In his bedroom sanctum, Perth native Jake Webb huddles over his four-track recorder, pairing the expressions of a neurotic self with the beguiling sounds of a pared-back Tame Impala-esque psychedelia. Webb’s interiority is the main creative drive behind the music of Methyl Ethyl, which for the first time comes together with bassist Thom Stewart and drummer Chris Wright on the bands first full-length EP ‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle’. Here, the bands breezy pop sound comes laden with abstract lyricism and instrumentation doused in misty reverb, conveying a sound that is altogether catchy, mystical and haunting.
‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle’ bridges pop sensibility with art-rock concepts on opening song, ‘Idée Fixe’, which translates from the French to ‘Idea Fixation’. Borrowed from the nomenclature of French psychology, the concept refers to ‘an idea or desire that dominates the mind’ to the point where mental obsession facilitates delusion, culminating in mental distress. ‘Idée Fixe’ is structured around instrumental texture, which accumulates alongside a slow driving pulse. As songs beat emboldens, likewise does Webb’s vocal delivery become more urgent and emotional as he lays down a series of fragmented imagery that is fundamentally puzzling, yet evocative nonetheless:
I climbed up two dozen roses
each one caught, like a Sunday solider
hair tied back, I’ve a tendency to lose it,
round the act you lost your colour.
The abstract lyricism is tricky to interpret, although within it there is a sense of entrapment, and of losing focus amidst one’s anxieties. Webb approaches his writing with a sense of the non-literal and the figurative while his vocal delivery invites a clash in the form of a dichotomy outlining humanness and inhumanness; the former evoked by his singing, the latter by his lyricism.
‘Shadowboxing’ opens loud with a howling wind pushing the band towards a fearsome intensity. All force then slips away, like a sudden awakening from a dream, falling into a subdued spaciousness where Webb rues his hearts instincts:
I run to you,
What can I do? What can I do?
…I was in love with you, honestly
Webb bypasses the abstract and the figurative and in his pitch-bent howl directly confronts his emotional reality, resulting in one of the album’s most compelling choruses both lyrically and musically. ‘Rogues’ explores the experience of alienation, a theme which is artfully mirrored by the guitar, which plays a dreamy and melodic single-lined riff suggesting fragility.
The album’s crowd pleaser is undoubtedly ‘Twilight Driving’ where all of the groups most beguiling song-writing qualities converge: chorus-addled guitars layered with atmospheric synth organ; an effectively straight-forward arrangement championed by Webb’s dreamy vocals. Here there is relief as Webb cruises in his car, journeying to his lover at twilight. Worries find rest in this simple psych-pop hit that playfully suggests that single-mindedness can saunter one away from their idée fixe, if only momentarily.
The album exhibits a range of musical influence from Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett era to John Lennon’s influential ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ from The Beatles 1966 album, ‘Revolver’. Hardly as culturally influential, but a refreshing moment nonetheless, ‘Unbalancing Act’ mimics the tunes electronically generated bird sounds, and steps further beyond Western influence by virtue of a bright and glittering sitar-esque guitar line. This arrangement is backed by a subtle airy drone, a recurring device in North Indian classical tradition.
The album bookends itself with neurotic obsession on ‘Idée Fixe’ and clarity on album finisher ‘Everything as It Should Be’. In this sense, ‘Oh, Inhuman Spectacle’ presents a narrative of personal change, an evolution from delusion to clarity, from stasis to self-actualization. Although the album is moody and predominantly dark, the progressive narrative embedded in the album’s macro structure gifts its listener a silver lining along the storm cloud that haunts the record.
Finally, Webb’s inclusion of titles such as ‘Also Gesellschaft’ and ‘Idée Fixe’ adds an interesting dimension to the album. It implores audiences to engage in concepts rooted elsewhere - German sociology and French psychology – and is an invitation to the bands audience to explore. It increases the intellectual breadth of the album, giving it weight and dimension by meeting art-rock principles with psychedelic soundscapes and pop songwriting sensibilities. ‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle’ is a dynamic and irrefutably dark record driven by the shadowed side of consciousness that, according to each listener may either offer comfort during their own turmoil, or provoke it.