollongong’s heavy rock and stoner scene all got a bit serious. Hugely popular in local venues, Fugg flirted briefly with the mainstream when triple j picked up their track ‘Distortion Saved My Teenage Arse’. In 1999, however, Buckland left Fugg to focus on solo recording project The Dodgy World.
He has been bending a 12-track to his will ever since. Buckland’s ample back-catalogue (all self-released on his label Nomaster Studios) is a collection of experimental pop where keys loom large. When Buckland emerges from the spare bedroom ready to play live, he ropes in Wollongong friends and luminaries to bring his creations to life. Among others, Tumbleweed drummer Steve O’Brien (and his wife Kylie O’Brien), folk singer Tim Ireland (and his brother Darren Ireland), Johnno Beniuk and Pat Lyons of legendary Wollongong garage act, The Unheard, and Wayne Stokes, bassist for defunct stoner rock band Thumlock, have all drifted in and out of Buckland’s dodgy world.
This latest release displays Buckland’s nimble, innate feel for great pop songs. It’s an energetic, well-written clutch of tracks with enough esoteric touches to blur the pop blueprint a little. Vocally, the ghost of Elliot Smith is ever present, and if I’ll be damned if Buckland isn’t Ween’s biggest fan. But unlike compadres Dean and Gene, Buckland flies solo. There’s no other fool fiddlin’ around the edges, and the songs are sharp and confessional. It’s one man’s vision.
The strongest tracks are sunny, feel-good driving tunes that seem to come easy as pie, such as opener ‘Cut Along The Line’ and third track ‘Straight Up’. Plump, acoustic strumming fleshes out the underside of both tracks, keeping them warm and level. But the record is not all sunny side up. The hyperactive stomp of ‘Rose Controls’ masks a tale of a distressing power imbalance between what’s presumably a couple: “Satellites are smashing in the sky /Fireworks from hard work you laid down just last night /Rose controls the situation /She turns and yells, ‘Why you hanging on one single word from me?” The crazed Dan Deacon-esque keys exude a real sense that our Dodgy World protagonist is hanging by puppet strings, while Buckland’s voice is strained, distorted and losing itself.
The mood continues its downward arc through a series of tracks dealing with themes of isolation and mental illness; less poppy than the rest and concerned with communicating an atmosphere more than a catchy hook. Some are genuinely upsetting. The panic of losing control is palpable on ‘George Won’t Sing Again’ when Buckland wails, “Nothing is right, ground your flights.” And indeed, nothing is. A lopsided, woozy atmosphere prevails, backed by maudlin keys that segue into a guitar effect I haven’t heard this side of Ween’s Pure Guava. ‘Schizophrenia’ samples two people discussing their mental illness. Buckland lets them talk, gently strumming in the background, asking whoever happens to be listening: “If this ain’t drugs, how will I ever sober up again?”
The sombre mood is shattered by the gloriously upbeat ‘Song for the Quitters’. Here, Buckland co-opts the shoot-from-the-hip, white-guy-rap philosophising that Beck pioneered in the mid-’90s. And like Beck, it’s damn infectious. “We’ll take the back lanes/Bypass the motorways/Realise our boundaries/And quit anything that can bring us down.” Where the darker tracks seem determined to document a state of mind, ‘Song for the Quitters’ seems to be a statement of intent. It’s one of those effortless indie-pop tracks that makes feeling good feel really good – think Weezer’s ‘Island in the Sun’ and you’ll get the measure.
There’s nothing flashy on Burn the Archives; just a natural feel for composition, groove, vocals and melody combined with a decade at the helm of a 12-track, alone, working out what works best.
Mess+Noise version, here.