For Fans Of
One of my favourite lines from The Simpsons is season eight’s Treehouse of Horror, where Bart learns of his supposedly evil twin, Hugo. In the episode, regarding Hugo, Dr. Hibbert states that Hugo was: “too crazy for Boys Town, too much of a boy for Crazy Town – the child was an outcast“. This sentiment is how I’d best describe Brisbane’s He Danced Ivy and their odd-ball prog-punk EP, ‘Optimistic Cynic‘. As they’re too prog and post-hardcore for pop and indie, yet they’re also too pop and indie for prog and post-hardcore. So yes, the term ‘outcast’ fits these genre-mashing Aussie more than well enough. However, that’s by no means a discouragement!
The greatest achievement of He Danced Ivy’s music is how they cram so much into so little. With just six songs, this EP explodes with guitar pedal flurries and riffy metal sections that unwind into chaotic, screaming post-hardcore sections. Parts that are all then broken up with some solid pop sensibilities, shifting rhythms, personal yet sometimes satirical lyrics, strong melodic vocal hooks and artsy prog vibes that all keep you hooked. A single run-through of EP opener – the seismic, style push-pull tension of ‘Guillotines‘ – all proves about as much.
Yet what’s humorous is how the local media detailed said song as (apparently) sounding like Rage Against The Machine meeting Avril Lavinge. Labelled as such because, as I can only take a guess at, the band shows-off shades of glittering pop and focused grooves? Fuckin’ weird; almost like saying Metallica and Courtney Barnett are similiar because they both use guitars. But somewhere in-between these comparisons exists the real beauty of He Danced Ivy; the noises they make are seldom ever one thing musically. They aren’t just some “love-child” press release descriptor either. And this bleeds over into their impressive performances as well.
Guitarist and singer David Cheney (who is a scarily good ring-in for Cedric Bixler-Zavala) twists his voice magically around the band’s rocketing instrumentation, with lovely vibrato, good projection and scooping pitches. He’s a HUGE part of why their music sticks out so much. Yelling or singing, the guy is in full-control, lending detailed vocal performances for these densely-packed, danceable pieces, and it all works nicely. As does Mitch’s tree-trunk thick, six-string bass lines and fun little runs he slides into these tracks. Then there’s the guitars, which switch between distorted aggression and clean licks, sliding around the grooves and careening energy presented by Josh’s spasmodic drumming. Thankfully, it all holds together. And the quartet’s music becomes the full sum of it’s parts where it really matters: the songs.
With some tough heavy metal guitar leads, some ironic finger snaps, a laid-back tone and groovy hi-hat chokes, ‘New Stain‘ is a decent, infectious tune. However, I’m mentioning it first because it’s still the least memorable of the half-dozen tracks gifted here when stacked up with the rest. So let’s move on.
The melodic guitars, textured vocalisations, and crazy whirring sounds of riffy, rabid closer ‘The Singing Tree‘ sums up the scattered, polar opposite nature of He Danced Ivy’s music more than well enough. As the track feels like you’re trapped in a plane stuck in a nose-dive yet one that is simultaneously about to pull up, yet as it dives through it’s various sections, you at no point do ever hit the ground. You’re instead stuck in a constant, nerve-wracking free fall or sorts as metal bits twist off and scream around you. All before you seemingly black out with the song’s chilled-out bridge before the outro takes you on home.
As for the rip-roaring ‘Spitting On Infinity‘, it’s one gnarly track! Those rowdy choir parts, the outro’s whistling, the catchy guitar leads, the ski-high hooks that fly close to the sun without ever burning up, and the unrelenting pace that feels it’s all going to come off the rails (yet thankfully never does). Quite frankly, there’s a very good reason as to why I was so keen for KYS to premiere this track prior to this EP dropping a little while back.
Moving on, the lurching drum beats, quick percussive blasts, and higher-register pop vocal lines on ‘Cutting It Fine‘ defines yet another solid peak for this release. It’s an inane piece that develops in a few different directions from it’s killer opening moments, ending with banal in-studio chatter, feedback and some classical guitar parts. Look, it’s fucking odd and downright random, but if that doesn’t sum up He Danced Ivy, then best of luck finding another description that will.
‘April Fools (Act II)‘ is a more delicate, ballad-centric acoustic piece that strips away much of the EP’s craziness to strike a more vulnerable note; featuring a lovely clean guitar motif too. It’s a dynamic, well-produced and even an inspiring; a track that reigns in the band’s brisk speed yet significantly ramps up the emotional factor as well. Which I found to be a great bait-and-switch. As far too many people (myself included) harp on about the crazed, wild nature of this band’s music; the punk, prog and post-hardcore shit. Yet they’ve got a lot more going on for them than just outright chaotic songwriting. So the fact that ‘April Fools‘ exists on the same release as ‘Spitting On Infinity‘ and ‘Cutting It Fine‘ is really saying something, to this band’s very real credit.
For however unexpected and weird He Danced Ivy are, they match that output with equal high-levels of wild energy and exciting, intriguing musical performances. ‘Optimistic Cynic’ is a contradiction of a title, but so too is this band’s music; a contradictory concoction of opposing styles and ideas that actually blend together rather solidly. Due to it’s frenzied, melding approach to genres, it’s perhaps a blessing that it’s not an LP; the added length may have made things unstable. While Lower Automation’s latest EP is the better example of a mathy, eccentric prog-punk EP in 2018, this is still a fine enough cut.
Lastly, I do think the biggest slope that He Danced Ivy will encounter is how they market themselves from here on in: which tour offers they take and which crowds they associate with. (Of course, there’s a real strength to being an outcast or an outlier act). With such an eclectic sound, the sky could be the limit for these dudes, but those heights will see them fly past many listeners and punters who just won’t get it, man. But that’s okay, those people can just put on bottom-feeding Triple J rock acts like Dune Rats or Skeggs instead. Love it or hate it, one could not credibly say that this rollercoaster of an EP is somehow interesting or boring. Because the only ones who’ll find it so are the dead. ‘Optimistic Cynic’ is a weird one, but a good one at that!
- New Stain
- Spitting On Infinity
- Cutting It Fine
- April Fools
- The Singing Tree
‘Optimistic Cynic’ is out now – shit’s good.