IIt is a truism of the album-driven era of popular music that large double albums are rare. In Australian indie rock – at least since the decline of compact disc market dominance and the revival of vinyl among collectors – they have become almost non-existent.
Thus, Ashley Naylor, leader of the pillars of Melbourne Even and a rock’n’roll classic at heart, would have known perfectly the extent of what he was trying to achieve with Reverse Light Years, his group’s eighth album. . The group’s first, released in 1995, was called Less Is More.
Well, it turns out that more is more. Reverse Light Years sounds awesome: 17 songs in 80 minutes. Same have always been consistent, but this is by far their most impressive album, a cornucopia of musical delight where everything singer-guitarist Naylor, bassist Wally Kempton and drummer Matt Cotter try happens.
I’ve been obsessively listening to Reverse Light Years almost non-stop for the past month, and each time I’ve walked away humming a different tune. You can listen to it on a long trip, you can split it into its four sides, or you can just dive in anywhere and hold another piece of jewelry to the light. You will also be doing all of these things for years to come.
While locked up in Melbourne, Naylor apparently spent a lot of time poring over Jimi Hendrix Experience’s classic double Electric Ladyland. You can hear the influence of this album in the ebb and flow of Reverse Light Years – a magnificent set of songs, sequenced for cumulative impact. It is also heard in the flashy solo which illuminates Gold Sunday like a solar flare.
This is one of the absolute strengths of Reverse Light Years, and yet it enters the last installment of the album, so much is the embarrassment of the riches on offer. Cherry Afterglow, the second single, opens the album at a relaxed pace, a fond memory of a live performance from the Cherry bar last year, enveloped in a rich whirlwind of guitars.
This reassures us that the pandemic has taken so much havoc on live music and those who play it, they will continue to find a way. He’s Naylor: a true believer who couldn’t stop playing if his life depended on it. This complete lack of irony is part of Even’s charm, even when they steal a riff or lyrics in obvious homage.
Indeed, there have been times in Even’s career where they haven’t sounded like much more than an amalgamation of their vast record collections, especially the early ’70s power-pop of Badfinger and the Raspberries (their former manager once described them as the Beatles smeared in Vegemite). But the expanse of inverted light years takes them far beyond homage.
References to rock history are still there, for those looking for: Roses, for example, marching to the beat of Pretenders’ Mystery Achievement. Halfway through, however, the song drifts into cosmic country territory, with Naylor writing a painful apology to a lost love over a glorious weave of power-pop and pedal steel.
The rhythm, dynamics and sound textures are all cleverly varied. For every glam striker like Six Monkeys, sweeter songs lodge in your ear. Let Me Know rests its woozy head on a soft pillow of acoustic guitar and mellotron, and This Don’t Feel Like nods to T Rex in its mix of hand percussion and spaced noodles, Naylor having fun. clearly.
Then there are the epics. Miracle Drum, Silver Rain, Chase the Sunset, Starlight Caravan, and the magnificent Life in a Box closing elegy all last between five and eight minutes. Spread across the album, they are positioned to give the listener a break without slowing the momentum, and they never go beyond their own welcome.
Naylor occupies a unique place in Australian music. For 15 years, he has been playing with Paul Kelly’s group; most recently he has been part of the RocKwiz Orchestra, answered Stems and the Church calls and formed a psychedelic 60s cover band called Thee Marshmallow Overcoat with Davey Lane of You Am I.
Around these gun engagements, Even is practically Naylor’s hobby band – the one he, Kempton, and Cotter will always return to, performing in front of music fans as committed to the story as they are. Speaking of history, this might just be the best Australian double album in its field since Kelly’s Gossip. From start to finish, Reverse Light Years is unadulterated fun.