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When I say that I wished ‘Homelands‘ was “more,” that’s not to say that I don’t think the important stories it weaves of personal, historical, and cultural moments are lesser or aren’t worth hearing. On the contrary, this EP is an integral release in terms of its message and what it has to say. Maybe even one of the most important releases of the 2021 calendar year for Australian music, given Chasing Ghosts‘ strong, steadfast stance and advocacy for Indigenous sovereignty and rights. For those unaware, their singer, lyricist and bandleader Jimmy Kyle is a Goori man of the Thungutti mob from the mid-north coast of NSW, and that identity takes centre stage here on ‘Homelands.’ I just mean that I wished it was longer, something closer to a full-length instead. It left me wanting more, in both a good and a bad way.
Though as it stands, this is a robust 25 minute or so experience. And Chasing Ghosts aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with political discourse, their convictions and how they stand by them. I respect them greatly for that; they put their money where their mouth is. On top of that, ‘Homelands‘ wears an earnest sleeve of melodic folk-punk as its throughline, with a recording and mixing approach that reflects how the Melbourne group sound live; something more stripped back in the production department.
‘Busted Lung‘ is loud and proud with its bright rock refrains and simple but sweet “da-dada-dadadada” vocal hook. ‘Summer‘ is a fist-punching punk rock anthem, one of the best Chasing Ghosts cuts overall. At first, ‘Kids Raise Kids‘ is a simple piano ballad, but soon the country folk-rock crunch of the band roars into place. ‘Wear My Medals‘ brings back the driving organ heard earlier in ‘Busted Lung‘, even later running headlong into a hardcore orientated bridge section that reminds listeners of the old heavy music roots of Jimmy and his band of brothers. Then the slow-burning, sombre mood of closer ‘Dig‘ sits halfway between the solely acoustic realm of early Chasing Ghosts output and the touching full-band arrangements of where they’ve grown to lately. All solid tracks! Yet the EP doesn’t quite contain the singing, dynamic or sonic variety that captivated me about 2016’s wonderful ‘I Am Jimmy Kyle‘ LP.
The biggest win for ‘Homelands‘ is that it has heart, a shit ton of it. An honest and educational heart, too. That’s in part by the six songs, the six stories, that it thoughtfully shares. ‘Busted Lung‘ talks about how a gay friend of Jimmy was targeted by two brothers in a hate crime carried out in Melbourne circa 2015; ‘Summer‘ recounts the Towel Creek Massacre of 1856 in NSW, in which only a single child, Baaba (Babaang) Jack Scott, survived. Whereas ‘Hometown Strangers In An Urban Dreaming‘ looks at dreams, gentrification and the gap of views between two different people from them being children to chance meeting one another again as very much changed adults.
Moving on, ‘Kids Raise Kids‘ is about young broken families and divorce. ‘Wear My Medals‘ is a nuanced anti-war song for the conflict in the Middle East, the moral dilemma of the soldier’s tale; soldiers trying to do the right thing and how these events haunt them. (It honestly reminds me a little of the theme and messaging behind Rise Against’s 2008 song, ‘Hero Of War‘.) Lastly, ‘Dig‘ explores white Australia’s history and treatment of Aboriginal peoples, from the English invasion right up to now in the modern-day, acting as a concise summarisation of the EP’s ideas. Like all good stories, there’s a deeper lesson to be learnt from these half-dozen stories, and that’s what solidifies the reality and impact behind this release.
For instance, ‘Busted Lung‘ addresses how little rehabilitation occurs in prison; to also never forget what happened but to then take the hard-to-swallow pill of forgiveness instead and move forward, letting go of the enticing whisper of vengeance. ‘Summer‘ goes beyond that re-telling of a white-nationalist massacre of Indigenous people and asks where is the respect and remembrance for the Aboriginal lives lost during the Frontier Wars by the larger Australian community now. ‘Hometown Strangers In An Urban Dreaming‘ looks at differences on not just a personal level and the relationships formed and lost over time, but on a larger communal level; how there’s a gap closing but also widening between different cultural, racial and economic demographics.
‘Kids Raise Kids‘ is about the influence of parents upon their kids, the love children have for their folks, estranged or not, and the “politics” of divorced partners using children as “weapons” in a battle for control over splitsville. Strip off the military setting of ‘Wear My Medals‘ and it’s about the metaphorical toll placed upon people when put in a difficult situation and they fight to do the right thing; how that PTSD can drive them over the edge. (Personally, I don’t think this song quite hits the emotional mark the band were aiming for in the wake of the public learning last year about the war crimes committed by members of the ADF in Afghanistan.) ‘Dig‘ is a layered literal and figurative call for non-Indigenous folk to “dig deep”, to better understand Aboriginal culture and the struggles of its mobs – frontier wars, the era of assimilation, stolen generations, deaths in custody, etc. – and what Australia’s far-too-influential ruling class mining industry does to the scared grounds that its original landowners lived on and cared for.
The six stories behind ‘Homelands’ are what lifts it up, what holds it up as one of the most important Australian releases of 2021. Don’t let that 75/100 rating above fool you; songs like ‘Summer’ and ‘Dig’ make this EP essential. It might be shorter than what I was personally hoping for after five years from Chasing Ghosts, and it might not have the same level of vocal and production dynamics as their grand 2016 album, but it remains as some very simple yet extremely well-executed, catchy-as-fuck and heartfelt folk-punk with many life lessons and thoughtful education to offer. I just hope it doesn’t take another five years for Jimmy Kyle and this Melbourne group to put out another release. I truly do believe that the Australian music scene is all the better when we hear more from artists like Chasing Ghosts; getting more releases like ‘Homelands’ in its message of Indigenous solidarity and Aboriginal pride.
Hometown Strangers In An Urban Dreaming
Kids Raise Kids
Wear My Medals
‘Homelands’ is out now: