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Big Scary – ‘Daisy’ review: Melbourne indie-pop duo return with their grooviest album yet

Tom Iansek and Jo Syme set aside the guitars and recast themselves as an eccentric disco outfit on their fourth album

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
Credit: Jeff Andersen Jnr
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Melbourne’s Big Scary have never been an ordinary indie-pop band. Their very versatility has engendered experimentation, flux and transgression. Now, after 2016’s bombastically maximalist ‘Animal’, they’ve returned with ‘Daisy’: a whimsical synth-funk album that ushers in their own bohemian Daisy Age.

A traditionally autonomous duo – of Tom Iansek on lead vocals, guitar and keys, and Joanna Syme on drums and backing vocals – Big Scary have long defied any limitations. Their 2010 EP series ‘The Big Scary Four Seasons’ traversed myriad genres: Bon Iver-y neo-folk, piano balladry, prog rock and garage-punk. They incorporated hip-hop recording techniques for 2013 breakthrough ‘Not Art’, which won the Australian Music Prize. Then, with ‘Animal’, the band revelled in theatrical post-rock, Iansek’s usually supple voice arch as he incongruously assumed a pseudo American twang. Ironically, ‘Animal’ was Big Scary’s most commercially successful album, yielding a hit in ‘The Opposite Of Us’.

Named after an oft-overlooked garden bloom, ‘Daisy’ is the antithesis of ‘Animal’. Iansek and Syme have abandoned grand artifice; indeed, amid the COVID-19 lockdown, Big Scary have conceived a concentrated and enclosed album. It’s also more of a joint effort than previous records: on ‘Daisy’ Iansek and Syme share vocal and lyric duties, ruminating on relationships, authenticity and aspiration in a digital world where reality is reduced to the acronym ‘IRL’.

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Not to call ‘Daisy’ a downbeat record: Unlike Iansek’s recent introspective solo outing as #1 Dads, it offers lounge room disco. Though it opens with two instrumentals characterised by ambient chimes and what sounds like a detuned heirloom piano played from the next room, the avant-garde touches soon give way to grooves. First single ‘Stay’ is a particular bop, with Iansek revealing a social anxiety: “There is a smile on your lips if you let it / There is a ticking on your clock, don’t you forget it / A ball of fire in the sky / And it is going way down / Yeah, so are we.”

Notably, ‘Daisy’ has zero guitars, as Big Scary fully embrace synths following Iansek’s electronic side-project No Mono with Lowlakes’ Tom Snowdon and Syme moonlighting as DJ Slymewave. Somewhat surprisingly, the pair add buoyant dance rhythms: ‘Wake’, a knowingly melodramatic duet about co-dependence, blends Warpaint and Washed Out’s chillwave.

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‘Daisy’ is big, too, on nostalgic New Wave aesthetics, recalling seminal hip-hop crossovers by Blondie and Tom Tom Club – complete with quasi-rapping. ‘Get Out!’, on which both Big Scary members neutralise their destructive inner-critics, is swaggering funk with the mock horror of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ plus a bassline conjuring Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. But ‘Daisy’ remains sincere, even as Big Scary toy with their art-pop. On ‘Kind Of World’, Syme teases: “On the chase like Tom and Jerry / Puffed like Peter, Paul and Mary / Blow a kiss to your Big Scary.”

On ‘Daisy’, the band express optimism, exuding mindfulness and an appreciation of innocent pleasures. But they maintain their idiosyncrasies, down to the sequencing. ‘Bursting At The Seams’ anticipates the euphoric freedom of a live encore, Syme singing about instant physical attraction over swelling live strings. Yet the album ends with ‘One In A Million’, a sedate romantic piano ballad.

Ultimately, ‘Daisy’ is more than a mere curio in Tom Iansek and Jo Syme’s discography. Big Scary have made restorative music for these times and pulled off a charming reinvention.

Details

  • Release date: April 30
  • Record label: Pieater
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