Australian, at least within the pages of The Agit Reader and a host of other music sites, has become more an adjective than it is a geographic stamp. And with that adjective comes some ambiguity; simply calling something “Australian rock” does not fully explain what lies within the grooves. First, there’s the crusted, brooding, slog-punk that comes from the Negative Guest List camp, with bands like Slug Guts, Kitchen’s Floor, and Low Life leading the post-Feedtime pack and being welcomed with open arms by American labels including Siltbreeze and Sacred Bones. Then there’s the more trad outfits working with very skeletal modes of melody, structure, and propulsion. Melbourne’s Woollen Kits fall squarely into the latter, using ’90s indie rock, C86 shambles and bedroom recording processes to inform their style. It’s nothing new, nothing complicated, but throwing all of those ingredients in the same stew and trying to sound original is a tough task. It’s one that Woollen Kits seem to know all too well, but perform gracefully on their light, bouncy, and brief debut of a record on RIP Society.
Woollen Kits tap the same energies as other Australian outfits like the Eddy Current Supression Ring and Super Wild Horses. “Sloan” and “Be Your Friend,” may come across as boilerplate jangle, but both maintain a slight edge and curiosity that elicits repeat listens, pulling the needle back a million times until the tunes sear into the brain. It’s infectious stuff, even if it smells remarkably like a Beat Happening cover band led by a frog-throated frontman who must be cousins with Calvin Johnson. If you let that slide—especially the Jamboree-indebted gloom-pop of “University Narcolepsy”—you’ll soon see there’s more to Woollen Kits than Indian summers and heart-shaped love letters. Then again, with Johnson obsessing over square dub and bad beats, it’s high time for a re-evaluation and survey of the Beat Happening catalog, something for which Woollen Kits would likely sign up. Still, for Australian rock, there’s an obsession with large open space and the surf, two intangible qualities that influence songs like “In Between” and “Always.” The former could double for The Jesus and Mary Chain or one of Teenage Fanclub’s sugary and skewed guitar jams. “Always,” on the other hand, looks out to the horizon. Though not ditching the he said–she said dialog between the narrator and his muse, it truly brings in the nostalgia of bands that used to favor wide swathes of distorted chords and swooning notes extended past their expiration. Horns creep into the mix during the second half of this record, but they do nothing but expand upon the increasingly gnarled pop that comes to form in these final few entries. It’s a record that starts to grow and evolve, even within these minimal parameters. Sure, it’s yet another Australian band invading our shores, and granted there are a lot of those bands now that demand your attention, but Woollen Kits, while not game for much reinvention, are more than capable of eating up your precious time.
Kevin J. Elliott