Created during the extended limbo of Melbourne’s first lockdown, Deuce’s debut album speaks to the intimacy of a homebound relationship. It’s the first collaboration between partners Kayleigh Heydon and Curtis Wakeling, who extended their romantic bond into a creative one without deadlines or expectations.
Adding to the newness, Heydon – a visual artist by trade – could hardly play an instrument when Deuce began. And while Wakeling had accumulated plenty of experience playing and writing songs in The Ocean Party and Pop Filter as well as in his solo outlet Velcro, Deuce’s music sits outside his usual comfort zone. In contrast to the brisk, layered jangle-pop of his best-known bands, this project cuts deep while wielding the fewest of elements at a notably slow pace.
- READ MORE: Pop Filter: Members of The Ocean Party return in a collective that’s “throwaway, in the best possible way”
Observe the delicate tambourine and slide guitar on ‘Antipodes’, a slinky ballad that remains defiantly low-key even when culminating in this bolstering refrain: “These things / They hurt sometimes.” Similarly, each individual strand of guitar and bass is positioned thoughtfully in ‘Heatwave’, Heydon and Wakeling’s voices intermingling with soft melancholy against plaintive steel guitar. Nothing is hidden or couched: it’s all visible and vulnerable.
Tracks like that and the saxophone-shaded ‘Salt’ unspool like the molasses-paced séances perfected by HTRK, emphasising atmosphere as the song’s disjointed phrases (“I am drinking too much?”; “We should take it slow”) evoke pensive late-night texting. As other comparisons go, the drum-machine skitter and unpolished keyboard tinkering of ‘Skyscraper’ easily brings to mind Young Marble Giants, while the fuller-bodied standout ‘Wildflower’ glows with an organ-haloed warmth somewhere between Beach House and Mazzy Star.
There are some exceptions to that unhurried haziness: ‘Language of Love’ foregrounds prowling, nervous instrumentation and Wakeling’s monotone delivery of pricklier lyrics like “Tell those cops to fuck off.” That and ‘Big Change’ are the only songs here that would have fit snugly on an Ocean Party record, but Heydon’s vocal presence is enough to differentiate them. Other songs, meanwhile, are content to simply mine the pair’s shared vision of tender romance (‘Day Three’) and sparse arrangements (‘Swim’).
Besides representing a kind of initiation for Heydon as a musician and songwriter, this album marked Wakeling’s first time mixing a record. And without possessing the same level of musical knowledge, the pair had to communicate in other ways, leaning more on description and vibe. So the album’s distinctive sparseness might have stemmed partly from necessity, as each of the two was settling into a new role. But that openness of sound and slowness of pace means that Deuce’s songs encourage listeners to linger on smaller, less showy moments than we usually might.
While the live incarnation of Deuce brings the band up to a five-piece with the addition of guitarist Bridgette Winten (Maple Glider, Winten), bassist Angie Rose Brown (Golden Helmet, Skyways Are Highways) and drummer Liam Halliwell (Snowy Band, Pop Filter), the album is very much a duo effort: the sound of two partners working in close quarters, learning together while the outside world stood paused. And of course, the band name itself is old-school slang for ‘two’.
But though it may be a discrete souvenir of lockdown, the album still looks to the future. Whether the next Deuce release leans closer to anxious post-punk or to diaphanous ballads – or perhaps even stretches out into the rosy ambience of instrumental closer ‘Orange Hum’, with its poignant echoes of Yo La Tengo – is anyone’s guess. But there are enough promising tributaries introduced here to make any of them worth following.
- Release date: June 16
- Record label: Dinosaur City Records