Album Review: Nicholas Allbrook – Pure Gardiya by Nathan Brooks

Immigration has been a controversial topic for a while, but thanks to the combined forces of the refugee crisis, Brexit and Donald Trump, the debate is more heated than ever. This is especially apparent in one particular corner of the southern hemisphere. Well known to those outside of it for its wildlife, BBQs and rugby, Australia’s recent immigration policies have received a mixed reception to say the least. As expected, it didn’t take long for musicians to make their voices heard. Specifically, Pond frontman and former Tame Impala bassist Nicholas Allbrook has devoted his latest solo album Pure Gardiya to ensure you know how he feels about the state of his country.

Allbrook’s previous LP Ganough, Wallis and Fatuna was a cosmic and surreal release that I am yet to decipher, but Pure Gardiya is grounded in a more gritty reality. This is most evident in the lead single Advance, which parodies and critiques Australia’s national anthem Advance Australia Fair for being – in Allbrook’s own words – “ignorant and isolationist”. This feeling is further reflected in the provocative cynicism of Pyramids and Cranes, where Allbrook bitterly admits that “everything that happens out there makes [him] want to die a bit more” and that he’d “feel better if you took the guns from the shore, and the locks from the door”.

Album Review: Nicholas Allbrook – Pure Gardiya

Meanwhile, there’s the angry self deprecation of the foul mouthed Blow Up Saxophone, then the sombre and tragic Career (A Letter to Kim) that’s likely about Allbrook’s distaste for ‘big money’. Dark themes are further explored in Karrakatta Cemetery – named after a graveyard in Perth – and Billy Leary, where Allbrook wrestles with suicide and threatens to “hang [himself] in the shed”. The penultimate track Mauerbauertraurigkeit refers back to isolationism; the title is a German word describing the inexplicable urge to push people away.

Musically, the piano driven Advance evokes the glam rock of early ‘70s David Bowie albums, but the majority of Pure Gardiya reminds me of the raw, unpolished psychedelic folk of Bowie’s self titled sophomore album. The opening track In the Gutter by the Park’n’Ride is a captivating blend of delicate acoustic guitar, sporadic piano and dissonant strings. The feedback drenched guitar of A Fool There Was continues this trend, whilst Blow Up Saxophone and Mauerbauertraurigkeit’s percussion and guitar creates a jagged, frustrated feeling. Pyramids and Cranes, Career and Karrakatta Cemetery feature occasional guitar strums buried in atmospheric strings, and Billy Leary appears similar until it reaches its climax with a stirring, but restrained guitar solo.

Allbrook’s vocals draw comparisons to Bowie

Allbrook’s vocals compliment the music perfectly. His performance on Advance draws further Bowie comparisons, showcasing a similar ability to sing rousing, yet quirky melodies. Allbrook lets his accent come through strongly, and the occasional violent whoop or scream further contributes to the uncompromising grittiness of the record. The vocals and the music may seem almost ugly to the casual listener, but to me it reflects the cold and unromantic society that Allbrook is describing. The final track, Deer, brings everything together with an ambient, avant-garde instrumental featuring a recurring sample of random French words, haunting strings, enigmatic piano playing, and shaky cymbal tapping.

Now, I have no idea how fair Nicholas Allbrook’s criticisms of Australia are. I’ve never been to the country, so I can’t comment on what it’s truly like. What I can judge, however, is the way those criticisms have been put forward, and I’m very fond of that. I’m obviously a fan of Allbrook’s other work, but he’s never produced anything like this before. It’s like Frank Zappa wrote a David Bowie album; creative, challenging, quirky, passionate, dark and satirical. Pure Gardiya is not an easy listen, but it is a rewarding one.