Ladder and Co. – Kirin J. Callinan, Laurence Pike and Donny Benet – use synths, drums – both acoustic and electronic – bright guitars dripping in reverb and a wash of background vocals to paint a sonic landscape purposefully set in the 1980s, yet never sounding anything but contemporary.
True to the Gary Numan mould of pop music there is little room for virtuosity, every guitar or xylophone melody feels perfectly calculated and placed, the simple but effective nature of the melodic lines rendering some of the songs a classic anthemic quality, which is at the same time understated.
This backdrop allows Jack Ladder the space to match his heartbeat to the drum machine, bringing all the passion and life to the songs as he pleads, purrs and croons his way through these ten remarkable tracks.
One of the things that sets Ladder apart from his contemporaries is his lyrics. Slow Boat to China opens with the image “I watch the whale ride the wake / throwing fountains at the sun,” while on what should be the next single To Keep and to Be Kept, a wry sense of humour shows through the deadpan – “and me, I’ve always been a country of one / since we met, border control’s all come undone.”
Reputation Amputation adds diversity to the album’s sound by showing Ladder’s rock’n’roll leanings, his howls adding credence to all those Nick Cave comparisons while an incredibly distorted guitar and almost dance-like beat brings to mind Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People.
The delicate Let Me Love You is a standout track and a gloriously understated love song, with Ladder’s vocals mixed to the front, the acoustic instrumentation sounding crisp and natural, not a synth to be found.
If you are not a fan of 1980s pop or are sick of bands with synthesisers and snare reverb – don’t be fooled. This is not a genre record, but a clever and rewarding album that should be making all the Best Australian Releases lists for 2014 in a few months. Highly recommended if you like: music.