Pop Filter – ‘Donkey Gully Road’ review: a winsome collection of low-key revelations

The post-Ocean Party ensemble bond through nuanced guitar-pop on their second album of 2020

Less than four months after making their debut with ‘Banksia’, Pop Filter are already back with a second record – handily recorded in between Melbourne’s two lockdowns. Reconvening in a historic former pub on the titular street near Castlemaine, the Victorian town to which member Nick Kearton recently relocated, the quintet recorded the loose, communal ‘Donkey Gully Road’ over four days.

That comfy vibe is inevitable, given that Pop Filter’s five members have been playing together for ages. They released eight albums in as many years as The Ocean Party (though Kearton was only a touring member) before the sudden passing of member Zac Denton prompted that band’s retirement. Pop Filter carry on the previous band’s jangling guitar-pop and emotional sharpness as much as they do their round-robin style of gingerly swapping lead vocalists, with each member contributing (and singing) two songs for this 10-track outing.

The arrangements may be sparser than on August’s ‘Banksia’, and the pace less driving, but ‘Donkey Gully Road’ is a heartening continuation for this quietly great songwriting enclave. On the opening ‘Hindsight’, Lachlan Denton doesn’t start singing until a minute and a half in, letting plucked acoustic guitar and plinking keyboards radiate intimacy before reflecting on the loss of his brother. He ponders what he might have done differently in retrospect, but decides that he wouldn’t change a thing.

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It’s the most directly personal turn on the album, a cleansing act of catharsis before the members settle into their familiar musical exchange – an unspoken kinship that’s underscored by several songs segueing right into the next. The modes of delivery vary along the way, from keyboardist Jordan Thompson’s pair of short and moody instrumentals to Kearton’s folky ballads (including ‘Tree Change’, an ode to exiting Melbourne for Castlemaine’s comparative quaintness).

Denton adopts a burnished twang on ‘Walk It Off’, a motif that echoes his collaborative records with Emma Russack, while Mark Rogers embraces classic country all the more on ‘Waiting to Be New’, with its relaxed slide guitar and even a cowboy-ish “woo!” to kick off. For all that breeziness, though, the latter offers some of the album’s most resonant moments, of both romance (“Waiting to be new, waiting to be near you”) and timely anxiety (“Flippin’ out in the age of empire / On which of these crises should I spend my time?”).

In another knowing nod to a year on pause, Curtis Wakeling idly fantasises about touring on ‘In a Dream’, the song’s chiming guitar and title refrain fleetingly resurfacing in the next song, Liam Halliwell’s ‘Paradise’. That song is among the busiest here, thanks to a Greek chorus of group harmonies and Halliwell’s fondness for bristling guitar lines (as heard in his other outfit Snowy Band).

Named for a street intersection in the small New South Wales city of Wagga Wagga, where all the band members but Kearton grew up, Rogers’ charmingly wobbly ‘Fitzmaurice Kincaid’ offer a neat thematic closing. On an album peppered through with low-key revelations, it’s just one more pleasant payoff.

Details

Pop Filter's 'Donkey Gully Road' album cover
  • Release Date: December 4
  • Record Label: Spunk Records / Osborne Again
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