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The Goon Sax - We’re Not Talking Music Album Reviews

The Brisbane guitar-pop trio infuses conversational vocals with deep emotional resonance on a sophomore album that spotlights the refreshing contributions of drummer Riley Jones.

Speak-singing is the enemy of strict choirmasters and the refuge of wannabe frontpersons too nervous to sing for real. Formally known as sprechgesang, a German word coined in the 1900s to describe the expressionist vocal technique used in operas, speak-singing has since shown up in practically every genre of popular music. And no matter how often it’s used, whether by Jonathan Richman or Courtney Barnett, it retains its imperfect charm, allowing each artist’s unique inflections to warp the notes that carry their words. Brisbane guitar-pop trio the Goon Sax have figured out how to maintain that looseness while injecting emotion into a technique that can flatten feelings. Their sophomore album, We’re Not Talking, feels refreshingly candid because of it.

In the two years since the Goon Sax released their debut album, Up to Anything, all three members—guitarist Louis Forster, guitarist James Harrison, and drummer Riley Jones—graduated from high school. Now, at 19, they’ve entered an era of maturation, in which reason and experience start to overtake inquisitiveness and wonder but can’t altogether supplant them. We’re Not Talking rides those lingering waves of adolescence. While the Goon Sax used to write hyper-specific vignettes, their new songs sound a little more vague and feel a little more relatable, whether they’re about bottling up emotions in a movie theater or losing a loved one’s number on your phone. There to enrich the stories are instruments like castanets, strings, and horns—all new to the band and each used sparingly, to emphasize the moods behind their words.

The vocals on these songs have the effect of a good story being told for the first time, all kinetic energy and disjointed phrasing. The fact that all three members share vocal duties reinforces that conversational element. On the piano ballad “Now You Pretend,” a deep sense of longing lines the edge of Harrison’s mellow baritone. Throughout We’re Not Talking, the band’s complex inflections give their words an air of ambiguity. In “Love Lost,” multi-tracked vocals radiate passion despite the flat vocal tones, making for a spirited trudge that matches the song’s story about wallowing in romantic isolation. Listening to the Goon Sax, you get the sense that they’re reliving real, vital moments that their hearts are still tied to. Harrison’s muddled enunciation suggests that he’s working his way through the emotions he’s describing, and you can’t help but feel it, too.

Jones’ voice, as both a singer and a songwriter, surfaces for the first time on this album. Her contributions seem to have been crucial to the band’s evolution, increasing the complexity of their harmonies, but also adding a female perspective that complements Forster’s and Harrison’s narratives. She adds levity to songs that would otherwise plod, like “Losing Myself,” which is weighed down by chunky guitar riffs until her glossy voice skates in on the chorus, and “We Can’t Win,” whose metronomic rigidity finally starts to give way when her melodies kick in. When she takes lead vocals on “Strange Light,” the album’s most gutting track, her frail voice heightens its themes of paralyzing fear and lack of direction.

Bolstered by Jones’ increased visibility and a newly varied instrumental palette, We’re Not Talking stands as proof that speak-singing still has some life left in it for a new generation of indie rockers. And the band seems to understand that: The most stirring example of their novel formula—emotional depth + conversational delivery—kicks off the album on “Make Time 4 Love.” As trumpets cascade and vocal harmonies warm up, Forster issues a series of exhausted ruminations that belie the band members’ young age: “I give in/I won’t outrun the train/And I can’t understand/Why you’re still trying.” The Goon Sax have already learned how to roll with life’s punches—and that new state of mind has certainly given them plenty to discuss.

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