Ask any rock music devotee who believes that rock 'n' roll was perfected by The Beatles in 1966, and they'll tell you that rock music is serious business. They'll probably also love Auchenflower, the debut EP from Brisbane-based singer-songwriter Alex L'Estrange. Listening to this collection of six fascinating, textural, catchy songs, though, it becomes apparent that L'Estrange doesn't take himself that seriously, and toys with the foundation of rock music like it's his own personal plaything.
L'Estrange has a voice somewhere between John Lennon and Noel Gallagher with which he both whispers and howls across the EP. Often it's masked by fuzz and haze, drifting on guitars wet with reverb and splashy drums. Though Auchenflower (named for the inner-Brisbane suburb) is a heavily produced album which goes for a thick, fuggy sound verging almost on shoegaze, it also has a certain homespun quality lent by L'Estrange's charismatic and magnetic performance.
The playful, Kinks-y highlight "Mr. Mild" earns its jaunty descending melody and watercolour smears of guitar with a honking sax break that sweeps the rest of the song into an awe-inspiring climax. More subtle, but no less effective is the widescreen, ramshackle beauty of the pulsing "Reconsider," which suddenly disintegrates into a grumbling bridge complete with almost glitchy electronic drums and sonorous synths.
Further on, the playful, slightly warped "OH&S" sounds like elevator muzak played by The Buzzcocks - which is a good thing - riding a swinging, jazz-inflected beat and resonant guitar leads. On highlights like this one, as well as the more pensive and restrained "Trip Wire," L'Estrange shows a brilliant ear for dynamics. He makes the songs feel organic and living as they expand and contract into little pockets of rhythm and great, soaring peaks.
The single "Nothing to Hide," ends the EP on what resembles a cliffhanger. It has a yearning quality, with stray glimmers of melody passing in the peripherals like lights on the highway. The beautiful and memorable chorus is lived in, and feels warmly familiar from the first time you hear it, so when the song finishes you can't help but wish there was more. As a debut, Auchenflower is astonishing, and it's very exciting to see what Alex L'Estrange does next.
Auchenflower is out on digital formats on Friday December 16th.