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METHYL ETHEL Are You Haunted? gets 9/10


Methyl Ethel

Are you Haunted?
Future Classic

9/10

Methyl Ethel need no introduction at this stage. What started as the bedroom pop project of Perth muso Jake Webb has grown into WA’s premier alt-pop act and one of our most beloved exports outside of Tame Impala. The band has hooked crowds across the world, with plenty of pre-COVID touring experience under their belt. The accolades are well-deserved, as Webb’s pop smarts are second-to-none locally and globally. This reputation is bound to continue with their latest Are You Haunted?, a stellar alt/art-pop album top-to-bottom which balances sophisticated production with Webb’s incisive ear for a tune.

One of the first things to hit you is the sound of this album, which is pristine. Methyl Ethel started as a bedroom project, with the idea of a live band as secondary. Indeed, the band’s live act has seen Webb front a rolling roster of musicians that help his sound paintings come to life. With more time to spare thanks to COVID, Webb has taken over mixing and engineering duties, along with composing and arranging the album. The attention to detail shows. Synthpop has been Methyl Ethel’s bedrock and the big synth lines continue to run throughout album, but there is a greater emphasis on piano (such as on opener Ghosting) and masterful use of strings (closer In a Minute, Sublime). Though the emphasis is always on hooks or danceable melodies, the instrumental sophistication certainly earns it the ‘art’ portion of its ‘art pop’ label.

All this would be for naught if the songwriting weren’t up to snuff, but Webb outdoes himself on this front too. The album runs through a series of moods, some that the band hasn’t approached before. The singles, to start with, are their best yet. Neon Cheap is a pop gem driven by an earworm of a sample, bouncing bass and a very cool vocally-treated pre-chorus. Matters is a faster paced synthpop number with a Depeche Mode-esque bleeping synth line. It’s the most familiar-sounding tune on the album, but the strength of its hooks and Webb’s excellent vocal delivery cannot be denied in what is one of the best pop singles of last year.

Latest track and single Proof is another huge win. It’s a slower-paced track driven by a shimmying sample and a lesson in Classic Pop 101 with its repeating refrain of “I’ve got numbers/ Clear things up for you.” Stella Donnelly’s guest spot is excellent as usual, and a great chance to hear her in a poppier context. The words tackle the slippery nature of objective truth in the post-Trump era. Like the rest of the album, its tongue is planted in cheek. Are You Haunted? as a whole takes an observational lyrical stance that doesn’t prescribe a good or bad outcome. As the title hints, it’s an album of introversions – hauntings from the past and future which betray the present.

On top of the singles, every other track is a gem. Opener Ghosting opens with the aforementioned piano before unfurling into Methyl Ethel’s most moody moment ever, with its unforgettable refrain of “I’m on the corner, it’s all right/ I got the good shit.” Something to Worry About hinges on an ingenious guitar figure. Webb manages to transform this lurching track into an epic across its four-minute runtime thanks to swooping strings and synth washes. Kids on Holiday is a tricky synthpop number that suffers from a few too many intermeshing synth riffs and samples, but still comes out on top with a strong singalong finish. One and Beat stutters initially but builds powerfully. It will likely become a concert favourite – a lighters-in-the-air worthy power ballad with a triumphant chorus and an interesting turn to breakbeats for its outro.

The album arguably saves the best for last with the one-two punch of Castigat Ridendo Mores and In A Minute, Sublime. The former features the album’s most cathartic build, with huge strings and choral vocals. In a Minute, Sublime offsets that with a more pared back ballad dedicated in memory of Webb’s friend and collaborator Brian Mitra. It’s a wrenching tune, with the most beautiful melody on an album chock-full of them.

There is little more to say than that this is a must-have album. Beautiful, danceable, intelligent – this album has something for everyone. Pick it up now and make your own descriptor.

MATIJA ZIVKOVIC

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