There are plenty of Australian acts who achieve popularity by means of extensive touring and great songs, but it’s fairly safe to say that few acts have come to loathe a higher profile than Sydney duo The Presets. In 2008, they figured that releasing the darkest, heaviest song from their second album first would eliminate the room of squares instantly. That song, however, was ‘My People'; the song that broke the band into the Australian, and international, mainstream and remains their most popular song to date. It was either an open defiance of the pop mould or a sign of the times – whatever the case, The Presets shied away from their new-found fame.
In turn, the band took some time away – four years, in fact – in order to find what it was that they wanted out of The Presets again. So, what conclusion did they come to in this matter? Simple: in 2012, The Presets want to be everything at once, and then some. Whether Pacifica takes out gold, silver or bronze amidst the rankings with their other albums – 2006’s Beams and 2008’s Apocalypso – is irrelevant. Pacifica is irrefutably the band’s most varied and ambitious effort yet. Take note of the first three tracks as your evidence – songs that could not present greater contrasts between them even if they tried. ‘Youth in Trouble’ is a cauldron-bubble of inner-city paranoia (a recurring theme of the LP), whirring synthesizer and a pulsing beat that grows more claustrophobic and agitated until roughly the last ninety seconds or so, in which the track more or less explodes into technicolour. It’s followed by ‘Ghosts’, which is essentially the band steering a pirate ship directly into the side of an expensive night-club – a dance-floor anthem exclusively on their terms. And just when you think there’s at least some semblance of what the band have gone for on Pacifica in the early stages, Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes recall another duo – Daryl Hall and John Oates – with the Countdown-ready pop sheen of ‘Promises’. It’s enough to make your next response to the question of whether or not you like The Presets to be “which one?”
Indeed, the schism continues throughout the LP. It seems as though the duo have thrown any elements of following a solitary path out the window, along with any idea that threatens to have merely one layer or dimension. There is so much going on at any given time on the album, it can be difficult to keep up. Indeed, it may frustrate listeners depending purely on what style of the band is preferred. Fans of the poppier side of things might decry their use of six-minute deviations into heavier trance-flavoured moments, while their dance-head fans may sneer at a track like ‘It’s Cool’, which is far more Icehouse than Underworld. Across multiple listens, however, the band will surely bring those on one side of the fence to appreciate what’s happening on the other. The band sell everything with both an icy cool and a warrior-like fevered passion, meaning that even if you feel like a song could have been shortened or a lyric different, you’re still sold on how it’s been done if only for how much the band put into it.
It all comes to a head on ‘A.O.’, which is the centrepiece of the album. As it stands, there hasn’t been a track like this since The Whitlams’ ‘You Gotta Love This City’ back in 1999 – a tell-all expose on the ugly underbelly of the city of Sydney. After building up vile by means of Hamilton’s snarled vocal lines and Moyes’ snare-drum rolls, the track topples over into jarring, intentionally ugly buzzes of noise that sound as though they’ve picked a fight with a synth and won in the first round. Laser sounds fire off in the distance before a knowing club beat ensures that the sum of the song’s parts essentially explodes across the soundscape. It’s shocking, it’s jarring, it’s discordant and it’s almost unquestionably the greatest thing the band have ever put their names to.
Don’t let the extended absence fool you. The Presets surely had this planned all along. Pacifica embraces the band’s heavier past, defines their present and leaves remarkable promise for the future. Yes, it’s still electronically-oriented dance music, kids – but not as you know it. Forget everything you knew about the band previously and enjoy.
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