New Talk is a fitting name for a band who’ve recently changed names: as Rag ‘n’ Bone they released the album A Handful of Ash in 2017, earning a place in triple j Unearthed’s 50 most played artists of that year. Then the burly British crooner Rag’n’ Bone Man came along and had the temerity to quickly shoot to stardom, leading to the band’s decision to change their name. A similar thing happened to lo-fi genius Alex G, who was forced to change to (Sandy) Alex G at the behest of a YouTube cover star with the same name (the gall) before he rightfully took his own name back last year.
What hasn’t changed on New Talk’s follow-up album Time & Memory is the thunder and fury that has always marked their music. The Perth quartet make potent and direct post-punk laced with important messages. Alongside takedowns of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity – fertile ground for the genre – are vital reckonings with the ailments of modern-day Australia, particularly its mistreatment of immigrants and First Nations people. It’s why the blunt post-punk is an excellent vessel for New Talk: their playing is excellently controlled and contained so as to allow the words to stand alone. Produced by longtime collaborator Dave Parkin, it was a strong choice to bring in Sarah Register to master the record, given her work with the acclaimed dark post-punk outfit Protomartyr, clearly an influence on New Talk’s sound.
Yet the unit is so strong that the swirling shoegaze that begins A Good Man Is Hard To Find and the screeching punk energy of Cast Out make one believe that New Talk could fully commit to either of these genres for a full album’s worth. Each member knows when to switch styles and when to flip through the gears.
Kiera Owen is a ferocious lead singer. Much like The Cranberries’ handling of Dolores O’Riordan, the rest of New Talk know when to hold back to allow Owen’s power to dominate. This is especially true on the opening and closing tracks: the instruments on Red Tuesday (about a famous bushfire that tore through South Gippsland in Victoria in the late 19th century) and the monumental Frida are often kept apart – a pounding drum here, a distorted guitar there, to free Owen and push her to the forefront. She might sound anxious, frustrated, but the conviction in her delivery confirms her beliefs (similar to one of the best post-punk singers of recent times, Savage’s Jehnny Beth). Everything under her command sounds prophetic and it has to be, given what the lyrics are concerned with.
Amytis is the standout song, a clever correlation between historical periods to make a point. Amytis was a Persian princess, married off to King Nebuchadnezzar II in order to strengthen the alliance between Babylonian and Median empires. The story goes that Amytis’ desire for her homeland was what led to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon being built, so as to help her feel less alone and alienated in a foreign land. New Talk creates a parallel between Amytis’ homesickness with that of the First Nations people of Australia and the future migrants who have followed them. “When we came here, we came here with nothing/ When I leave, I’ll feel like I left something,” is the emotional chorus cry.
Time & Memory is a resounding return for New Talk and is a strong reintroduction to listeners after the past four years. Let’s just hope that no British usurpers rise to fame under the name New Talk before the Perth band can give us their third album.