We have all wished at sometime or another for a do –over, a way to factory reset and just start afresh. For the Melbourne based Saskwatch, which is quite literally what they did. After the release of their third album Sorry I Let It Come Between Us, the band went through some very heavy soul searching and realised that they no longer wanted to place their music in the hands of others - they knew who they were and they knew how they wanted to sound.
Their new release Manual Override is an album about taking back control, not only professionally but also personally and emotionally. Gone are the musical constraints that the band has been pigeonholed from the very beginning (as band that purely makes neo-soul music) and throwing us into a melting pot of grooves and sounds.
Opening Track "December Nights" is like a punch in the face as Tom Pettit’s dirty baselines and Rob Muinos' fuzzy guitar hits you like a wall of sound, leaving you seeing stars. As you regain consciousness twinkling flutes and chirping birds swirl around your head, before lead singer Nkechi Anele soulful vocals caress your cheeks.
"Then There’s You" is like a psychedelic pop song from the 80’s with its synth keys and warm base tones, there’s even a crash cymbal to fade out. It’s a hypnotic tale of love, loss and loneliness in missing someone once they're gone: “Its lonely when you go / I thought I spoke your language / but you don’t speak it anymore.”
"North Terrace" is full of slow beats and ambient guitars and was a welcome reminder of just how soulful and sensual Anele’s crooning vocals are. During the chorus her vocals are matched up with those of Liam McGorry (Saskwatch's primary songwriter and multi-instrumentalist). They almost dance together with his always that slight step behind ready to catch hers if it should fall, becoming her “faithful defender, keep me safe from harm”.
The second half of the album really picks ups the pace. "Finger Painting" is bright and uplifting tune with keyboardist Olaf Scott playing a honky tonk melody reminiscent of the theme from Cheers. It’s a kaleidoscope of fuzzy guitars, electric drumbeats, babbling baselines, and swirling vocals, creating a colourful soundscape.
Then there is "Shrinking Violet." Despite the title there is nothing withdrawn about this number with its heavy distorted baseline that gives way to chiming synth keys and pounding bongo drums.
Winding down the album is "Heaven Seems So Far" - a definite standout. It’s a haunting track that reminds us that sometimes when our image is reflected back to us in a mirror we may not always like what we see. It starts off as a slow stripped back number, consisting of vocals and delayed guitar lines that linger just that bit too long before being replaced by orchestral strings. Its when Anele tells us that she’s “found out I’m running out of air, no oxygen in there / heaven seems so far" that explosive key change happens, sending the song shooting into the sky at sonic speed with the determination of a sky rocket. It gets as close to heaven as possible.
It seems a lot has happened for Saskwatch in the last two years between albums, from having lost a few band members (also gained one, Sam Raines on drums) along the way, to taking back the control over production to even signing to a new label Grow Yourself Up (clearly a sentiment the band has taken aboard). What is left is a band that stands united both musically and in principle.
On Manual Override, Saskwatch’s music is evocative and thoughtful, seductive and danceable and just downright enjoyable. Thank god Saskwatch took back control.
Manual Override is out now on CD, vinyl, and digital formats.