Cathedrals, the debut longplayer from Melbourne’s Playwrite, is a densely layered collage of voices, keyboards, acoustic guitars and rhythmic instrumentation. The tracks, carefully constructed with producer Jimi Maroudas, exhibit a willingness to flesh out the basic acoustic nature of the songs with subtle sonic experimentation that add a great deal of interest to the set.
At best, such as on the darkly pretty Young God, these elements of oddness, be it heavily processed guitar, cascading keyboards, digital delay feedback or groups of reverberant backing vocals, become an integral part of the arrangement, never taking away from the raw emotion of each song.
From Dogs, rendered here as an almost a cappella opener, and onwards, lead singer Jordan White’s often breezy, occasionally loud, emotive vocals are a constant amongst all the big drums and rivers of guitars.
While the music is rooted in folk, the band embrace electronica and strive for big, Coldplay-esque, pop moments. For, despite the aforementioned experimentation in the production, this is an album obviously made with an eye on cracking the band into a broader audience.
Single Animals Housed in particular exhibits a different hook almost every eight bars and features big dramatic stops engineered for sing-alongs and radio play.
Rivers is by far the standout, a delicately delivered expression of loss and helplessness in the face of guitarist Patrick Holcombe’s parents’ death in tragic circumstance.
“If I never have a daughter, if I never have a son, will it all have been for nothing?”
It’s a truly beautiful song, which the band allow appropriate space for in their performance, slowly building the arrangement over acoustic guitar, strings and pedal effects before it finally ends in a burst of distorted beats.
Despite all of its intricate production, Cathedrals is unlikely to win over music fans with an aversion to bombastic folk-pop, a field that has been muddied over the last five years or so by the likes of Mumford, the aforementioned Coldplay, and several other even less interesting entities.
However, amongst all of the drums, technology and clever hooks lies real heart in this material, in this band, as well as a knack for economic songcraft.
This is an album that should be listened to closely, in a room, away from the distractions of others. Immerse yourself for 43 minutes and get lost in the world of Playwrite.