Album Review: The Shambolics | Be Careful What You Wish For

Local four piece The Shambolics are a band with plenty of collective life experience and clearly a quality set of musical influences. With two of their members, Asho and Sam, having long standing roots in the Brisbane punk rock community (and rounded out by relative newcomers Matt and Brad), they traverse a pleasing array of musical touch points on their debut album, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’. Getting a little help along the way from a bunch of guest artists from brethren acts such as Halfway, Suicide Swans, We All Want to, Speedstar and It’s Magnetic, the band land firmly on the seminal and authentic side of the musical equation, from garage rock with a heart of punk through to more roots based, soulful fare.

A distinctive feature of the band’s sound is the plaintive, sing/speak ruminations of lead vocalist Graham ‘Asho’ Ashton, his Aussie accented proclamations recalling something akin to Moodist come-solo chameleon Dave Graney, particularly in his use of specific artistic and pop culture references, that will bring a knowing nod or smirk to plenty a Gen X-er, or anyone with a taste for the origins of so-called ‘alternative’ culture.

Opening number, ‘Keep On Swinging’, commences proceedings all mean, moody and magnificent, its reflective, slow-burn vibe (fleshed out vividly with moving keyboard accompaniment) recalling the finer moments of grunge era rock-soul collective The Afghan Whigs. This feel resurfaces on the track ‘Vacant Space’, which also brings to mind the mid 80s widescreen guitar sounds of Aussie bands such as The Triffids.

‘A Life Thing’, one of the albums high watermarks, moves things into roughed-up roots rock territory, a harmonica driven, group singalong stitched together via the wizened musings of Asho as he reflects on youthful anecdotes of times past; “We were middle class skate punks from Brisbane, what the fuck did we know?”

With talk of mix tapes and joining the Kiss Army betraying the band’s vintage, melded with the world view of an outsider making sense of life on the inside, the track serves as a knowing reflection on navigating through worldly travesties and life trajectories while remaining true to one’s ‘life thing’ influences from both the literary (Bukowski, Kerouac) and musical realms; (Joe) Strummer, Iggy (Pop), Patti (Smith) and Hart (I’m going with Grant Hart of Husker Du for this one.)

‘Come Back Down’ serves as another of the album’s finest numbers, this time delivering a mid-paced, garage punk moment par excellence, with its horn augmented, rousing chorus and snarling vocals bringing to mind prime-period, late 70s Saints.

‘High and Lonesome’ is an acoustic driven strum of a number, featuring another group singalong chorus, while ‘Faded’ works just fine as a blues-rock burner, with Asho’s growled vocals augmented by the band’s dirty groove.

And speaking of dirty, somewhat shambolic grooves, penultimate number, ‘1989’, delivers a lurching, stripped back tale of how the year in question (“it was the year that nearly killed me”) played out for our chief protagonist, littered with personal anecdotes, including time spent in the UK, “dancing with our eyes closed, to ‘Just Like Heaven’, by the Cure”.

The album’s final, title track, winds things down with aplomb, its tasteful keyboard washes and cleanly picked guitar lines hinting at the ghosts of soulful 70s rock.

With ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’, The Shambolics have delivered an impressively heartfelt release, displaying enough of their own ‘rough around the edges’ charm to make it far more than just a nostalgic regurgitating of influences.

‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ is out now via the usual channels. Catch The Shambolics at Mo’s Desert Clubhouse on 11 October.

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