Australian music has always been welcoming and positive when it comes to musical collaboration. Recently bands such as Northlane and In Hearts Wake put out a surprise collaboration EP ‘Equinox’ and one of our most famous bands, Empire of the Sun, is formed as a collaboration between a member of Pnau and a member of The Sleepy Jackson. With such an embracing and accepting industry, there are endless possibilities for potential collaborations, and thankfully enough for us, Melbourne’s very own nine-piece outfit The Cactus Channel had studio time with Ball Park Music’s leading man, and My Own Pet Radio’s mastermind, Sam Cromack to record a six-track EP that is a unique and satisfying musical experience.
In terms of Ball Park Music lore, the EP, ‘Do It For Nothing’, fits perfectly sonically and thematically after the band’s more melancholic and reflective 2016 album ‘Every Night The Same Dream’. As that album delved into the emotions of music becoming a day job and life’s general melancholia, this EP seems to dive in even further after it.
Being an “alt-soul” band this EP really is gloomy. Both sonically and lyrically this album is rife with sadness and sorrow, yet it still has some of the most danceable tracks the genre can offer. Lead single ‘Sorry Hills’, perhaps a play on the name of Melbourne suburb Surrey Hills, opens with sweeping, and hypnotic guitar arpeggios. Complemented with sparse bass notes and slowly layering drum fills and saxophone notes, the song explodes into an exciting and memorable chorus. Cromack’s vocals and lyrics definitely give the song this added absurd gloominess as he explains a regretful situation while “walking to Sorry Hills”.
Another fantastic track, the EP’s title track, ‘Do It For Nothing’ has Cromack singing in an almost unrecognisable whisper as he reflects upon the EP’s main theme. The song seems to contemplate the futility of caring about something too much, and how sometimes one just has to do something for absolutely no reason. This theme finds itself throughout the EP but it seems to be the most present on this song. The woe inherent with this is also reflected in the music, with most of the track being pushed along by descending palm-muted guitar scales and spacious keyboards. Subtle saxophone chords underneath all of this detonate into massive hits as it enters the song’s soulful chorus.
With only six tracks, it is difficult to pick out favourites, but each song has its own distinctive direction and idea that still follows the theme of “gloomy songs that make you want to dance”. ‘Sleep Demon’ is a funky song about an insomniac with some impressive falsetto notes from Cromack. Whereas ‘Everything Is Right In Front Of Me’ is a more slowed-down, and laid-back ballad.The EP’s opener ‘I’m Not Ready To Relax’ spools in and out of explosive choruses and timid, and exposed verses, meanwhile ‘Brickwall Hallelujah’ is a ‘Feelings’-esque, almost rapped soul track that would sit happily on Ball Park Music’s next album.
This EP is special because of the music scene that it is present in. Soul nor jazz has ever really had a huge popular presence since the Bebop era of the 1950s. It’s a triumph that bands such as BADBADNOTGOOD and The Cactus Channel are bringing soulful music back into the scene. When other Melbourne bands such as Courtney Barnett, Camp Cope and The Smith Street Band emphasise gargantuan riffs and choruses, The Cactus Channel have orchestrated subtle yet profound soul tunes, which I admire incredibly.
Sam Cromack really shines as a fantastic vocalist, and not only that, he comes off as diverse and flexible. With such a distinct presence in Ball Park Music it’s incredible to see how he can so easily move to a new kind of genre with a new band, and still own the music entirely. Props must also be given to the incredible Cactus Channel who complement Cromack’s vocals with interesting, yet, admittedly, sad, very sad, instrumentals that give emotion, depth and weight to what is an already emotional performance.
The only major complaint that comes to mind is that the EP is too short and of course, that’s a boring complaint to make, but a full album could’ve really spaced out the collaboration’s potential into a longer, more digestible package.
You can get tickets to Sam and The Cactus Channel’s live show here.
You can purchase the brand new EP here as well!