Melbourne-based City Calm Down’s third LP is their most fully realised yet. Following on from 2018’s Echoes in Blue, Television marks a change in the band’s sound towards a harder edged, rockier dynamic while continuing to experiment and expand their sonic palate, with the inclusion of 80s synths and tight, clean guitars. The end result is a an album that balances the band’s live sound with new wave production.
Visions of Graceland is the album’s centrepiece. Featuring synths reminiscent of Simple Minds or Gangajang and driving, arena-sized bass and drums, Visions‘ groove and pop-hooks make this certain to become a festival favourite. The song’s production is superb, with layers of guitars and keys expertly added and retracted to enhance the song’s momentum changes, before eventually building and pairing with vocalist Jack Bourke’s finale coda of “la-la-la’s”, to bring the track to a gentle close.
First single, Stuck (On The Eastern) is a pumping rocker with pop sensibilities, reminiscent of The Cure circa A Forest. Stuck’s lyrics deal with modern anxieties; the verses are littered with references to breaking down and losing control like “saving face”, “losing the wheel”, “stand still” and “collapse”, while the anthemic chorus contains the positive declaration “face the fear and don’t pretend”, likening a traffic jam on the Eastern to how anxiety can stop a person in their tracks, unsure which direction to take.
The album features a number of pop gems, including opening track Television, the punky Flight and the synth-led Mother. Each of these tracks feature singalong choruses and numerous pop hooks, and have definite Smiths and Talking Heads influences. Television begins with Bourke as ringmaster, echoing commands via megaphone over a distorted squeezebox, before the song gives way to a glam rock guitar riff and swinging 60s beat. Flight continues the lyrical theme of modern anxiety, aiming specifically at social media consumption, while guitars surge and blast, hemmed in by saxophone and keys.
The second half of the album features several slower tracks; the reflective, acoustic-based New Year’s Eve and the gentle, gorgeous ballad, A Seat In The Trees, as well as the album’s only weak point, Weatherman. In its parts, Weatherman should work, but the final product fails to fit together like its contemporaries do. Potentially, the track could find a new life in the live setting.
Ultimately, the standout performance on Television is Bourke’s vocals, which are prominently featured on each track and demonstrate his extensive vocal range and versatile vocal delivery. Bourke’s ability to move from a Nick Cave-styled dark moodiness to the lyrical playfulness of Morrissey, while maintaining the energy of a frontman akin to Michael Hutchence, is remarkable.