Salary are one of Perth’s most interesting and distinctive bands, and Cul De Sac Breakdown sees the indie 11-piece going from strength to strength with a set of diverse, story-driven and highly personal songs.
Most immediately striking is the band’s sumptuous sound, and the LP credits give a hint as to why. There were thirteen people credited across the recording process, playing all manner of instruments. Accordion, sax, violin, synthesisers, mandolins and more come together to weave a heady sonic backdrop. The album sounds full-bodied and beautiful, with the band navigating through homespun jigs, epic slow builds, and moody jazz noir interludes. This is indie art rock with its feet planted firmly on the ground.
The other piece of the puzzle is this album’s lyrics, courtesy of frontman Sean Gorman. These are poetic tracks, at times story-driven and at other points achingly personal. I’m not sure if these songs draw from Gorman’s personal experience, but they certainly made me reflect on my own. Gorman has a great way with words, pairing uniquely Western Australian imagery with themes of growing up, alienation, and accepting life’s responsibilities.
Opener Monsoonal Rain reminisces about a trip to the Northern Territory. The song talks about rain washing away the past as the swelling sax and violin makes you feel like you’ve uncovered a desert oasis. Pogo takes a similarly nostalgic tack, but this time it’s about growing up in the suburbs. It’s jauntier, and hearing Perth locales name-checked in the same breath as classic punk albums is a treat. Still Flaming is a catchy pop-rock vignette, a character sketch about a ne’er-do-well that draws its power from what’s left unexplained.
The heart of the album is its deeply personal closing half. Polite Rebellion is about the difficulties of changing among the habitual hustle and bustle of the adult world and boasts the strongest chorus on the album. The theme of sea change is reinforced by the one-two punch of Blinking Lights and Wallenius Wilhelmsen. The former is about looking at the lights across the bay, hoping for a different life. The latter is about the ride to those distant shores. Whether it’s real or imagined, we do not know. The track builds atop a beautiful vocal refrain and simmering violin and sax in one of the album’s most beautiful instrumental builds. The gold medal is reserved for Wadjemup, Pt 2, which boasts soul-shredding sax and flute work. I’ve not heard Australian imagery paired with such smoky and dark jazz before but it’s a marriage made in heaven.
The best is saved until the end. Closer Pastel Suburbs is a sax-driven tour de force of a love song, a chart-topper in an alternate universe. It’s a beautiful end to a great art rock album. If you want to hear lyrical, artsy but grounded Australian rock, then I can’t recommend this enough.