The Melbourne post-punk band makes a dreary life more joyful, writing songs with an appealing simplicity, buoyancy, and emotional openness.
Primo! creates energy out of ennui. The first track of their 23-minute debut LP, “You’ve Got a Million,” is a tiny miracle: Primo! take the small, mundane experience of being simply overworked and reminds us—with spindly guitars, calm levity, and a tilted grace—that the muchness is universal, that you might be overwhelmed but you are not alone. “You’ve got a million things to do/Racing all over town,” the women of Primo! sing with verve, earning the exclamation point. “Flights of stairs can’t slow you down!” In the face of never-ending to-do lists—of “waiting for nothing much at all”—Primo! evoke composure and personal fortitude. You can make things happen while you wait, as the song’s existence attests. Their chiming music urges you along.
With sharp lyrics and copious breathing space, Amici lands somewhere between Flying Nun-style jangle and the extreme minimalism of Young Marble Giants, all while sounding uniquely of Melbourne’s current, thoughtfully witty art-punk moment. The band—Xanthe Waite, Violetta Delconte Race, Suzanne Walker, and recently added bassist Amy Hill—have ties to Total Control, whose guitarist Al Montfort recorded and mixed Amici. The electronic flourishes that hover behind the album feel like a connective tissue to his group.
But Primo!’s approach to post-punk, comparatively, has an appealing simplicity, buoyancy, and emotional openness. Songs blossom from dreary everyday life, like flowers in concrete—words like “deadline,” “traffic,” and “plastic covering” beam with possibility, becoming almost uplifting. Primo!’s music has a tactful lightness of touch, particularly its drumming, and it all floats, even as songs are set near “a cemetery gate” or “shopping alone on a public holiday.” Everyone sings together, adding a blissful collective energy, the kind that makes a messy life feel easier to untangle.
As with many great homespun pop records, you feel as if you are listening in on the process of Amici, rather than simply listening to it. That dynamic holds thematically, too: Much of Amici sounds like a subtle negotiation between quiet, interior struggle and the potential of a dreamer saving herself. The chugging “A City Stair” feels like zipping determinedly through streets alone. On the upbeat “Future,” the band is at an office intoning that, “You’re not alone/There are thousands and thousands/Like you!” And “Bronte Blues” is an empathic antidote to the kind of “very very very small problem” that threatens to stack up and topple over when you least expect it. “Balance it out with walks by the sea/Balance it out with little luxuries,” Primo! sings, with encouraging “Try it!”s shouted in the distance. (With that excellent title, I imagine these lyrics emerging while reading Wuthering Heights near a body of water.)
Few are worthy of a comparison to the beloved San Francisco band Grass Widow, but Primo! earn one, not just for their stylistic makeup and inspired harmonies, but because of their similarly discernible internal logic. Amici is the sound of people working together to find a way forward, and the whole of the record feels like a comrade telling you to hang on. Even the title seems to acknowledge Primo!’s three-way conversation, as well as the one uncorrupted source of comfort in life: friendship.
The highlight of Amici is the buzzy ballad “Ticking Off a List.” Like “You’ve Got a Million,” it’s about the hard fact that life happens while we’re busy tending to our endless, individual tasks. “What a bird’s-eye view,” they sing, “I’m not above, but I imagine you/Trotting around/Ticking off a list of things to do.” It sounds like a poem Frank O’Hara might write after gazing at the Instagram account of a faraway friend, and even more at the song’s outset: “What do you see? There’s a fogginess to some beauty.” That is a wistful daydream of a punk lyric, and one charged with hope. Clarity is rare; the tedium of quotidian responsibility can make things cloudier still. But, of course, it’s amid the work that we often and suddenly explode the boundaries of our lives. Amici is evidence of grasping joy along the way.
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