Big Scary – Vacation
For the privileged few actually doing a job they genuinely enjoy, aspects of the day-to-day can seem more like a holiday than actual work. Just ask travelling minstrels, Tom Iansek and Jo Syme AKA Big Scary. They are the boy strummer and girl drummer from Melbourne that have wowed audiences with their dedicated work ethic (including no less than 6 EPs in 18 months); impressive live shows; and a collection of solid, feel good tunes that defy categorisation.
Their debut LP, Vacation is based on the eternal holiday and feelings of the unknown that typify the life of the traveling band. As Iansek says: “It’s the pure exhilaration of chasing the dream and the melancholy of the increasing distance and detachment from your previous life”.
Across ten tracks they prove that things aren’t always a bed of roses when you lose touch with constants like friends, lovers, homes and stable jobs. But there are also plenty of contrasts – quiet and loud moments to match the feelings of darkness and light with a common thread being the warm vocals and creativity underpinning the music.
This is a band that was born from simplicity, i.e. acoustic guitars and egg shakers before the pair regrouped with a more expansive vision and graduated to electric guitar, mandolin, drums, piano and ukuleles. These musical partners prove to be a rich and fluid lot, practically changing with the wind or indeed the seasons that inspired four of their early EPs.
For their debut, Big Scary recruited Sean Cook (the former bassist of Yves Klein Blue) and it was the first time they’d gotten external assistance in the studio. The result is music that is no less decorative than before with the versatile pair continuing to produce varied songs that take in all sorts of genres from bratty garage punk to epic and fuzzy guitar-based songs to minimalist pop, brooding ballads and exuberant piano ditties. The staggering fact is that with only two of them they can produce more diversity than some acts can achieve with four or five different individuals. It’s all quite remarkable and shows just how clever and original they can be at negotiating their influences and using their talent and dexterity to make things their own.
Single, Gladiator starts off with some of The White Stripes’ style garage rock and features some nice interplay between the male and female vocals. Interestingly, it’s about growing up and not necessarily improving, not that most people would mind or notice as it proves such a thumping and finger-pointing good time for all. Leaving Home meanwhile, is the record’s oldest song and is a big piano ballad that – as the name suggests – is about leaving the paternal nest.
On Mix Tape we get some of the stomping piano that seems to have been culled from a bar way back in the wild west. Another track sounding like it’s from another time period is Purple with its dirty guitar riffs that could’ve been lifted from a haze created by Jimi Hendrix. But these chords are also combined with a catchy La Roux-like flavour and were inspired by a guy that used to paint over advertising billboards, such was his disdain of them.
The latter half of the proceedings take on a subtler, more introspective element as evocative ballads are offered by the bucket-load. Bad Friends uses some whispered vocals to talk about the real costs of the transient life and is put to acoustic guitar almost inspired by Jose; Gonzlez while Got It, Lost It is just plain haunting. Of Desire would have made a good closer as it is a rather sweet and dreamy affair and offers the kind of escape and vacation from life the album as a whole promises.
Vacation is unlikely to win over every listener with all its tracks, as there’s just too much variation on offer to appease everyone. However, you have to admire the band’s ambition and creativity, the fact they realise they write songs that have different vibes, feelings and emotions and that it is okay to embrace and roll with it all. As such, they have produced an intricate and vital debut that is extremely accessible and melodic and will prove itself in time to be the gift that keeps on giving. Amen to that.