“You are the current that I can’t escape / Draw me down into your depths”, Tom Iansek croons on the opening song of his second solo album.
It’s exactly this that the Big Scary singer does to the listener on his solo record About Face: he draws them deep down into his serene and delicate musical world until they have no desire to leave it.
It’s a beautifully intimate and quietly confident world that sees Iansek again venturing into experimental territory while still retaining a wonderful simplicity to his songs as a whole.
Billed as a way for Iansek to “remain creative between Big Scary album cycles and touring”, #1 Dads’ second effort comes three years after his debut, Man Of Leisure, which was released under the name ‘Dads’. Created over the course of two years, the album is a stark departure from Iansek’s work with Big Scary, featuring sparse sounds, and emotionally resonate vocals.
In the tradition of an old-school hip-hop mixtape, Iansek also recruited the help of a range of talented artists to co-write and sing vocals on a handful of songs, giving a sense of diversity to the album as a whole.
Opener ‘My Rush’ is reminiscent of Bon Iver, with haunting vocals and strummed acoustic guitars, slowly building up to an emotional refrain, before quickly stripping away all the elements to leave only the quiet guitar.
About Face is a beautiful blend of restrained acoustics and produced electronics, with Iansek’s melancholic but uplifting lyrics. It clearly displays the songwriter’s immense talents, but is still modest and never hints at being excessive.
Just as Big Scary’s latest album, Not Art, boasted a huge step up in production and instrumentality compared to previous efforts, About Face is expertly created, aided by Iansek’s experience as a producer in the past few years.
Tom Iansek has recently worked with the likes of Step-Panther, Airling and Hockey Dad, and this new found confidence in the production side of things is obvious to hear.
While Not Art is self-assured and at times loud, Iansek’s solo work is more humble and stripped back, and Iansek has said that it provides a place for many songs that would “remain homeless” outside of Big Scary.
‘So Soldier’, featuring the vocals of Melbourne artist Ainslie Wills, possesses an immediately nostalgic guitar line that floats across the whole song, pining for a time long since past. It’s catchy and infectious without really seeming to try at all, and it’s this effortless nature that makes the album so wonderfully serene.
Iansek’s lyrics often touch on desire, loss, love and mundanity, none more so than ‘Camberwell’. He manages to turn the mundane nature of suburban life into a strangely poetic tapestry of everyday life: “Walk down to the supermarket / Milk and bread in my basket / Chocolate on the shelf and my mind on the docket / I’m a slave to the change that’s in my pocket”.
The unexpected introduction of saxophone at the song’s conclusion is again indicative of the album’s strengths. Iansek builds a delicate, somewhat simple base of vocals and acoustic guitar, before creating rich layers of noise and electronic elements, with just the right amount of weirdness to keep it interesting.
Despite these carefully created walls of noise that subtly appear, arguably one of the best moments is also the simplest. ‘Blood Pt. 2’ features quiet, whispered vocals over plucked acoustic guitar. Iansek sings of longing: “You’re the song that’s on my mind”, “A warrior’s will and a pen in my hand but no words in my head / Fooling around with my guitar instead / Cos all I can think of is you”.
Tom Snowdon’s emotive, ethereal vocals give ‘Return To’ a dream-like atmosphere. It’s swirling, distant, and wholly entrancing, with Iansek and the Lowlakes singer inviting you into their strange world for four and a bit minutes.
For both ‘Return To’ and ‘So Soldier’, Iansek wrote the main riff before looking to other vocalists to bring the song to life, and the outside artists dispersed across the album give it a sense of rich texture and diversity that it benefits greatly from.
‘God Can Promise’ is a gorgeously cute duet with Airling, while ‘For Randy Robinson and Cassidy’ sees a stark contrast between upbeat, bright music and darker lyrics of “We’re all broke down / We’re all broke”.
There’s a distinct hint of melancholy matched with a quiet optimism in Iansek’s lyrics, something encapsulated on album-closer ‘Homeward Found’, where he sings painfully: “You don’t know how much, how hard I tried / But you have seen the hurt behind these eyes”.
About Face is full of subtleties and intricacies, a rewarding listen that immediately draws you in and humbly commands attention across the full 40 minutes.
It’s an album that’s destined to be a hidden treasure in Australian music for 2014, a little gem that further proves just why Tom Iansek is one of the best songwriters in Australia at the moment.
About Face is out now via Inertia.