It’s hard to tell which side Aversions stand on. Are they goofy intellectuals who get a kick out of shoehorning words like “simulacrums” or “kyphosis” into their lyrics or is this all a defence mechanism used to mask their acute sensitivity and dark, intrusive thoughts? Part of the charm of Base Portrait EP is that it could be either or both or neither. The whole thing is a thrilling tightrope which the band consistently threatens cut with garden shears. It’s an album that will make you chuckle and marvel at its cleverness as well as make you want to crawl into a small dark corner.
Aversions is a post-punk band that draws on both the lighter and darker tones of the post-punk genre. Think La Dispute meets Television. This band is just as likely to bust out angular riffs and muscular dance grooves as they are to hit you over the head with a wall of distortion. And then there is frontman Sam Coll; the guy sounds like a raging eccentric and I mean that in the best possible way! All great post-punk bands need a singer who sounds like they are on the verge of a nervous breakdown and with two hands wrapped around their windpipe. This guy makes David Byrne look like a suburban dad. He yelps, talks, sings, and screams himself horse. Just like drummer Joe R, bassist CD, and guitarist Rory Munro, Coll is just as capable of winking at the listener AND making them feel his pain.
Aversions’ patented brand of artsy shenanigans and profound melancholy is best displayed on standout track “Cistern Chapel.” This could very well be modern post-punk’s answer to Cat Stevens “Father and Son.” The verses are reminiscent of “Marquee Moon” due to the ping-pong guitar work of Munro and Coll, and the chorus blows up to reveal a gothic guitar line worthy of early The Cure. Coll takes on the role of authority figure (a parent in verse one and a professor in verse two) with such eye-rolling vitriol, he might as well be repeatedly saying “wah-wah” instead. The chorus does a complete 180 and takes the point of view of a deeply wounded young man who is “At the apex of want and more” and can’t possibly put up with the apathy and societal pressure of the adults around him.
This exciting back and forth is the cornerstone of the album and is used to great effect on other standouts like “Bill Got Got” and “Cloth.” This isn’t to say that the band doesn’t slip from time to time. Reading the lyrics is sometimes akin to being smacked in the face by a dictionary and a thesaurus at the same time (we get it, you’re smart). Though this isn’t too much of a sticking point since Coll’s delivery is often unintelligible in its primal urgency and lines like “I’m an organ donor/The perfect job for solipsistic loners” are genuinely hilarious. Some songs, specifically “Night Class” and “Flatliner,” are also in need of a little bit of trimming as they are a touch too long and abrasive, even if being abrasive seems to be in this band’s DNA.
Aversions’ Base Portrait EP is a refreshing debut that showcases a band (and a deranged lead singer) who are already at the precipice of mastering the post-punk genre. You get the feeling that these guys are capable of going anywhere after this. Whether it’s walking to the end of that tightrope in one piece or purposely jumping into the abyss with gleefully reckless abandon.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy