Party Dozen – ‘The Real Work’ review: bold, bracing noise rock with a rare assist from Nick Cave

On their third album, the sax-and-drums improvisers shine in the mellow, melodic moments amid the melee

A saxophone-and-drums duo might seem like a setup with a fairly short range. But Sydney collaborators Kirsty Tickle and Jonathan Boulet push that core configuration to dazzling dimensions on their third album as Party Dozen, all while showing off plenty of other tricks up their collective sleeve.

It helps that Tickle runs her sax through a battery of effects pedals. She also screams directly through the horn at times, with bracing results. Meanwhile, Boulet pairs his fill-heavy drumming with a sampler that pulls in sporadic outside elements ranging from organ and strings to bass and guitar. As with the band’s kindred spirits in Divide and Dissolve, it can be rather difficult to pinpoint exactly what you’re hearing in the heated, improvisational melee of it all.

Whatever Party Dozen’s tools from moment to moment, they’re sure to deliver a a room-filling squall with a physical presence that feels raw and chaotic. Take opener ‘The Iron Boot’, an overdriven blast of doom-metal menace complete with gnashing textures and a searing glare of feedback. Party Dozen could easily have made a whole album in this intense vein, but the most surprising moments on ‘The Real Work’ come when the pair does their version of mellowing out.

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The mid-album entry ‘Early Times’ is spacey and melodic, and the bluesy lurch of ‘The Big Quit’ is less hectic than much of the record. Then there’s the closing ‘Risky Behaviour’, which commences with darkly dramatic strings to evoke the sort of cinematic soul often sampled in classic hip-hop. It’s worth noting just how catchy these predominantly instrumental workouts are, often locating a rich seam of repetition (see the bleary keyboard hook in ‘Major Beef’) and attacking it with unabashed playfulness. That’s especially true of the funky no-wave strut of ‘Fruits of Labour’, the album’s final single.

But any band that taps Nick Cave as its first and only guest to date is not exactly going to be predictable. Cave careens back to his Birthday Party heyday (think 1982’s famously unglued ‘Junkyard’) for his brief cameo in the final minute of ‘Macca the Mutt’. Rather than being intimidated by their Cave’s collaborative firepower, Party Dozen frontload the single with Tickle’s agitated vocal work, fed through dub-like echoes as Boulet settles into one of his tightest drum patterns. That sets the table for Cave’s short-lived but indelible mantra about the titular “mutt called Macca”, before the song sharply concludes.

Tickle and Boulet were both known quantities in Sydney before teaming up in 2017: Tickle had made electronic pop as Exhibitionist, and Boulet had balanced playing in bands with producing records. (He produced Body Type’s recent debut album, and now plays in Wolf & Cub and ARSE.) But it’s as Party Dozen that they’ve garnered by far the most attention, scoring releases on US labels like Sub Pop and Temporary Residence Ltd and remixes from Mogwai and Peaking Lights.

For a sax/drums duo built on cross-genre experimentation, that kind of recognition is heartening and, to some, probably surprising. But after one live show or a single run through this 35-minute celebration of spontaneous contrasts, it all makes perfect sense.

Details

  • Release date: July 8
  • Record label: GRUPO/Temporary Residence
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