Beast & Flood: Unharm

- Wollongong-via-Sydney quartet Beast & Flood are one of the more satisfying things a music scene can offer up: an ambitious DIY band with the skill to pull off the tricks they're attempting. 2015's debut album Lanugo displayed their songwriting acumen in their chosen style of intricate indie-rock, its Modest Mouse meets Polvo meets Fugazi guitar workouts twisting themselves ever tighter around complex song structures that more often than not built to thrilling climaxes. With their follow-up, Unharm, the band have cleaned up a couple of the rougher edges of Lanugo while increasing the scope and proficiency of the music contained within.

Largely self-recorded and released on the band's own label, No Safe PlaceUnharm is even more spacious and 'wide-screen' than Beast & Flood's debut. While the record itself is somewhat more brief (and benefits from that relative brevity), the songs are generally allowed to stretch out to their fullest extent. Additionally, the band's recording work has improved along with their songcraft, giving Unharm a lush yet uncluttered production job that throws a few new textures into their sonic vocabulary. In my review of Lanugo I made mention of Modest Mouse's The Moon & Antarctica record, and the comparison is even more apt here, not because of any derivativeness but instead due to the sense of space that it shares with that album, and the constantly shifting aural landscapes both records offer up. Guitars swirl around the stereo spectrum, dropping in and out to emphasise dynamic shifts, while there are clever little sonic touches here and there to add interest – a drum machine here, some synths there, even multi-tracked drums flipping from one ear to the other. This attention to detail is something that was present on their previous album, but here it's been refined and improved upon.

Once again, if there's to be a stumbling-block for some listeners it will probably be vocalist Adam Curtis' guttural bellows. Here too, though, Beast & Flood have progressed, with Curtis displaying greater range than he did on Lanugo, even getting downright sweet in parts. When he does allow himself to get a bit more unhinged he now does it with more control while losing none of his power. Indeed, his rage is at times palpable, screaming about “terra nullius sands”, “material empires” and “disposable people” on album opener 'Infinite Hands'.

Unharm is a dark yet vital rock album, standing up alongside a number of like-minded records released in Australia this year, such as Mere Women's Big Skies and Beloved Elk's Distractions. It can be kind of rare to hear an Australian indie-rock band really going for it in the way that Beast & Flood have on Unharm, and even rarer to see such a band pull it off. It's earnest and ambitious in a way that just isn't cool, and all the better for it.

- Cameron Smith.

Album Details

Album Title: Unharm
Artist: Beast & Flood
Record Label: (No Safe Place)