A Straw Assembly is a band whose history is about as mysterious as their music. Without any social media, or any kind of online presence aside from a Bandcamp page, one might think they’re not quite up to snuff with the whole “being a band in the 21st century” thing. However, upon listening to their new album, Skyfeed, it’s evident that this Australian band prefers doing things their own way and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, so sit back and enjoy the ride as much as you can.
Labeled to me as “Alternative,” there I was, thinking I was about to hear something that sounded straight out of 90s mainstream rock radio. In fact, what I heard was something far truer to the Alternative label than I had previously believed. Skyfeed is full of songs that appear like light-hearted folk on the surface, but possess some real eerie and dissonant undertones of varying degrees across the entire runtime.
Songs like “Free Ride” really show the album’s darker side, both in it’s sombre instrumentation and grim lyrics, but all throughout the album, elements of dissonance are constantly sprinkled in, keeping the listener engaged while also creating something sonically unpleasant. One perfect example is in the song “Freewheeling,” where it very much sounds like lead vocalist Matt Lane is trying to carry a tune over a group of intoxicated chimpanzees banging on slightly out of tune instruments. However, the musicians are never making noise for the sake of making noise. There’s a strange method to the madness, and one that I really think should be more present in what we call “alternative” music.
One the other hand, there’s some downright beautiful music featured on this album. The instrumental tracks showcase the great compositional work of all musicians involved, and Lane’s songwriting abilities come to life on the relatively stripped down “Sleepwalker.” Some of it is very reminiscent to Damien Rice’s My Favourite Faded Fantasy in the sense that these orchestral landscapes are built over a barebones foundation of acoustic guitar and an honest lyricist.
Despite these extreme highs and extreme lows, the record flows together quite cohesively. There are certain points where not all musicians, specifically the drummer, are completely locked in rhythmically, but I can’t punish the band for that, since it all adds to the depth of the chaos. Everything from the previously mentioned “Freewheeling,” to the song “Reporting” which has all but one dissonant chord in its otherwise predictable progression, Skyfeed truly redefines what alternative music should be.
Take the predictability out of song structure until the music has an almost improvisational feel to it. On more than one occasion have I wondered to myself if what I was listening to was actually good, and to be honest, I’m still not certain, but there’s no denying a certain charm in just how bold A Straw Assembly is in creating this album. As perfectly imperfect as it is, it’s well worth discovering.
Written by Mathieu Perrier
*edited by Danielle Kenedy