Since 2019 Melbourne band Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes have been releasing singles, starting with ‘The Road’, which was a tale of aloneness, more than loneliness, and the choices made in service to it and which it has facilitated. They followed it up with some songs whichindicated that their musical road had a few forks in it: ‘You Remind Me of Myself’ was a pop-leaning ear worm, ‘I Went Down’ was swampier than their previous songs (no watery pun intended), and ‘Quit While We’re Ahead’ was a funhouse mirror hall’s worth of circular decisions. The most recent single was also the title track, written and performed with Tim Rogers. With the exception of ‘The Road’, that brace of songs makes up the first half of As Long as It’s Not Us, introduced by the new song ‘Ok to Love’.
It’s this first song that lyrically introduces what may be the theme of the album: passionate ambivalence, about life, about love. ‘Love’ is a strong word; ‘OK’ is more mild. The song itself is about permission to love, hence the ‘OK’, but the ambivalence is still there, especially as it’s OK to love ‘if you love hard enough’. And given that it’s the only song that seems to address what’s happened to the world in the past year and a bit – with the lyric ‘This morning’s news/Heartache and pain/We didn’t choose/To live this way’ – passionate ambivalence seems to be exactly the right response. As we go deeper into the album – even through the singles that follow that first track – we find further evidence of it: the suggestion that life is not so much about the pursuit of love and happiness as it is about working out what you want and trying to find a way to get to it.
At the heart of this album is the outstanding ‘Never Said a Word’ and its confrère, ‘I Found God’ – the last notes of one bleed into the other, suggesting that they are extensions of each other. They’re also the hardest songs to disentangle ourselves from, not so much the black hole of the album as its magnetic core. We go forward to the end and back to the start, but everything pulls us to these songs. There is tragedy in them but maybe it’s fixable; maybe it’s not. There’s that ambivalence again. And what makes them work – what they could not exist without – is Lachlan Bryan’s voice. He’s such an accomplished singer that it’s hard not to think that any crack or nuance hasn’t been done on purpose, because he would have complete control of what he’s doing. And yet … and yet. These songs sound like he’s reaching into his core, so deep that he may not know what’s in there, so he can’t predict what will emerge when he brings these songs to the light. And light there is, in the music that accompanies him in these and every song on the album. There are delicate layers provided by bandmates Shaun Ryan, Damian Cafarella and Riley Catherall, and odd sounds and quirky additions that are reminiscent of the way Arthur Streeton would pop tiny colourful details into his paintings, as if he wanted to make sure you’re paying attention. His paintings were wonderful even if you didn’t notice those details, and this album is wonderful if you don’t hear all its nooks and crannies, but if you do you’ll find that you’ve viewing a full gallery show, not just a portrait.
So, we move on from ‘I Found God’ to ‘Weighing on Me’, a tale of responsibility and, as in ‘The Road’ – which follows it – choices, then find ourselves at ‘The Understudy’, which was co-written with Harmony James, and ‘Take it Out on Me’, both songs about alternate candidates who may live your life for you in case you might be, shall we say, ambivalent about it: an understudy and ‘the one you love’. But here’s the thing about that theme suggested earlier: in intricately and interestingly exploring so many facets of life and of love, Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes establish that they are more on the side of passion than ambivalence. In singing about giving up on life – as happens in ‘Never Said a Word’ – Bryan, in fact, stamps his claim on it: he’s here to tell us the tale. Which means that, fundamentally, this album that only refers to the past few months of humanity’s existence in a handful of lines is, actually, the best document of these times we can ask for. During a time when our emotions are so close to the surface and we don’t want them to be, when our lives and livelihoods have been tossed into the air – and sometimes lost – and we don’t want them to be, if you’re listening to this album you are here, you are hopeful of clearer skies and brighter days, even as you haven’t given up on the days already lived. To produce such a document is an act of love. There’s nothing ambivalent about that.
As Long as It’s Not Us is out now through Social Family Records.