album review: aleks and the ramps, facts
Facts closes with the lyrics “This is what I call fun”; it’s a perfect way to describe the experience of listening to these 10 songs.
The third album from Melbourne five-piece, Aleks and the Ramps, was recorded over a period of roughly 18 months. It’s plain to hear the time and effort put into its creation. This adorable, intimate and insanely complex LP is full of multi-layered compositions. But the pop familiarity which pervades this release helps to make the songs feel comfortable – its friendliness and readiness to embrace likens it to one of those movies you go back to year after year because every now and then you need a familiar, enlivening escape.
Facts was recorded largely by vocalist and guitarist Alex Bryant and fellow band member Simon Connolly (guitar and backing vocals). The remainder of the band, which is now settled after a number of recent line-up changes, contributed in fits and starts over the 18 months to help flesh out the initial ideas into cohesive tracks. For the uninitiated, Bryant’s unique voice (think a combination of Bill Callahan and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s Owen Ashworth) can grate initially, before becoming endearingly sincere. By the end of the first listen, the frailty and perceived weaknesses in the vocal delivery add but another texture to the incredibly dense soundscape pervasive on the album. Sure, the vocals aren’t strong, but they do have personality – the refusal to use pitch correction as a studio crutch is to be lauded, as it wouldn’t be nearly as impressive a collection of songs if Bryant’s voice lacked its colour. Backing vocals from both Sez Wilks and ex-member Janita Foley (both feature on the album) are utterly gorgeous throughout. Joe Foley contributes bass and another ex-Ramp, Jon Thjia, plays drums on the album.
The LP is diverse. By track 3 (‘Icy Facts’) one realises there is no songwriting template at work. Each song is a wholly original world unto itself, with its own landscape and character, none of which feel intimidating or unwelcoming.
The angular pop of ‘In the Snow’ sounds like it was recorded on a fluffy white springtime cloud; sunny yet hinting at the potential for bad weather. These tracks are recollective – imagery such as this comes to mind when listening to these songs, proving just how evocative they can be; at times seemingly absurd, but always familiar.
The production and mixing throughout is excellent, notably on ‘No Epiphanies’ – a flawless combination of guitar, drums and playful, bubbly synths which is awarded bonus points for referencing the State Library of Victoria’s Redmond Barry Reading Room. Meanwhile, lyrical highlight ‘Bummer’ boasts a wry brilliance in both its vocal delivery and lyrics (“Of course I’m dressed like an idiot / But I don’t give a fuck about that / ’cause I wouldn’t want to misrepresent myself”).
The slow-burning ballad ‘Finish’ is simply exquisite. Its combination of rhythm guitar, sequenced soundscapes, dirty lead guitar and gentle backing vocals is enough to make the listener melt.
Finally, current single ‘Middle Aged Unicorn on a Beach with Sunset’ closes the album on a ridiculously catchy yet intriguing note. Mixing styles, the track, like the album as a whole, defies pigeonholing.
Available only on vinyl and as a download, Facts can be enjoyed on so many levels. Lyrically it is clever; it has to be the first time “Serengeti” has ever been rhymed with “cigarettey” on a record (‘Friends with the Night’). Sonically it is forever fascinating, as new elements are discovered layered in the mix long after the first listen. Vocally it is at once challenging, fractured and flawed, yet is permeated with its own character.
Listening to Facts I feel like I’ve made a new friend. It’s the sort of record with which you can develop an affectionate relationship. And once you’ve acquainted yourself with Facts, there are two other Aleks and the Ramps albums to befriend.