For whatever reason, I’ve always been a bit put off by Poison City Records. It’s probably the latent hipster in me that associates them a little too much with bands like Camp Cope and The Smith Street Band, who I generally like but tend to stay away from for… probably stupid reasons. By all accounts, Poison City Records signs some unique and off-kilter artists, and occasionally someone more open-minded that me will show me a band like Batpiss or Infinite Void and almost make me reconsider everything. For me, Harmony was one of those bands. I really regret not checking them out sooner.
For those who, like me, had only recently heard of Harmony and aren’t familiar with their previous output – their overall dynamic is centred around the trio of Tom and Alex Lyngcoln on guitar and drums respectively, along with ex-Mclusky bassist Jon Chapple, along with their trio of backing vocalists of Erica Dunn (MOD CON, Tropical Fuck Storm), Amanda Roff (Time for Dreams) and Quinn Veldhuis. Their style of moody, blues-tinged post-punk is instrumentally sparse, and the mix is filled in equal part by the harmonies of these backing vocalist, adding a bizarre undertone of devotional or even gospel music into the equation. ‘Double Negative’ is their third album, following on from 2014’s acclaimed ‘Carpetbombing’ and their self-titled 2011 debut. There were a few 7”’s churned out in between.
While it’s probably not important for you to know all of this to enjoy this album, I feel that it helps to be able to place it in the evolution of Harmony’s sound. As a Harmony newbie, the fact that this was touted by the band as a more positive album than their previous output made me feel like I was missing something, so I made a quick run through their discography, as well as some of Tom Lyngcoln’s other band The Nation Blue. It made a little more sense. ‘Double Negative’ is comparatively positive, maybe, but to me it seems like Tom Lyngcoln probably couldn’t write truly happy music if he tried – even on the topic of love, which the album predominantly deals with. The album may start off with “I love you,” but it just doesn’t ring true; eventually the best they seem to manage is a “double negative, resulting in a positive charge.” For Harmony, love isn’t the euphoric state of bliss that’s been immortalised time and time again in our popular culture (especially in music), but an uncertain minefield of fleeting highs and anxiety, with the seeming inevitability of heartbreak constantly looming over.
The album is lyrically driven, and Tom Lyngcoln’s cracking, tortured howls, further enhanced by the chorus of the backing vocalists, are the main selling point. Gloomy ruminations on the “positivity” of the overall vibe is an aspect of the album that I found incredibly endearing, and is in fact the main draw to it, because every stylistic choice serves to enhance it in some way. Recorded in the Kyneton Mechanics Hall by High Tension’s Mike Deslandes, the sound is considerably warmer and more polished than their previously more lo-fi releases. It adds to the overall theme of the album considerably – this is a richer, heavier, more multi-faceted kind of despairing than the raw, ugly, empty sense that they conjured up so well on their past releases. Musically it skulks along at a meandering pace, atypical of the driving rhythms of post-punk, and is much less locked in time-wise. There’s a more natural and open feel to the rhythms and melodies, with the guitar and bass working to create a chilled out musical bed, and I particularly enjoyed the understated and reactive drum-work by Alex Lyngcoln, strangely emotive and often slightly off-beat in a way that just feels human. The few moments of instrumental indulgence are welcome and generally either highly poignant, such as in the occasional guitar solos, or experimental, such as the cacophonous saxophone solo (delivered by Joe Greenway of The Spinning Rooms) that ends Two Sides of My Heart or the noisy guitar chords that build up during the middle of the closing track It Hurts.
I’ve tried to veer away from mentioning song titles in this review, as I feel that Double Negative is an album that works best as an album. It has its own strange, depressing vibe, one that is entirely theirs, and I’d recommend it to any open-minded fans of good, Australian rock.
Pick up your copy of ‘Double Negative’, out now via Poison City Records HERE!