Floodlights’ aptly titled 2020 debut album, ‘From a View’, introduced a sharp, documentary quality to the Melbourne quartet’s songwriting. On the opening track, ‘Water’s Edge’, guitarist/vocalist Louis Parsons mapped out an Australian bush marked by “corrugated road and a thousand cane toads”, amongst other distinguishing features. The album went on to chip away at Aussie pride itself, interrogating the ongoing track record for justice in the so-called lucky country.
‘Painting of My Time’ continues those themes at every step, building in scope and intensity without losing the in-the-room directness of that previous album. In fact, both were recorded live to tape with veteran engineer Nao Anzai (Cash Savage & The Last Drinks), though the first took two days and this one three. Some orchestral parts enter the fold this time around, but only in a subtle enough fashion to maintain the band’s spacious yet streamlined sound.
In both cases, the band wield openness to make their songs imposing and centred at the same time. There’s a sense of considerable heft, even when the components are kept to just two guitars, bass and drums. That’s partly due to the space naturally carved out by Parsons’s deep, resounding voice, but the same effect holds when guitarist and equal songwriter Ashlee Kehoe steps to the mic. And when the two sing together, as on ‘On the Television’, it’s particularly impactful – especially when Kehoe calls out the media’s routine touting of Australia’s ‘fair go’ egalitarianism.
Like fellow Melbourne act RVG, Floodlights could be handily labelled as post-punk but more often operate in a vein of socially conscious pub rock once mastered by Midnight Oil. There’s drama and dynamism in the words and music alike, but it’s more classic than confronting. Add in some of The Triffids’ melancholic depictions of the Australian landscape, and Floodlights feel more and more at home in the ranks of the country’s more unflinching truth-tellers. Just observe the desperation bubbling throughout opener ‘Moment of Distraction’, until Parsons finally declares, “I can’t break free”. The following ‘Lessons Learnt’ is similarly sapped of hope, instead lamenting the repetition of history.
The quartet’s stage-honed sense of focus keeps those brooding themes from dragging these songs into mere discontentment. Girded by a sinewy rhythmic pulse from drummer Archie Shannon and bassist Joe Draffen, as well as a prominent harmonica returning from the first album, ‘Human’ rings out with resilience rather than defeat. It’s an unlikely anthem about fighting to hang onto your identity – and especially your belief system – when encountering strangers and loved ones alike. “Am I in control or at the mercy of who I meet?” Parsons asks. Like many other songs on the record, it’s about the challenge of staying attuned to your moral compass in a modern echo chamber that often drowns out nuance.
Of course, Floodlights are just a rock band too, and the simple feat of group harmonising on the title track can be every bit as powerful as the lyrics. Repeated wordplay and themes, meanwhile, enhance the feeling that the album is building to something with each track. Several songs mention distraction and the preserving what you experience, be it with words or memory. That promised culmination comes on the closing ‘Wide Open Land’, the title of which can’t help but echo Icehouse’s subtly scathing ‘Great Southern Land’.
The song is about genuine escape, with Parsons citing the nourishing presence of sea and sky. But it’s notable that there’s no mention of other people: after enduring all the hypocrisies and pretences that abound in daily life, it’s about enjoying the way the sun hits the ground when nothing human-made is in sight. “They dissolve my worries,” Parsons sings of the natural surroundings that function as both dream and destination. It’s a parting message of solace on an album that suggests that such resolution doesn’t come easy.
- Release date: April 21
- Record label: Virgin