Despite a recent surge in attention, it’s worth nothing that Methyl Ethel has been a pretty exciting phenomenon since its inception. Jake Webb (who cut his teeth in blues-rooted psych/prog trio Sugarpuss) poured plenty of oddball artistry into Methyl’s two early EPs, “Guts” and “Teeth” – records I relished for their lush, ambitious production, their loopy Dionysian songwriting, and their honed palette. Not to mention a certain creepy, resolved sensibility that enveloped it all: this music seemed to exist in its own eerie, gorgeous, self-contained universe. Methyl Ethel’s retained that particular quality, but has since grown from exploratory bedroom passion project to a fleshed-out, tightly orchestrated band featuring Chris Wright and Thom Stewart. They’ve performed shedloads of specky shows around the country and signed to Remote Control records (at various times home to Sigur Ros, St. Vincent, FKA Twigs, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Radiohead and, like, pretty much everyone you’d ever want to share a label with). It’s a well-earned bout of success, and the auspicious signing coincides with the release of ‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle’ – the first long-player to emerge from the project.
he album’s got a gleefully audacious name (reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, Of Montreal and ilk, to my mind) and its tracklist springs into action with a song titled in French to boot: the bubbling ‘Idee Fixe.’ Its a canny, moreish number whose artful textures, evocative lyrics and melancholic chord progression are offset by an undulating funk backbone – one that occasionally ducks the on-beat and introduces snakes-tongue flickering flourishes, not unlike Tame Impala’s recent post-coital burners. “Shadowboxing” ups the lo-fi crunch, and gurgles away under plenty of nice, chimey Mac Demarco-esque lead guitar, but is regrettably unmemorable given its second-slot placement. “Rogues” makes up for that: the pre-album single is a gratifying hunk of smoky, spacious guitar pop with a simmering motown pulse. It also makes charming reference to Western Australian idiosyncrasy (“it’s a forty-three degree day outside”) and extraterrestrial life (“aliens… aliens… I got abducted by the aliens.”)
“To Swim” grants us two minutes and sixty seconds of sound: first, as an abstract swirl of noise and then as an undeniable slab of chugging chillwave-y smoothness. Neither part lasts long enough to feel like a significant statement; both risk sounding like non-committal detours, or like vignettes from a hyperactive musical dream. But if you’re floating in the flow of the album, the track constitutes a totally pleasant pit stop, whetting yr appetite for the more substantial “Twilight Driving.”
The latter is about the best slice of earnest, major-key guitar twang optimism since, I dunno, Real Estate’s Days? Which is a big call but not outrageous, I reckon – “Twilight Driving” is a sideways love song about road trips, avoiding kangaroos, coffee, sleeping in and it’s got a saxophone solo for chrissakes. If its sincere, life-affirming spirit doesn’t rub off on you then there is probably ice-cold coal inside your ribcage where your heart should be.
That said, you might have a particular blood type that errs towards slow-burn, soothing jams with gentle beats, hammock-mellow guitar harmonies and gooey sunrise synths, in which case “Depth Perception” is more probably the track for you. Or maybe you’re like me and you remained stuck on the intoxicated, stomping, cosmopolitan choirboy giddiness of Person Pitch long after it was hip, in which case you’ll enjoy getting wrapped up in the throbbing melodic layers of Unbalancing Act.
“Also Gesellschaft” owes plenty to our city’s stately princes of psych-party renaissance – Pond, obvies – but meanwhile subsumes sombre krautrock moodiness and ’80s pop indulgence in a way that’s starting to feel very particular to Methyl Ethel. There’s “Osbcura,” which sort of feels like a jazz standard performed in disco style, and slowed to 33rpm laced with distortion, and “Artificial Limb” which is also gently jazzy and emphatically fuzzy, but more in a fog-headed Blur or Pulp kind of way. Y’know?
The twelve tracks – which have been surprisingly varied, given their aesthetic continuity – tie up in the form of wistful stargazer “Sweet Waste” and the even-more-hollowed-out, hymnal ambient funk of “Everything Is As It Should Be.”
There are plenty of reference points that Oh Inhuman Spectacle seems to brush over and collect glittery lint from – most evidently the gently weird, “pre-worn hits” aesthetic that has seemed to rhizomatically emerge from (admittedly diverse) musicians like Mac DeMarco, Ariel Pink, Connan Mockasin, Atlas Sound, Tame Impala, Neon Indian etc etc. But to calculate an average of those bands’ sounds is not particularly helpful in imagining the sonic space that Methyl Ethyl currently occupy. It is better understood as the culmination of years spent honing offbeat pop-songwriting, funnelled into a pretty flawless 12-track album, the sort of album that’s crafted with a sculptor’s precision and a bricklayer’s grit. From start to finish, it flows in a logical manner: there aren’t too many kooky surprises, curveballs, or overt attempts at genre-jamming. But that’s no indictment. When your songs and performers are this good, you don’t need tricks up your sleeve.