My brother and I don’t live very far from each other. In fact, all we’re separated by is a common wall, and yet we often have wildly divergent forms of music pumping out of our relative stereos. Because that wall is thicker than it used to be, it’s often the case that we’re listening to something the other has without knowing. Rarer still, we’re onto the same thing at the same time. That’s what’s been happening all this week with ‘Adults Only’, the menacing centrepiece from the latest Presets record, Pacifica. Despite the fact that he’s only heard the album as it’s been leaked to radio and eventually released, Dave knows the all of the words to this song. And because I had it on repeat a month ago ahead of a discussion with drummer Kim Moyes, I know all of the gradual, seeping changes in the music. That’s why it should come as no surprise that when I put it on in the car as we drove to our respective workplaces one morning and D turned to me and said ‘I reckon 80% of what I’ve been listening to this week has been this track’ and I agreed. What’s more worrying to me is that I’ve started hearing the chorus refrain when it isn’t even playing. Kim and Julian have taken over my brain.
‘A.O.’ is the point at which The Presets throw off all their pretense and embrace their undeniably lustrous Australian-ness. It’s a phenomenon that I’ve written about in the last fortnight and seems to be doing the rounds in the local media, but to understand what that means you really have to lose yourself in the song like we have been doing. Concerned more with telling a story in the classic campfire tradition than dropping beats for the kids, ‘A.O.’ (which stands for our old-school classification rating, ‘Adults Only’) is pretty much a nightmare wrapped up in synthesisers, but that’s precisely what makes it so compelling. It’s a six minute, hair-on-the-back of your neck dissonant build-up that releases itself in the complete opposite way to how you’d like, in a swarm of white noise akin to a million buzzing mosquitoes. It’s got bounce and it’s got groove but it’s also got brains. It reminds me more of The Knife in its execution; what with the warped vocal introduction and pinballing V-drums than anything the band have done before. And yet, just when you think it’s this dark slice of techno, the rains wash over and there’s grand piano and Julian singing in the clearest voice I’ve ever heard.
‘A.O.’ is brilliant because it manages to hold your attention through multiple verse sequences that become increasingly uncomfortable and incorporates previous elements from other sections in a really intelligent way. That spiky bass figure, which creeps in during the first repeat, becomes the only accompaniment in the second, which has a serious effect on the tone. Equally as impressive is Hamilton’s voice, which drops in and out of brogue and tune as each lyric gains intensity, transforming into a robotic monotone during the bridge in complete contrast to his soaring melodies only seconds before. In doing so, he helps elevate the Presets into a piece of antipodean performance art rather than just electro innovators, writing a cohesive song rather than just a great punk-dance riff as he and Kim always vowed they would. Sure, there’s obligatory references to kookaburras, Darlinghurst kids on cocaine, tourists being shot by cops and the Emerald City, all signposts for the Sydney that Dave and I have grown up in but rarely acknowledge. But more than that, there’s that sound that is completely unique, which the Presets have now crafted for themselves for the third album in a row. Listen through a good pair of headphones; they have agonised over this. Every layer is made up of multiple voices, and not just layers of duplicates, either. Hear the way the bass moves in counterpoint to the keys in that second verse, clawing it’s way up and falling back as the other hisses an octave above. To join the jargon, this isn’t shits and giggles. This is how it’s done by professionals. Luckily for us, we can still see them at festivals.
The Presets – ‘A.O.’