Australia-based Triple J’s family of radio stations are among the very best in the world. Their dedication to independent music globally and within the country is unmatched, and each year they hand out several awards to celebrate Oz’s finest indie bands and artists. One of the awards (and arguably the most popular) is Unearthed Artist of the Year. Past winners include The Middle East, Boy and Bear, Meg Mac, and Tash Sultana. That’s a “Who’s Who” of great Australian musicians, all of whom have tasted success abroad. Also on this list is Tired Lion, who won in 2015 and whose popularity has extended to the UK.
The Perth-based outfit, however, stands out from their co-winners. Instead of engrossing listeners with melancholic folk and Americana (The Middle East, Boy and Bear), thoughtful alt-pop (Meg Mac), or grooved-filled rock (Sultana), Tired Lion have one task in mind – to blow our minds with their ferocious brand of grunge and post-punk rock.
Their music is that of the early ’90s, and if they were around 25 years ago they would have been rocking alongside Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden. Instead, they stand out from the pack in an industry dominated by electronic producers, singer-songwriters, pop stars, and hip hop artists. As such, their debut album, Dumb Days, is a gift to all the Gen X kids and those who desire to hear guitar-driven rock. And like Nevermind, Pretty on the Inside, and Siamese Dream, Dumb Days tackles issues that go beyond teenage angst. It addresses sensitive issues such as mental illness, abuse, and neglect with biting honesty.
The feverish “Japan” is the first salvo into Tired Lion’s tumultuous maelstrom. The dueling, reverb-drenched guitars of Sophie Hopes and Matt Tanner set the stage while drummer Ethan Darnell and bassist Nick Vasey provide the sledgehammer rhythms. Hopes’ vocals, meanwhile, wail intensity, as she unleashes her fury on all the naysayers and abusers. “I say dumb and you take it out on me”, she hollers
On the angst post-punk rocker “Where Were You?”, the band picks up the tempo and offers a song that is equally appropriate for uncontrollable dancing or a frenetic mosh pit. Like much of the music of the grunge era, Hopes’ lyrics focus on abandonment and mistrust. Her songwriting reaches another level on the monstrous indie-rock number, “Cinderella Dracula”. As the song methodically surges with the intensity of Wolf Alice, Hopes tackles the subject of an abusive relationship and what it has done to her. Her lyrics are powerful, such as “Nothing feels good anymore, and no means no”, and not even the Darnell’s military drumming can keep up with Hopes’ anguished, piercing vocals.
“HawaiifiveO”, meanwhile, is a surprisingly languid number that sees Hopes enter the mind of a man battling depression. The mesmerizing melodic rocker, “I’ve Been Trying”, echoes Big Thief’s escalating dramas, although the song has a heavier ending. Hopes’ whisper-like vocals and her songwriting, too, bare striking resemblances to Adrienne Lenker. Her lyrics reveal everything:
“I’ve been trying to say no.
The deeper you go it’s ingrained upon me
That nothing comes free.
And all that I’ve been trying.”
A Paramore-esque vibe percolates on the gnarly “Behave” and the moody and intense “Cilantro”. As the gritty guitars are unfurled on the former, Hopes reveals her thoughts of feeling inferior to the person next to her and trying to be like the model young lady and partner. The latter builds on “Behave”, but this time Hopes’ vocals are harsh and her story focuses on how freedom often doesn’t coincide with societal attitudes and norms.
The album’s highlights are found in its core, beginning with “Fresh”. Starting off calmly and even melancholically, Hopes lures us in with her gentle delivery. Her voice is shrouded in memory, as she recalls how one person took a part of her youth and her innocence. Slowly, the song burns and eventually turns into a wall of raging emotion. Hopes’ vocals get grittier and harsher while her bandmates rev up the intensity, as the rhythms are crushed harder and the guitars menacingly sear in the foreground.
When everything that moves and breaks,
Everything just starts to ache”
Yeah, you’ll never know, never wait.
I think that the world is fake.
Moving hips, you’ll never learn
Just how much you made this hurt.
Idiot, you’ll never speak
That’s why you took a part of me.”
The title track is the record’s anthem and most exhilarating number. It is also the one song that could be considered semi-uplifting. The instrumentation is catchy and upbeat, as ferocity gives way to an upbeat and summery vibe. Hopes’ vocals, too, are more blissful, as she looks in the rearview and during the days when ignorance was indeed bliss. Those days when we still had our innocence, and nothing could stop us. For Tired Lion, there isn’t much that will slow them down let alone stop them. They’re the immovable force on the Aussie music scene, and Dumb Days only further validates the belief that Triple J and many others have long believed – they are one of the bands that will resurrect grunge and alt-rock and ensure the voice of a new generation is heard for decades to come.
Dumb Days is out now via Dew Process and Island Records UK.
Tired Lion are Sophie Hopes (vocals/guitar), Matt Tanner (lead guitar), Ethan Darnell (drums), and Nick Vasey (bass).
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