Album Walkthrough: Children Collide break down their returning record, Time Itself
The band's new album book-ends a long nine years of quietness with an album that sees the group back to their best.
Header image by Jordan Drysdale.
Once upon a time, Children Collide were a hallmark act of Australia's indie-rock explosion. Forming back in 2005, the group were an act synonymous with the late-2000s/early-2010s post-bloghouse rock explosion, holding dominance throughout the country's live space and the flourishing festivals such as Big Day Out and V Festival (RIP to them both) that were distinctive to that era. They had a top-ten-charting sophomore record - 2010's Theory of Everything - and numerous ARIA Award nominations under their belt, before eventually splitting shortly after the release of their third album Monument in 2012.
Since then, Children Collide have existed in numerous forms. Inspired by The Avalanches' Darren Seltmann, frontman Johnny Mackay pivoted to a more electronic-aligned focus via his Fascinator project, which has been his sole creative endeavour since moving to New York in 2012. Drummer Ryan Caesar - who quit the band in 2012 with a rather blunt statement: "Touring as a unit is no longer pleasant, and that is that," he wrote - existed as Pearls, while Heath Crawley pursued his own vintage shop; the trio reforming only once as Children Collide for a return in 2014.
That was until they returned with Aurora - their first song in seven years - back in 2019. It's a single that came from sessions once the band had gotten back together, spurred after Mackay - making music for no project in particular - soon realised he was making music that felt perfect for everything Children Collide thrived for. "I sent an email suggesting we make an album, for no reason other than the whole thing felt unfinished," he writes. "Heath was busy curating his own vintage store on the Central Coast, but Ryan and I immediately started throwing ideas at each other."
Now, nine years following their last album, Children Collide return at a force with Time Itself. Out now through Spinning Top Records, Time Itself is a record not as drenched in nostalgia as you'd expect from a band like Children Collide coming back after all of these years. There are glimpses of that within the confines of the album - take a peek at the grunge-y Return to Femmes, for example - but much of the album sports a daring rock sound that's been brought forward to 2021, capturing the charm of the band in the past perhaps, but through what appears to be an entirely new lens.
As such, Time Itself debuts a version of Children Collide that we've never seen before. It sears with energy and personality, soundtracking the rollercoastering highs and lows of the band's last near-decade through music that seems to capture the glory of the same time, right through to the sounds that are sure to define the band's future. There are pockets of indie, punk, grunge, alt-rock and beyond within the album's 12-track confines; each sound and each texture delivered with the Children Collide-isms that bolstered the band's original glory, which even ten years later, remains a source of joy.
This joy is something that really feels like the core of Time Itself; a re-uniting of old pals over a shared appreciation of music creation once again - how could it not be joyful? "Children Collide albums always feel like 12 points of a clock or a compass," says Mackay in a statement accompanying the album's release. "More an entire 360 degree entity than a single story. Exploration in all directions."
There's a lot of exploration here, and you can learn more as you read a track by track dissection of Time Itself below, written by the band themselves:
Man of the People
Originally titled Dark Bird, this was an instrumental I’d written just after Monument. I pulled it out, dusted it off and wrote lyrics in New York at the height of the Trump presidency. I was having a bit of a rock bottom moment personally and my whole world felt like cocaine, mezcal and pathetic desperation against the backdrop of a Murdochian dystopia where the bastards had won. My reaction is always to stuff my hopelessness into an aural time capsule. I love how heavy Loren and Doug made it and my one-take solo gives me anxiety when I listen back.
Ryan wrote the main riff on this. Originally more of a disco vibe he was trying with Pearls, then we were walking around a park in Melbourne early-2019 discussing those really immediate chord progressions that happen in classic rock songs when he said, I think I have something actually, and played it to me on phone speakers. I got back to Sydney and spent a good week or so in this little studio next to Golden Age Cinema hammering out the rest of the song. Aside from the obvious Blur/White Stripes thing the main riff has going on there are nods to The Stooges, GOD, Prince and even our mates Pond buried in there.
My favourite part is getting to sing the line "Like an emu scratching round in the outback of my mind."
I don't have much to say on this one other than that I finished it a week before we started and it's one of my favourite songs I've ever written. It's about those amazing characters in your life who are magnetic as fuck but as soon as you get too close they shut down and push you away… you bounce off geddit?
Aurora is a love letter to all our beautiful, grand illusions. It's also a big part of the reason we made this album. It was burning a hole in my hard drive, so we had to put it out. Aurora is also the bar we set for the rest of the songs. If they weren’t close to this standard they got booted. There’s a live version of this we do with Chelsea which is super fun.
Some of my favourite lyrics I’ve done but I’m not sure I could tell you what the fuck I’m on about. It’s just 20 mini stream-of-consciousness philosophies like “Sailin’ down the river Nihilism” and “Turrets are where it’s at.” Sometimes the meaning comes later.
Turrets was written in a jam with Heath and Ryan at Pink Floyd’s old studio Brit Row with producer Youth during our first attempt at our second album Theory of Everything which our label and management convinced us to scrap much to my chagrin at the time.
Funeral for a Ghost
This track has been laying about in one form or another waiting to be finished and recorded properly almost since the band began. It's by far the oldest on the record. I wrote it on an old Roland loop pedal when I was living in a dungeon in North Melbourne an eon ago. You had to pull up a trap door to get down to my room and you could see where a tunnel had been bricked up on my bedroom wall. I was listening to a lot of Sonic Youth at the time, constantly rotating between Murray St and Confusion is Sex.
The line "dive in the holy sea" is a reference to my friend Holly C who I was obsessed with. Still am. Listening to it now the lyrics sound like I wrote them last week about covid conspiracy nuts. Time is a flat circle.
This one is about a creative genius I was in love with who moved back to New Zealand to become a polo shirt. I originally wrote it after hearing the band DMA's and thinking they could really use a tune that sounds like She's a Waterfall by Stone Roses. It was way faster and peppered with congas and organ and choir all throughout. Loren heard it and slowed it right down to the point where it became more like this psych-rock take on Today by The Smashing Pumpkins.
There are nearly 4 minutes of guitar solo on it, which isn't something I'd normally do but we were recording the whole thing live and I remember just closing my eyes and focusing on how crazy this person had made me feel. I tried to overdub some properly planned parts later but nothing came close to the fervent mess I made in the live take.
16 year old me trying to channel Sonic Youth with this riff. I think it took me a while to realise that one of the funnest things about being in a band is trying to explore all those musical worlds that blew your mind as a kid. I think I also had Sunnyboys and Eddie Current in my head here but I’m not sure anyone else will hear that. Oh and Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus comes through in the bridge.
Language is a Prison
Children Collide albums always have at least one nod to early Cure and Joy Division. It’s eternally been a bedrock of our sound. I was definitely feeling A Forest writing this one but also Dead Kennedys in the bridge. I wonder if those guys ever met any Kennedys in their tours and if it was awkward. Lyrically, well I think I was considering how intensely meaningful and misconstrued language can be these days...perhaps always. Intention forms in thought, perception is received via language. Dangerous ground for some.
Return to Femmes
Right after our third album, I was in a very unhealthy relationship where I’d kind of been turned into an emotional support animal. At the time I wrote this song I was convinced I was happy but listening now it sounds like a cry for help. The title refers to a website my girlfriend at the time was constantly looking at where people would post photos of her with comments. The link back to the main page was Return to Femmes. My subconscious apparently needed to talk about this through song. Sonically it seems to be a homage to Bleach.
This started with me messing about on the bass line from Turkish psych classic Yali Yali by Neşe Karaböcek. Somehow it morphed into an angry punk tune where I just yell into the mic like Jello Biafra or Johnny Rotten. The lyrics sound overtly political, but it was more a reaction to seeing a lot of industry people who I know to be capitalist scumbags jumping on social causes because it’s hip then virtue signalling/shaming other people for not caring in the right way. Written during Trumpy times it was stark jumping from New York where most good thinking people I knew were coming together against a common cause then back to Australia where the Left unfortunately tends to tear each other apart. I don’t know how we fix that but it certainly seems to make it easier for the bastards to keep winning. The Right seeks converts, the Left seeks traitors. I hope people like this one because feels like it’d be a cracker to play live.
I guess you could call this a sequel to The Flat Earth from Monument and is further exploration into the notion of subjective reality. We all have an image of self, set against this apparently universal thing called time, but scratch a little deeper and it's completely unique for each and every conscious being. This touches on the concept of autotheism as a way of explaining these differing world views. Listening back now it feels dystopian but really I’m just in awe of the infinite present.
Friday 19 November – Jive, Adelaide SA
Saturday 20 November – Lynott’s Lounge, Perth WA
Sunday 21 November – Mojos, Fremantle WA
Thursday 25 November – Sooki Lounge, Belgrave VIC
Friday 26 November – Howler, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 27 November – The Eastern, Ballarat VIC
Wednesday 1 December – La La La’s, Wollongong NSW (Sold Out)
Thursday 2 December – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NSW
Friday 3 December – Kambri, Canberra ACT
Saturday 4 December – The Newy, Newcastle NSW
Thursday 9 December – The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
Friday 10 December – Eleven Dive Bar, Maroochydore QLD
Saturday 11 December – Studio 56 @ Miami Marketta, Gold Coast QLD