THERE IS NO ONE Named John Steel among these five Australians, just a toy horse named by vocalist/guitarist Tim Morrissey, though whether it’s a childhood plaything or a totem of some lysergic experience in later life isn’t known.
The possibility of either defines the JSS, from their childlike sense of glee to their marked psychedelic proclivities. The former ensures the latter is refreshingly free of generic conventions: instead of space-rock detritus or FX pedal fever – Australia plus psychedelia doesn’t have to equal Tame Impala – there’s a much rarer, upbeat version of altered consciousness.
“Harmony pop with several feet in those hallowed swinging ’60s.”
Their second album may begin with a strange keyboard ditty named The Needle, which resembles a Radiophonic Workshop slowed down for maximum disorientation, but it lasts only 17 seconds until Happy Before crashes in, launching a dizzying mash-up of irresistible kinetic force: sunshine pop, surf pop, locked grooves, powerpop, ’70s pop smarts, highlife guitar. There’s plenty of joyous singing too, in an unusually congregated fashion, with only Ross Chandler behind the traps keeping his trap shut. The Mike Sammes Singers they are not, but it’s still harmony pop with several feet in those hallowed swinging ’60s. As befits a band from Australia’s Gold Coast, the sun does appear to shine out of their behinds.
A milder, happy-sad version of this sound exists on their 2010 debut Tangalooma, which was produced by Brisbane legend Robert Forster. He pops up singing Strawberry Wine on the bonus Live At The Plutonium set, but otherwise links to Forster’s beloved sophisticates The Go-Betweens have been severed. Left to their own devices in a makeshift home studio (amps in the kitchenette, a bedroom mixing desk) with blazing coastal views, the JSS devoted themselves to uninterrupted party jams, sharing guitar, keyboard and brass duties, and then bottled the prevailing mood.
Like that toy horse or over-sugared children, they buzz along. The Marksman invents the new genre of sunshine pop motorik, State Of Unrest and the title track are rampant new wave, circa The Motors’ Dancing The Night Away, while Common Thread imagines a freewheeling Super Furry Animals helmed by Curt Boettcher – though the sunshine pop Übermensch wouldn’t have settled for JSS’s muddy vocal mix (the one downside of competing singers).
Listeners are unlikely to discover the titular thread either, as lyrics play a secondary role to this music’s energy flash. But JSS recognise that every dance party needs the slow numbers to take a breather; hence There’s A Bird’s hazy glide and The AC, dreamy like Recall The Beginning… A Journey-era Steve Miller, another benchmark of distilled carefree psych. The lasting impression here is of a band that dares to be this happy, this sunny. Keep this record close in case the unfolding British summer fails to deliver.