A Review of The S-Bends’ Debut Record, Nothing Feels Natural To Me

For a period of five years, Sydney based band, The S-Bends, have been hard at work refining their sound and etching songs together for their debut record, Nothing Feels Natural To Me.  An album that tackles themes of unease that we undoubtably experience throughout our early adulthood.  A romantic era of life that’s simultaneously exciting yet ultimately frightening as the pressures of life rear their ugly head.  But the album is much more than a deep-dive into the psyche of a twenty-something-year old, as The S-Bends deliver some of the best Australian indie-rock I’ve heard this year, and show great depth underneath what could have been a rehash of the stereotypical Aussie sound.

The album starts with Datsun, a moody opener whose duelling guitar riffs cleverly compete against each other with harmonious charm.  There’s a darkness to the vocals that almost take on an aura of Tom Iansek of Big Scary fame; they are warm but posses an element of mystery.  The song continues to build, bopping bass and jangled guitars riff off a solid drumbeat.  The ending of the track falls flat as the build ends abruptly and the band quickly fizzle out until only the bass is left jumping along with the drum line.  It’s a missed opportunity for a solid opener, and though Datsun is a great single, I find that it’s tonally different to the songs that soon follow on the album.   

Vitamin D Deficiency follows; the keys and brightly tinged melancholic vocals add an almost theatrical touch to the song, as if Angel Olsen joined The Go Betweens.  Allen & Division lends itself to the trademark tunes of an Australian summer as jangled guitar chords strum against the lackadaisical Australian drawl.  It’s a familiar sound, though The S-Bends add a folksy charm thanks to their comforting storytelling.  The following tracks, ICU, Tourist Attraction and Fitzroy continue The S-Bends celebration of Australian indie music of yesteryear; a sound that the band truly make their own with fantastic song writing and instrumentals.  ICU and Fitzroy being two of my favourite tunes off the record, though both starkly different in comparison as ICU’s bright and summery melodies contrast against Fitzroy’s atmospheric instrumentals and melancholic lyrics.  

Two States is another highlight as it conjures images of Australiana; tinny atmospheric guitars gently sway back and forth as a reverbed guitar sings against pub-choir keys.  Two States shows The S-Bends at their best, both in performance and song writing as vocalist Mitchel Ryan’s deep Australian drawl alternates with the soft, melancholic voice of fellow vocalist Madeleine Er. The song’s triumphant crescendo feels earnt in a way that only true musicians can conjure, invoking the likes of The Middle East.  Two States is one of the best Australian songs I’ve heard this year.

Grown Over/Drown Under picks up the speed with some fast-paced indie-rock.  Though the track only runs for two minutes, its punky speed and memorable lyrics leave a lasting impression as the album moves into its closing moments.  Indoor Plants and Isobue close out the album but feel as if the band has pulled the hand-break and skidded to a halt.  Indoor Plants brings the pace down into a Megan Washington-esque indie-pop ballad, and though it’s a solid tune, it leaves me wanting more after the excitement of Grown Over/Drown Under.  Isobue tries to rectify in the album’s final minutes, though I find it to be another tonally inconsistent tune compared to the terrific batch of Australiana that has come before.

Nothing Feels Natural To Me has a slew of some of the best Australian indie-rock I’ve heard in 2019.  The nine-track journey from Allen & Division to Grown Over/Drown Under would make for one helluva great summertime album, filled with energetic Australian jangle-pop and atmospheric ballads; a classic Aussie indie-rock record if I may be so brash.  But I find that the album suffers from a handful of tonally different songs, possibly due to the lengthy production period, that bookend an amazing batch of tracks.  I’d love to hear what the band could deliver in a shorter, more focused, timeframe. Though the weaker songs let down the album, The S-Bends have certainly grabbed my attention, and I will be amongst the first to listen to whatever they release next.     

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