Listening to Grinding Eyes' new self-titled album, it's hard to believe that it's only their first. Bursting into Sydney's crowded indie rock scene with swagger and waves of sound, their take on psych-rock is like a towering slab of obsidian-black noise. Overwhelming and awe-inspiring at once.
Grinding Eyes have opened for both Swervedriver and The Jesus and Mary Chain - major influences on the noisy, sweeping, blissful "shoegaze" sound - and it seems they've learned something from both of them. The smokey haze of the music is disorienting and almost too loud, but their sneering, snarling, detached persona as a band cuts right through.
This is most clear on a couple of cuts that break the six-minute mark - "So Clear" and "Read Between the Lines." The former is a pulsating odyssey of swirling guitars that is almost heavenly in the squall it summons. The latter is a slow, menacing trip to the dark side. Despite the seemingly bottomless ocean of guitars and thrumming bass, Grinding Eyes never drown in their own songs like other bands might.
This is perhaps in part due to the brilliant work done on the album's sound. The album was recorded in Sydney by Owen Penglis (of Straight Arrows and The Grates), mixed in Montpellier, France by Jim Diamond (The Hives, The White Stripes), and mastered in Detroit (the home of Iggy & the Stooges and the MC5) at Ghetto Recorders. Accordingly, it sounds incredible. Spine-tingling moments like the sudden appearance of a shimmying tambourine near the end of "So Clear" or the swells of unidentifiable, searing noise on the dynamic head-nodder "How Can I Find the Slow Weather" emerge with stunning regularity.
As if to prove their pysch-rock bonafides, the band delivers a cover of "A House is Not a Motel" by Love, from their apocryphal 1967 album Forever Changes. The original was a largely acoustic song laced with ragged irony and jittery paranoia, and Grinding Eyes' take dials that up to 11. A relentless krautrock beat and the urgent tattoo of the riff make it sound as if the song may split apart at any moment.
Smartly, after six tracks of slow-burn guitar pyrotechnics, the final third of the album finds the pace slowed and the mood changed. The short, alluring instrumental "Heavy Dew" leads into "Crystallised" where a bridge coloured by shining organ finds the band in a more contemplative mood. "Something Feels Better than Nothing" closes the album on a brighter, somehow more delicate note.
On their debut album, Grinding Eyes could have simply stuck to loud, heavy and hot, but this record finds them exploring all the facets of their deceptively shape-shifting sound. It may be only a debut, but definitely sounds like the work of a band who know who they are and who they want to be.
Grinding Eyes is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday October 20th. They are playing a special launch show for the album at The Lansdowne on Saturday October 21st.