It’s difficult to find a review of The Goon Sax’s debut album, Up To Anything, that doesn’t make reference to frontman Louis Forster’s familial connection to The Go-Betweens. It’s not like the band advertise the connection willingly, but when you’re Robert Forster’s son, people are always going to be slightly more interested in the music you’re making.
Louis is of course hardly the first musician to be cursed/blessed with a famous parent. For starters nearly every offspring of a former-Beatle seems to have had a go, with somewhat mixed fortunes. Sean Lennon has got increasingly interesting with the years, and his latest project The Claypool Lennon Delerium, a collaboration with Primus singer Les Claypool might just be his weirdest yet. Ringo’s son Zak has carved out a niche as probably the world’s most high-profile, filler in for deceased/sacked drummers, while Paul’s son James caused a stir by suggesting he might try and form a second generation Beatles with Dhani Harrison and Sean Lennon: thankfully nothing has so far come of that.
In recent years there’s actually been a string of musicians coming through who are actually as talented as their names would have you believe. Baxter Dury is quickly becoming as well known as an intriguing songwriter as for being Ian Dury’s son. Charlotte Gainsbourg decided to not just follow in one of her parents footsteps, but to have a go at both; whilst she’s probably more famous as an actress, following in the footsteps of her mother Jane Birkin, her music career has also been littered with a number of fine records, not least the Beck penned and produced IRM, which was as interesting as much of her father, Serge’s output. One of the most interesting familial followings involved the uncatergorisable and brilliant Penguin Cafe Orchestra; the band were formed back in the early 1970’s by Simon Jeffes, and produced a series of stunning albums, including what is, in our opinion one of the finest pieces of music ever written, Music For A Found Harmonium. Following Simon’s sad death in 1997, his son Arthur decided to continue his father’s musical legacy, and in 2009 he formed his entirely distinct group Penguin Cafe, the band have so far released two well received albums.
Not that it’s a new thing of course, Nancy Sinatra follows Frank, both Rufus and Martha followed their father Loudon Wainwright III and mother Kate McGarrigle into music (as has half sister Lucy Wainwright Roche, the daughter of Loudon and Suzy Roche, one of three sisters in the band Roche, the family tree is quite something to behold!), and even Mozart’s son thought he could have a bash at composing, but the music of Franz Xaver Wolfgang, didn’t quite shine like that of his father. A famous name can be a foot in the door, but ultimately if you’ve not got the talent you’re unlikely to be remembered quite so fondly as your parents were.
We don’t want to jump straight into accusation, but are Australian-trio The Goon Sax trying to play dumb with us? They claim to be just seventeen and eighteen, they claim to have only formed two years ago, and they even claim that drummer, Riley Jones, had only a single month of drum lessons before joining the band. This of course can’t be true, because it’s impossible that this can be all true and they also sound this perfectly formed, this great, this worldly wise – surely that would just be unfair on everyone else? Surely?
The Goon Sax’s debut album, Up To Anything is twelve perfect snapshots of teenage life regaled with all the crushing minutiae of adolescent questioning. Everything, whether it’s your sexuality, taste in literature or an ill-advised, unsuccesful haircut, is presented with the teenage flair for creating mountains out of mole hills. So far so traditionally adolescent, but what lifts Up To Anything above teenage micro-drama is that unlike most teenagers The Goon Sax seem capable of seeing it for just how ludicrous it all is; it’s as if they’re devastated about these microbial problems, but able to simultaneously laugh at just how ridiculous it is that they care at all. Even the album’s title, Up To Anything, seems to be littered in double-meaning, simultaneously hinting at a willingness to discover life in all it’s glory, whilst also not really being able to drag yourself up off the floor to appreciate or even notice the world outside.
The band first crashed onto the scene with their debut single, Sometimes Accidentally, and it remains arguably their debut albums finest moment. It starts perfectly, the ear-catching instrumental intro is sublime; the guitar line seems to tumble out of the speakers, somehow perfectly synced with the rumbling bass and splendidly primal drumming. Lyrically too it’s contrastingly half-arsed and devastatingly heartbroken; matched here in the sweet slightly cracked vocals of James Harrison, there’s something beautifully non-commital about the songs big sweeping statement, “I don’t care about much, but one of the things I care about is you.” The stuff of Hallmark greeting cards it isn’t, but it’s poignant and honest, and as the song unravels and the details are filled in, it’s quietly and un-dramatically very sad, “I don’t mind if you go off holding hands with some other guy, no I don’t mind, I don’t like you, I’m just tired of feeling this way.” It’s a perfect distillation of the aching, all-encompassing, meh of teenage living; the it doesn’t matter I didn’t like you anyway, has never sounded more like the unconvincing words of someone looking away to hide the tears slowly forming in their eyes.
Vocal duties throughout Up To Anything are shared between James and Louis, whilst James’ vocal seems to hint at a distant longing, Louis is more convincingly unbothered, his voice is lower, and more lackadaisical. This is showcased in recent single, Boyfriend; even the accompanying video features the band sat between silver-star shaped balloons, looking convincingly bored out of their minds. The chorus, where Riley adds some rare and rather lovely female-backing vocals, chimes with indifference, “we can break your heart, so you see how I feel, I need a boyfriend, or just anything real”, and it’s that final section, that longing for something real that’s the key, this isn’t about love, this about boredom, about wanting to feel anything at all, about that very teenage desire to be part of whatever is happening.
Whilst Australia hasn’t always been a hotbed for musical talent, there is something about The Goon Sax that sounds distinctly Australian. In a country where clichés suggests sport, sunshine and the sea are the norm, you can almost here the bands boredom at that sort of life. If this was an album written in New York or London, where like-minded individuals and counter-cultural movements were closer to the norm, then perhaps this record wouldn’t sound so disenfranchised, and so much like it was created on the fringes of the so-called normal society. It perhaps explains why their sound is so heavily routed in a very specific, and in some ways dated, musical-era. They seem to hark back to the 1980’s heyday of the indie record label, to bands like Orange Juice, The Pastels and Teenage Fanclub, who existed not in the modern, acceptable world of guitar music, but existed as outsiders, as bands on the fringe of a revolution, just longing to find like-minded individuals to share their tastes and influences with. The Goon Sax create the same feeling, the same desire to be part of an indescribable something that you’re sure exists, but you can’t ever quite reach.
It’s not an album without flaws, nor should it be at this early stage; it’s perhaps a couple of tracks too long, and drags a little towards the end, where the slightly dirgy Making The Worst, and light-hearted, forgettable indie-pop of Maggie don’t add much to proceedings. These are just minor flaws though, most likely born out of a desire to get their music into the world as quickly as possible, and it’s unquestionably an album that’s more hit than miss. Telephone see’s the band blame telecommunications for their inability to form a human connection as it bounces by lightly in a rush of Be My Baby drums and jangling guitar. Sweaty Hands is a blur of self-doubt and pained longing based around the repeated key lyric, “you don’t have to hold my sweaty hand, I completely understand”, whilst Home Haircuts emphasizes Louis’ ability to be very funny as he recounts trips to the Barbers -“I go to the barber to get shorn, I leave looking nothing like Shane Warne”- and discussions with his mother about whether she should help out – “I wanted my mum to cut my hair for me, she said Louis we don’t need these kind of problems in this family”.
Perhaps the album’s most telling moment is saved until last, the closing track, Ice Cream (On My Own), is the closest the record gets to resolution; ultimately it’s about looking at your life and realising that sometimes, you’re better alone. To the sound of ticking drums and wistfully strummed guitar, the band note, “all you do is make me blue, I’m happy without you, I eat Ice Cream on my own.” The song ends fittingly with all three members voices chiming together; they may be eating Ice Cream on their own, but with each other they’re not entirely alone, and together they’ve made one of the years finest records – now they just need to come clean about that lying about their age thing and we can all be happy.
Up To Anything is out April 8th via Chapter Music.