Album Walkthrough: Collarbones talk their long-awaited return, Futurity
On their first full-length record in five years, Marcus Whale and Travis Cook enter an exciting new phase.
While they may not have the cross-commerical appeal of the Australian electronic heavyweights they blossomed alongside, it's a disservice to say that Collarbones aren't one of Australian music's most influential – and important – names. Since their 2011 debut Iconography, the Adelaide-raised pairing of Marcus Whale and Travis Cook have come to navigate and define the complex intersections of indie, electronica, pop and hyper-experimental club music; Whale's infamous vocal – which has since featured on tracks from HTMLflowers, Swick, Deer and others – meeting Cook's daring productions, capable of switching and swerving between ambient soundscapes and quick-firing club-pop alike. This combination, refined and challenged in their albums since – 2012's Die Young and 2014's cross-national break-out The Return – has blossomed into something remarkably special, and something they've spent the last five years only further crafting for their first album since, Futurity.
Named after a term once used by late queer theorist Jose Esteban Munoz (which we'll let them explain momentarily), Futurity is an album which peeks into the future in multiple ways. On one half, perhaps the most simplistic way, the album is a forward-thinking extension of the Collarbones sound (or their lack thereof), continuing to navigate this multi-dimensional genre intersection in a way that feels like a leap into the future. The other way in which Futurity feels like the next frontier becomes evident once you dive deeper into the album's rich lyricism and complexities, dissecting "heteronormative, procreation-centred, matrimonial relationships" and setting their visions forward, rejecting the norm and welcoming a vision that's more welcoming and inclusive; something that's become a focal point of Collarbones for much of the past eight years (!).
With the opening juxtaposition of Church's piano-ballad ooze and A.I.'s rich experimental-pop swells, it becomes clear that Futurity is an album that's going to stick to Collarbones' musical experimentalism, taking familiar sounds from their past work but ushering it into 2019 – or beyond; their growth and evolution trackable as the album continues. Skylight contrasts dark drilling and metallic twangs with Haunted's gentle piano riff and Marcus Whale's aforementioned vocal soar, while Everything I Want – "the emotional core of the album," the duo explains – toys with a club-infused, forward-thinking display of indie-rock. "I taught myself guitar as a teenager and played in a ton of weird shit bands," says Marcus on the song. "When we first met back in 2006, I originally conceptualised Travis and I making "indie rock" together which had previously been very very funny to me. But on this song, we finally made it happen for real."
Elsewhere on the record, The Gate takes a nod from Ryan Beatty's intoxicating Boy In Jeans record for a song that welcomes a sense of fantasy and optimism beneath its swirling synth and gentle grooves, while Deep - another upbeat, pop-centric cut - is a long-winding journey within one song; the track's endless revisions encapsulated in three-minutes of shining club-pop that's amongst this year's most slick and crafty. On Heavy, "that fear you get in the early moments of a relationship that you know is gonna go deep" is soundtracked through hammering bass and rushing rhythms, while the Banoffee-assisted Wish Me Luck welcomes the partnership of two close friends and two of Australia's brightest names in duet, exploring the complexities of relationship break-ups. "Wish Me Luck is one of the final songs I ever wrote about a particular ex of mine. I convinced myself I was a bad person in the wake of my many breakups with him but still always wanted so deeply to be back with him, as unhealthy as it was for both of us. This song is a rendering of that quite ugly feeling."
"Futurity is a term used in Cruising Utopias by late queer theorist Jose Esteban Munoz, a text held dear by many queers," explains Marcus Whale on the album's larger themes. "For me, it's a rejection of the flatness of the present for a field of potentiality that illuminates us with other ways of being. It’s this imaginary space to which I return when I try to unpack my romantic instincts." In a new track-by-track walkthrough, Marcus and Travis dissect the album's creation and themes, opening up on how catfishes and Janet Jackson album interludes aided in the creation of one of this year's essential Australian albums.
Futurity is a term used in Cruising Utopias by late queer theorist Jose Esteban Munoz, a text held dear by many queers. I remember reading bits of it a few years ago and feeling set alight by every word. I sometimes think of the work I make as being either before or after that moment.
The ideas that hit me hardest were to do with the idea of queerness being a “horizon of being” that is searched for and worked towards but never arrived at. I find that image of being always reaching for something greater and something beyond as being super beautiful and a good analogy for my romantic instincts - to reject the stagnant model of heteronormative, procreation-centred, matrimonial relationships and towards horizons unknowable.
This album is, among other things, about that most future-oriented form of longing - the crush. Dependent on distance and buoyed by obsession, crushing allows us to swell torturously, but gorgeously with fantasy and imagination. Futurity attempts to account for the power and effect of that longing on our bodies and our souls.
The album begins with a declaration of devotion. This album is titled Futurity and as it is, this declaration stands as more of a promise, the first, pure steps towards knowing someone deeper, further and better.
The invocation of religion in this title is deliberate; I've been thinking recently about how it's easy to let someone become an entire system of beliefs and values to you, a whole worldview. It's important to remember that it's hard to really know what you're diving into in those early stages of romance. But there's a seductiveness to the unknown. In some ways, what's most romantic about this moment in time is that you go in on faith and goodwill alone, just as you do when you pour your capacity for belief into a religion.
The album is bookended by two solo piano tracks. These songs were written at a point in the process where I had lost a lot of my faith in my ability to write music with the use of a laptop and DAW. Thankfully my parents put me through piano lessons as a kid. Since then I've sung more and more while playing and taken a lot of pleasure in rediscovering this other way of being with the piano.
When I was sixteen, I was catfished. Me and this pretend-boy from Geelong called Tom "online dated" for the best part of a year. I poured my whole soul into it, even as it became more and more obvious he was probably an old man. I've recently mined extensively from this experience for performances and songs and artworks because I feel like it is really demonstrative of the way I experience romantic pleasure - I'm often most attracted to aspects of mystery and the unknowable in a person.
In this way, I put this experience very much in dialogue with the concept of this album - "futurity" - this kind of online romance is always about deferral. My relationship with "Tom" existed always with the hope and potential of something more in the future: to see him in the flesh, to smell him, to taste him. And yet, while I've had many relationships and encounters with people IRL since then, it's this imaginary space to which I return when I try to unpack my romantic instincts.
We first discussed the possibility of making a video of A.I. with Gussy way back in 2016, backstage after its first performance at a gig at Oxford Art Factory. They've been a friend of mine for a long time and I think they're a kind of genius - I remember seeing the videos for Looking At Myself and before meeting them and thinking "who IS this person!" There is an odd, almost funny alien quality they bring to many things they do that I find incredibly alluring - and that they brought in spades to the A.I. video that eventually came out in 2018.
I made the initial demo after I spent a sleepless night with Flume and Tove Lo's spectacular single Say It stuck in my head. The next day I made the whole thing in a kind of frenzy almost as a way of exorcising it. It was a relief to finish. About half a year later we got together with Hamish Dixon to soup up the production and as a result, it stands bright and proud as the attention-seeker of this collection of songs.
This is a loose re-telling of the story of Saint Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, except it's set in an attic and it's actually a sexual encounter (keeping the skylight open for God to come and fuck you in the night).
If you've ever had a cute flirty moment or makeout with some hottie at a party and found yourself looking them up online afterwards, you'll know the feeling this song describes. In those deluded moments you'd give absolutely anything to know what they're thinking. This song places us in the hopeful space of that moment before he opens the door for your second encounter. It's also my favourite song on the album, I think. In some universe this album is actually entirely piano songs. Shout out to my queen Tori Amos.
This is an old one, dating back to 2015, but finished in 2019. I think we were listening to a lot of Visionist at the time, which explains the style. I still really like it and the production stands up four years later, I hope!
I've been trying to work out what it's about for quite a long time now. My most recent reading is that it's a kind of cry for sexual liberty, from the world's strictures and from your own hangups. By this I mean pursuing sensuality and sexuality in the moment, for its own end alone and your own pleasure.
Travis and I very rarely have the pleasure of being in each other's physical company because we live in different cities. I think I can count on one hand the number of songs we've actually worked on together in the same room. Momentary came together very quickly on a fun little afternoon we had together in my bedroom earlier this year. The beat is based on a track Travis made for his solo project.
7. Everything I Want
I think of this song as the emotional core of the album. Coming back to the concept of futurity, this is about that moment when I finally realised quite viscerally that to be forever gazing into the future is also to arrive nowhere and in some ways, to have nothing. Desire is ultimately just about you, that crush is only a story that you're telling yourself.
I taught myself guitar as a teenager and played in a ton of weird shit bands. When we first met back in 2006, I originally conceptualised Travis and I making "indie rock" together which had previously been very very funny to me. But on this song, we finally made it happen for real.
8. The Gate
I loved every second of writing, performing, recording and mixing this short little piano moment. For me, it conveys the pure, unsullied pleasure of wanting and being wanted by someone, before any complication or expectation. The sense of fantasy and optimism embedded in the feel and lyrics in this song I attribute to being in the midst of a deep obsession with Ryan Beatty’s album Boy In Jeans. That twink renders teen gay longing with crystal accuracy over and over again on that record. I ache and swell with nostalgia every time I listen to it.
I wrote this song with Boyboy, who is a lovely guy called Sam from New Zealand who now lives in Los Angeles. I find songwriting sessions quite difficult, especially with strangers. Sam was, however, a totally different and much more pleasurable experience for me. We began by basically diving into a D'n'M about our lives and the writing felt like a very simple flow-on from that conversation.
The first version of this song was a simple ballad that I almost forgot about - in some ways it was saved by the response by my partner Marcus and our manager Tom Huggett. Many friends of ours like to explore many potential versions of the song but we normally finish songs within one or two versions. Deep, however, went on a journey across tempos, styles and structures before landing on the cute groove you hear today.
Being big fans of Janet Jackson’s album structures, we’ve always been purveyors of the album interlude. Arguably the majority of our first album Iconography is interludes! As a means of spacing out the attention-seeking energies of Deep and Heavy, we made this spooky little 17-second track, partly cribbed from a horror film soundtrack I was working on this year.
Some of the machinic sounds you hear in this interlude are from my old broken laptop, which would spit out these aggressive noises at totally unpredictable times. It almost felt like the machine, in its brokenness, was finally finding a voice to speak for itself, making it into quite a poetically futuristic object in my life.
This is about that fear you get in the early moments of a relationship that you know is gonna go deep. It's one of the poppier moments, but possibly the darkest song on the album in my mind. When I first showed it to Travis, he described the writing in the second verse as being like Taylor Swift which I both liked and hated as an observation.
12. Wish Me Luck feat. Banoffee
Wish Me Luck is one of the final songs I ever wrote about a particular ex of mine. I convinced myself I was a bad person in the wake of my many breakups with him but still always wanted so deeply to be back with him, as unhealthy as it was for both of us. This song is a rendering of that quite ugly feeling.
This song was written initially in 2016, but it was very recently blessed with the voice and co-production of the wonderful Banoffee, aka Martha Brown. We played a show back in 2010 with Martha's previous band and our label-mates Otouto (who I loved and still deeply love) and we've been great friends ever since. It's been spectacular seeing her evolve and grow over the years into the absolute powerhouse performer/singer/producer/artist she is today, but she's always from the beginning been an incredible songwriter.
My partner described our duet on this song as "two emotional dynamics split from one soul," which I think is a totally gorgeous description.
If Heavy is about the fear at the start of a relationship, Lotion is about overcoming that fear and embracing the possibility of love. Sometimes all it takes for all that complication to melt away is to embrace faith and immerse yourself in the golden glow of what's to come.
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