“I’m so scared to get out of here / But I really want to get out of here.” It’s a line from “Strange Light”—a late standout from the sophomore LP by The Goon Sax—and I’m not sure there’s a lyric that better sums up the feelings of late adolescence. Those prime years when your conflicting instincts are all fucking with each other, and the endless possibilities preached at you from childhood become paralyzing instead of promising. Growing pains and dawning realizations abound, but it’s in this mess that we finally wind up meeting ourselves. It’s an experience you might have all over again after listening to We’re Not Talking, the latest effort from the Brisbane trio.
The band’s first album, filled with achingly familiar suburban references like Target and sweaty-palmed hand-holding, was released when Louis Forster, James Harrison and Riley Jones were just 17. This makes Talking, released two years later, an interesting crystallization of growing up.
The problems are a bit more complex, the outlook a bit more bleak, but the angular, unpolished charm is still there. And comparisons to Forster’s father’s band, The Go-Betweens are sure to still be rampant, not due to the blood relation, but the similarities of the finely-crafted, jangle-based guitar-pop shared between them.
Take “A Few Times Too Many” which is hallmark ‘80s indie-pop in all the most satisfying ways. “I don’t have much to give / Nothing at all / Is that ok? / Do you care at all?,” Forster asks in a way that makes his extreme self-deprecation sound as casual as inquiring about the weather. “Losing Myself,” with its keyboards and mumbly, hands-in-pockets vocals sounds like an unearthed gem from 1985 crossed with Courtney Barnett, with Forster and Jones trading lines like, “Looking at my bank account / And I’m feeling lonely / Cuz I’ve got no money.”
Two brief home-demo recordings (“Somewhere In Between” and “Now You Pretend”) serve little purpose other than cranking up the intimacy level and providing yet another dead-on-the-nose couplet with Forster confiding, “I go outside / To be alone.” Yet they still manage to hit that sweet spot where they seem uncertain about everything, except the music they’re making—smart, charmingly relatable, and definitely evolving. Opening track “Make Time 4 Love” feels light years ahead of their debut, as Forster’s voice takes on a very Parquet Courts cadence, while the cowbell, strings, and satisfying off-kiltereness recall everything from Talking Heads and Jonathan Richman to The Smiths. If those sound like some big names to be dropping, it’s because that’s how good this song is.
The excellent “Love Lost” and “Get Out” also utilize quirky and absolutely delightful percussion throughout, the castanets, cowbell and bongos adding up to an appealing weirdness—the charming offense that characterizes their work and makes them feel like friends. While “She Knows” explores the rockier end of the spectrum with its ambulance-siren guitars and driving rhythm. Taken out of context, a line like “I never knew what love meant / And I still don’t,” would be grounds for a heartbreaking ballad, but here it’s just a passing observation, a scanning self-analysis on the way to being an adult. For The Goon Sax, growing up sounds pretty good.