Humdrum Star, the debut album from Brisbane six-piece Mosman Alder is a layered affair that blends a range of sounds and influences.
Sitting in the producer’s chair is Something for Kate front-man Paul Dempsey, who achieves a sense of cohesion and clarity, skilfully bringing together the many elements of the work. With twenty years of experience in the industry, it is great to see Dempsey using his talent to mentor younger musicians. And while Mosman Alder occupies a different musical space to Something for Kate, there are similarities in the contemplative tone and layered structures of the song-writing here.
With echoes of The Triffids and The Smiths (and even an occasional hint of early eighties pop), the band has a hypnotic sound that draws the listener in. It’s been a while since I’ve heard acoustic instruments like piano and violin used with such clarity on an indie recording and the effect is quite refreshing.
Bringing everything together is the distinctive voice of Valdis Valodze, whose baritone sounds like a softer, smoother version of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Through the album this is often blended with the vocals of other band members, Jackson Muir, Robyn Dawson and Katarzyna Wiktorski, to great effect. The album opens with the absorbing, trancy “Golden Archers”, before things get more upbeat with the catchy “Germland (of Julien Charbonneau)”, a radio-friendly track and appropriate choice as lead song.
“Try Your Luck”, takes us in a new direction, with a sound that comes right out of new wave pop, while “Home Again” is built around an infectious beat and vocal. In spite of its title, “God is Pissing on You” is a similarly catchy tune, constructed around the piano hook of its introduction. At the midpoint of the album sits the standout song, “Shine”, a ballad that begins with unadorned piano and violin before building in intensity. It’s a moving piece with affecting use of harmonies.
With an intriguing variation in pace, “It’s not love” begins in slightly bluegrass mode and then launches into the fastest sequence of album. “Prized Prizes” is another well-crafted song with bright gangly guitars that would catch the ear of a casual radio listener.
The album then ends on a strong note with “Spirit”. Here individual instruments are given moments of stripped back clarity, alternating with the pulsating wall of sound. At two minutes and fifty seconds it leaves you wanting more- a clever way to finish up.
This is a collection of well-crafted songs with rich arrangements. It’s an impressive debut that is certainly worth a listen, and one that will continue to reward with repeated listens.
Humdrum Star by Mosman Alder is out now from Dew Process/Universal Music.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor