Methyl Ethel’s debut album Oh Inhuman Spectacle came as a bit of a surprise, considering the fact that, rather than choose to build up continuous intrigue, it was provided all at once by 4AD after the announcement of it’s North American release. The Perth trio’s evolution from just another quirky indie band to a versatile, well-rounded group shows through on the album brilliantly, with a proportionate and cohesive blend of moody, melancholic pop – whether that comes in the psych, dream, or synth variety – as well as everything in between.
Among the various, often times near tangible feelings that Oh Inhuman Spectacle conveys, the essence of warmth and intimacy proves to be the most potent, appearing without restraint throughout each and every one of its twelve tracks. This could be because multi-instrumentalist and frontman Jake Webb began creating the backbone for Methyl Ethel in the privacy of his bedroom, and those intimate sounds bled over when it was time for him to record the real thing. It’s an effect that definitely makes a difference, and here, it easily allows lovers of the chill and synth wave genres to instantly become attached to the opening track, aptly titled “Idée Fixe.” The dimpled, groovy synth introduction morphs beautifully into Webb’s flinty, breathy voice, only to become enraptured and possessed as it reaches its apex. “Shadowboxing” changes gears almost instantly, showing off a hazy, shoegaze inspired guitar melody dancing in time with Webb’s wavering voice. Although some tracks like “To Swim” and “Unbalancing Acts” aren’t as vocally or instrumentally impressive, the feeling still remains. Webb sings with a tinge of melancholy permanently affixed to his voice, and his lyrics remain incredibly personal and thoughtful, despite their catchy, mellow nature. “Also Gesellschaft” boasts Webb’s falsetto abilities in tune with a swelling, pulsating synth beat, while “Sweet Waste,” is just that – a saccharine vocal track amidst murky, yet still wonderfully lucid tones.
The instrumental work is near impeccable throughout the album as a whole, succeeding in showing off a number of different styles without losing its overall tone. The bass becomes the hero in a number of tracks, including the rough and rowdy “Rogues” as well as the absolutely enchanting “Obscura,” which may even be one of the best the album has to offer merely because of its smooth, masterful instrumentals. In fact, the very first track that proved Methyl Ethel’s immense potential was their single “Twilight Driving,” a gorgeous, mercurial masterpiece. As if the haunting effect that the opening guitar melody and Webb’s impassioned, contemplative voice wasn’t enough, the saxophone solo that appears at the end should really prove its mystifying demeanor. Closing track “Everything Is As It Should Be” is somber, melancholic waltz, almost as if Webb bids us farewell with a single tear. There’s no denying the passion present in these tracks, which transforms the album from a mere collection of tunes to something more meaningful.
It can be said that Methyl Ethel is perhaps a bit too ambitious in their attempt to take on a large number of techniques and styles in their debut album and still have it remain cohesive, and at times, they are, but this is precisely what debut albums are for – to experiment and toy with a particular sound. Yes, Oh Inhuman Spectacle is strange and quirky at times, but when it manages to sample just about everything, it’s exciting to think about what Webb has in store for the future.
photo by pilerats