In my usual Friday morning fashion, I’ve scrolled through the new releases on Spotify. I already knew the debut Nice Biscuit album would be there waiting for me. The Brisbane psych rockers have stirred quite a storm within Brisbane over the past year. I’ve seen them a handful of times now. Whether I’m standing in a quaint bar, in the beer-soaked carpet of the Foundry, or pushing past industry hotshots at BIGSOUND, Nice Biscuit never disappoint. The band drown themselves in psychedelic vocal harmonies and beautifully atonal melodies, but it’s their energy that has always impressed me. Their grooves become hypnotising. The crowd become entranced by the band on stage. When the two vocalists, Billie Star and Grace Cuell, aren’t harmonising with one another, they are dancing in synchronisation; their matching outfits becoming a staple to their live set. They dance and shake percussive instruments as the surrounding band jam. This formula provides an infectious energy that is impossible not to dance to. And it’s this energy that I struggle to find on their debut album.
I’ll admit that I’ve only listened to Digital Mountain twice this morning. Take this with a grain of salt and treat it more as a first impression rather than a critical review. Nice Biscuit have always been a visual band for me. The first time I saw the band, they packed into a corner of one of Brisbane’s bars as water-colour projections spun behind them. It felt as if I traveled to the 60s for forty minutes. The choice of matching outfits for the two vocalists is of course a deliberate one, once again adding to the visual theatrics of their live set. I project those images in my mind as I listen to Digital Mountain, but they aren’t put there by the music itself.
Opening track Captain introduces the album well . It ticks the boxes for what makes up a Nice Biscuit track: beautiful haunting harmonies by the lead vocalists, hypnotising grooves from the bass and drums, and psychedelic riffs from the guitars. I found myself bobbing my head back and forth. Although Captain is a solid opener, the flow and energy of the album shifts as third track Maze rolls in. Its syncopated, atonal guitar riff, as well as the atonal falsetto vocal harmonies become too much to handle. It’s cacophonous, as it tries to be an atonal King Gizzard track. Following track Out of Sight continues the Gizzard influence with overdriven guitars and psych breakdowns that would fit on Nonagon Infinity. If it wasn’t for Star and Cuell’s vocals, I’d half expect Stu Mackenzie to roar in with his trademark howl. I can see Maze being a highlight of their live set because I can imagine the stage theatrics that would endure, but without that mental projection it’s a Aus-Psych clone.
Outside and Digital Mountain Sparrow are the two highlights off the album. The former feels like a good mix of The Brian Jonestown Massacre without delving into clone territory. Nice Biscuit manoeuvre through psych rock tropes, adding their own flare along the way. Star and Cuell’s harmonies begin to mold into one, tranquil haze. It adds to the dreamy atmosphere on the track. In saying that, their vocals are occasionally droned out by the rest of the band throughout the album. I would like to hear a distinguishable difference between the two vocalists. Too often their voices meld into one.
Digital Mountain is a fine album and it works on all fronts as a psych-rock record. But rarely do I feel the same energy that I’ve come to expect from their live sets. As I said, this is a first impression of the album. It only came out today. Nice Biscuit have given a solid debut, but there’s still room to improve.