What we know: Craig Nicholls is addicted to grass and fast food, has a
larynx you could pebble-dash the drive with and, in the right light, could
quite easily pass for (a young) Liz Hurley. From his interviews and whirling
Tasmanian devil live displays it appears that he is a fiercely reclusive
teetotaller barely on nodding terms with conventional reality, proven by
both his alien demeanour and a professed love for Swervedriver. You suspect
his tenure in the Aussie equivalent of the ‘Big Brother’ household would be
All well and good. Yet none of these things prepare you for the sheer
quality of songwriting this wafer-thin Sydney-born, LA resident exhibits on ‘Highly Evolved’. Seriously. If you’re already halfway to the record shop, tempted by the 95-second assault of ‘Highly Evolved’ and the contagious, dystopic thrash of ‘Get Free’, strap yourself in, because on[a]Vines[/a] ’ spine-tingling debut 22-year-old Nicholls also tackles blissed-out West Coast balladry (‘Autumn Shade’), throbbing bubblegum pop (‘In The Jungle’) and even flagrant Stooges-ian psycho-delia (‘1969’) without breaking stride.
In doing so, as debut album law dictates, he sings about the warmth of the
sun on his face, how conventional society like, sucks, and what a bummer
relationships with gurls can be. You wouldn’t let your best friend go on like he does in ‘Get Free’ ([I]”She doesn’t love me/ She doesn’t love me/ Why
should anyone?”[/I]) but then, they’re not screaming it over the greatest,
dumbest riff sinceSupergrass
’ ‘Lose It’ – a big influence – are they? And
do finally flunk out , ten tracks in, on the jokey ska-tastic ‘Factory’ they at least do it in style. But hey, even ‘Is This It’ had ‘Barely Legal’ on it, right?
Which is the other thing. Fun as the current colour-coded garage band
revival is, ‘Highly Evolved’ makes it look at best inconsequential, and at
worst, foolhardy. It’s that sort of album.
may resemble a sunburnt
Kinks but on ‘Highly Evolved’ they also sound as deranged as a youthful
Nirvana, as loopy as Beck did on ‘Loser’, and as thoroughly pissed off as
The Who did the first time Pete Townshend caught his reflection in a
rehearsal room mirror. No wonder it took three drummers to get all those
Keith Moon drum fills right. They’re a shaggy-haired, surf’s up pop band and
painfully vulnerable all at the same time.
When Craig drawls [I]”I’m tired of feeling sick and useless” on a desolate
‘Country Yard’ you genuinely wonder how you’re gonna talk him down from
the grungy window ledge with all these melodies lodged in your head. Yet a
mere three tracks later, in the wonderful narcoleptic nursery rhyme ‘Mary
Jane’ he sounds as carefree as that other great sun-worshipping stoner Evan
Dando. If you like your groups to come with intense moodswings, 43 minutes couldn’t pass any quicker.
Arty and hummable, gloomy but not scared of long lazy afternoons in the sun,
‘Highly Evolved’ is the sort of shiver-down-the spine debut that gets you thinking that if The Strokes were the John the Baptists of rock then just maybe…
No pressure, mind.