Vines : Highly Evolved

Troubled Australians weigh in with classic stoned rock debut...

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

when [a]Vines[/a]

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.

Jason Fox