perth: What's Your Utopia?
Hidden Shoal

Australian experimental pop outfit perth looks both backwards and forwards on its sophomore album What's Your Utopia?, a satisfying, forty-three-minute follow-up to 2012's Babes, Water, Waves. While echoes of earlier bands occasionally surface in the band's vocal and instrumental pieces, perth's music never comes across as a lame retrograde exercise. Instead, the group (which pairs Apricot Rail members Matthew Saville, Justin Manzano, and Jack Quirk with songwriter Michael Dolan) draws upon the past as a means by which to forge a contemporary identity it can call its own.

The trippy quality of perth's sound comes to the forefront the moment the vocals appear in “Drank and Kites and Tomorrow.” More buried within the mix than placed out front, the singing acts as merely one pop component of many within the band's murky mix of analog and electronic sounds rather than as the customary lead element. There's a woozy quality to perth's sound, too, which comes through loud and clear in the psychedelic-pop setting “The Quantum Chronological.” The inclusion of vibes in “Saw Promenade” suggests a connection between perth and Stereolab, a parallel that's intensified by the dreamy, ‘60s-styled aroma given off by a song that's as appealing for its languorous lilt as for that dreamlike vibe. “Lazy Boy,” on the other hand, oozes a whiff of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd in its melding of analog psychedelia and shimmering vocal-based songcraft.

Perth's heavy side comes to the fore in the tripped-out, slow-motion stomp of “Greasy Moon,” and its penchant for woozy melodies is well-accounted for in the closing “Viewmaster,” which boosts its stripped-down arrangement with a haunting vocal line that would do Donovan proud (“Are you lonely? I'm sinking quiet slowly / And there's nothing in me but you”). On the instrumental front, “Old at Heart” initially serenades the listener with an arrangement heavy on synthesizers and mallet percussion accents before segueing into a robust post-rock-styled back-half, while the breezy “Sunday Stroll” makes good on its name with a quietly radiant techno-driven track that evokes the image of someone basking in the sun during a carefree summer walk.

It's not easy to establish a distinctive sound with the legacies of so many influential pop and rock acts always looming in the background, but perth makes a pretty good stab at doing exactly that. As impressive is how effectively the band integrates its many disparate strands into a coherent whole that's both experimental and accessible.

January 2014