A stirring and insightful analysis of the Australian condition.
Jamie Hay is a pissed off man. This revelation might not be immediately apparent from the description of Melbourne’s Fear Like Us, and their execution of well-rounded, catchy and genial folk punk anthems. However, it only takes one concerted listen to ‘Succour’, the group’s second full-length album, coming to us almost a decade after their self-titled debut, to realise that there’s more at work here than tales about racking up empty stubbies with your mates. Australia is in turmoil – politically, socially and spiritually – and ‘Succour’ serves as a brave attempt to attack that notion of civil unrest head on.
We last heard from Fear Like Us in 2013 with the release of the ‘Street Vipers’ EP, and since then a lot has happened in our Great Southern Land. Political SNAFU’s, onion gorging, disputes over marriage equality, and a disastrous immigration policy, which has culminated in an emerging migrant crisis, the ripples of which are being felt the world over. Amidst this sea of perpetual chaos, the modus operandi of Fear Like Us has remained unwavering: to use music as both method and message. ‘Succour’ sports the kind of melodic punk jams that have become something of a Poison City staple, but also relies heavily on rustic folk elements and a gravel-throated vocal delivery. And it’s with this type of flexible and organic palette, that Hay & Co are able to paint one of the most vivid and uniquely Australian lyrical portraits in recent memory. With the band members sharing a collective pedigree that includes notable acts like A Death In The Family, Conation, Like… Alaska and High Tension, this type of musical undertaking rests in strong and capable hands.
The record bursts out with the explosive reverie of ‘The Gaslightning Anthem’, a short and blistering opening track that announces Hay’s impassioned vocals against a backdrop of acoustic and electric guitars. Lead single ‘Red Ochre’ talks about the Stolen Generation from an Indigenous perspective that is too often forgotten, with drummer Lauren Hammel providing a sombre counterpoint to Hay’s powerful verses, vastly enriching the track’s narrative impact. ‘The Lowest Form Of Love’ picks up this thread once again, as Hay takes up the banner for Indigenous people and launches into a savage indictment of indentured racism and the Reclaim Australia movement. The track features some fantastic mandolin additions from Mark Jennings, as Hay sings about the victims of “a system that’s intent on grinding their culture into dust” and asks poignantly, “Do you know whose land you’re standing on?”
Around the half-way point, things slow down for some rousing acoustic tracks. ‘Who Killed Reza Berati?’ is an endearing ode to the fallen man who provides the track’s namesake: a 23-year old Iranian asylum seeker who was tragically killed during riots at the Manus Island detention centre. Throughout the track, moral insight can be gleamed from multiple layers of perspective, and new levels of pathos given the recent ruling by the PNG Supreme Court over the centre’s existence and Australia’s supposed ‘solution’. This overwhelming sense of desperation and frustration spills over into ‘Raze It To The Ground’, as Hay belts out a heart-warming appeal to reason and empathy. Closer ‘The Face Of War, Washed Upon The Shore’ uses one of the group’s strongest choruses to date, to evocatively reflect on the harrowing image of migrant children, floating dead in the waters of the Mediterranean.
As a nation, Australia might not have a well-documented history with protest songs, but our colloquial stories, collective hardships and personal histories can easily be found by diving through the pub jukebox, or paying close attention to the guy playing an acoustic set in the local beer-garden. Our most iconic imagery often comes directly from songs like ‘Treaty’ or ‘Khe Sanh’ or ‘Blue Sky Mine’ or ‘Great Southern Land’ – songs with ideology that’s firmly entrenched in our public consciousness. With ‘Succour’, Fear Like Us elevate the discourse of recent tragic events away from our fickle attention spans, where we’re too often consumed by celebrity gossip and the next click-bait article, into something that will hopefully transcend time and resonate long after the news cycle has exhausted any perceived value. Fear Like Us care deeply and honestly about their country, and with ‘Succour’ sure to be one of the defining soundtracks for 21st century Australia, you should too.
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1. The Gaslightning Anthem
2. Revolution Bummer
3. Red Ochre
5. The Lowest Form Of Love
6. Who Killed Reza Berati?
7. Raze It To The Ground
8. Over the Falls
9. Dry Riverbed
10. The Face Of War, Washed Upon The Shore