Album Walkthrough: Halcyon Drive talk their maiden album, Elephant Bones
The Melbourne indie trio soar on their triumphant and diverse debut album - out now.
Nothing quite brings us as much pleasure as following an artist throughout their career and watching them grow and evolve, something we've definitely had the pleasure of doing with Melbourne trio Halcyon Drive. Ever since their early days as a rising indie-rock three-piece, the Melbourne group have stepped forward as one of our scene's most versatile and dynamic names, channelling names including Vampire Weekend and Two Door Cinema Club in their abilities to swerve between genres and sounds - something they've been championing for much of the last five years or so. Their growth and maturity as a band in both music and personality are almost unmatched within their competition, something their debut album - the long-awaited, just-released Elephant Bones - really sets out to champion.
Elephant Bones is a record that encompasses the last three years for Halcyon Drive, soundtracking their rise as a triple j Unearthed favourite to the all-rounded, versatile band they are today, giving us a taste of their past, present and future as the 12-track release slides through their highs and lows. It's a dizzying display of one of the most multi-faceted bands on the market, marrying these bright pop hooks with glistening synth melodies and charging guitar to sit somewhere between the cliffs of electronic, indie-rock and pop - a hard feat to pull off, let alone on your debut album. In fact, at times, they showcase all these sounds and genres in just three minutes, like the album's opener The Birds for example, which combines these somewhat sombre, but euphoria-veiled vocals with blasting guitar hooks and this warped synth section which twists and turns underneath, offering this multi-genre sound the album really highlights within the very first taste.
It's a brilliant album that brings every side of a rather complex and multi-faceted band, and with a handful of tour dates planned for the east coast this April - full deets at the end of this feature - it's the perfect entry point into one of Australia's most talented bands if you're yet to be acquainted. Listen to the album below, and walk through its central themes and creation with an extensive track-by-track walkthrough while you're at it:
The Birds arose during the last stretch of songwriting before the album and is definitely one of my favourite tunes on the record, combining the sentimental side of HD with some truly banging production. It includes some of Max's typically brilliant touches, including odd samples of pouring rice into a bowl for ambience and chopping up vocals to create some staggered melodies to name a few. Max completely rewrote the middle eight section, and when I first heard it after emailing him the original demo, I was just blown away. Those Juno chords are amazing. It’s like nothing I would have ever written, and I love that. That is truly the great bit about writing music as a band. Sentiment-wise this song really tiptoes around the thrills but also the uncertainty that comes with a new romance.
Hands down my favourite tune on the record. It was another late song written just before entering the studio, and that probably explains why it is one of our most adventurous. We really pushed to keep things fresh at the tail end of the album writing. It’s big, bombastic and pulls no punches. It’s also just a bit wild and silly, with a sonic palette that is pretty unusual for us, which I love. We created the ‘choir’ in this song by me literally singing ‘oh’ about 1000 times. Similarly, the drums are almost entirely electronic, and then layered with a slammed beat Max smashed out on his vintage 60s kit. That's pretty novel for us. Lots of tracks in this session! This is a song about inhibitions and uncertainty, but also about letting it all hang out and enjoying the moment.
This tune was inspired by the time I nearly stood on a stingray out in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. Recording this song was a heap of fun, and also includes Basil Yu featuring on the bass; a tale in itself… Baz had woken up that morning with a migraine, but also booked into a ‘float tank’ session with his girlfriend who had bought it as a (very thoughtful) birthday gift. Unfortunately, the headache meant he spent the entire ‘float’ spewing in the shower and then had to rush into the studio session to lay down the bass. Needless to say, he was fairly drained when he arrived, and I distinctly remember him asking in a daze if we could slow the tune down a bit so he could keep up!
Our ‘lady-powers’ moment on this record. I don’t really know what the specific inspiration for this was, but it’s a tribute to all the powerful women out there getting shit done in a world where toxic masculinity is still tragically an ever-present reality. The simple, single chord progression actually began in our very first rehearsal back after our Untethered EP tour. From there it grew into Better Suffering during subsequent jams sessions. Could be considered to be the very first track we wrote for the album really. The bridge is one of Max’s favourite moments due to its “whimsical nature and warmth”.
Picture yourself driving through the night in an old Cadillac, headlights cutting through the mist, with a beautiful, cat-eyed woman by your side. This is a slinky, sexy tune about love and freedom. And Jesus. And astronauts.
This track (and Reach for that matter) was born during sessions when we were rehearsing in a deserted Starbucks storeroom in Docklands for a short period of time, and Max incessantly referenced Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing during its recording.
In this age of connectivity, cheap travel, Skype and FaceTime, I think almost everyone can relate to that feeling of being away on the other side of the world from a loved one. Still being "connected", but also being so far apart. That's simply what Reach is about. The tyranny of distance, the untouchable blue.
This tune came about from that main sequenced Moog bass line. I had it sitting around as a 30-second demo for ages and when the time came to cut down songs for the album, we all agreed that this had something really cool, unique and different for us in it. It was the first song we recorded with producer Joel Quartermaine inside the 'submarine’, a windowless little studio in Moorabin, Melbourne. We would go on to record the entire album there. Another very collaborative effort; we chopped it to pieces, added a key change chorus and voila, out popped Halcyon Drive’s first ever synth-driven, afro-beat-inspired banger.
This was actually the first tune we tried tracking for the album way back in 2016, moving through a number of revisions before we put it on the back burner for a while. Later in the album sessions we revisited it, with Joel suggesting we change up the verses to be a more aggressive, fiery vibe, which we really embraced as our “Wolfmother” moment on the record. This is written from the perspective of someone so lost in following or fighting other people's opinions, that they've lost the ability to think for themselves. A song about truth. A song about, how in this day and age, it's harder than ever to break free from whatever media, marketing or influence is being forced down our throats.
I remember writing the lyrics for this song one-day walking from Bundoora to Abbotsford along the Darebin Creek, looking around at the city we live in. Appreciating the moment. Appreciating how lucky we are. Production-wise, we wanted the main riff to explosively melt each and every stereo speaker that played the song. Originally conceived on keys, we ended up tracking it on guitar for maximum St Vincent-style distortion effect. This song is also a stand out on the album as Max wrote the chorus top-line melody. Again, something pretty different for us, but shows the experimentation and collaboration that went into the making of this record.
On the flipside, this is the one tune on the album that I wrote myself, demoed and presented to Max and Joel as a complete song in the studio. We barely changed it from there. It’s a simple, beautiful little love song. Nothing less than that.
Endearingly labelled the ‘Kazakhstan hit’ during recording, this is Basil’s favourite on the record. I feel like Blindfold is another great example of the experimentation and the push and pull between myself and Max as we co-produced these tunes. It draws on a bunch of references from David Byrne through to Gorillaz, and I love that. Blindfold evolved a heap during recording, a real exercise in fluid creation. We had a lot of fun generating wacky sounds and chopping it into a fairly bizarre arrangement. At the time of writing this, I was reading lots of Oliver Sacks, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat definitely infiltrated these lyrics.
At the suggestion of Joel, we abandoned our “pop” songwriter hats and ended the song (and album) with a huge, uplifting one way trip to euphoria. It’s definitely one of our favourite tunes to play live, an optimistic, upbeat summary to cap off the record. Lyrically, it was a real stream-of-consciousness about technology, and the role it plays in our lives today. It muses about the habits and compulsions we all have to be online and the dark side of the black mirror. But also about the luxury of connectivity, and how fast the world is changing every day. What will our relics be? What is our legacy to future generations?
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