Luke steele may be a troubled young man?alcoholism, rescue by newfound religious belief, sibling separation and the recent death of a close friend all figure on his existential CV?but you’d never guess it from his songs. As the lynchpin of Perth four-piece The Sleepy Jackson, the 23-year-old Australian sails as close to psychedelic, sun-struck pop perfection as is possible without actually being Brian Wilson.
The band’s self-titled mini album from earlier this year sets out their stall with its winning blend of battered nu-country and dreamy pop melodicism, but Lovers offers something more enticing still. Here, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin and Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde are each tapped for their essence, which Steele then filters through a heritage far closer to his heart?specifically, the music of The Triffids and The Go-Betweens.
The idea of geography as a creative spur is a dodgy one, but something?the relative isolation of Australia’s west coast, possibly?has enabled Steele to absorb influences without being beholden to them. Consequently, although he cherry picks from unexpected, oddly mixed sources?both Springsteen and Lou Reed on the hammering “Vampire Racecourse”, Lennon/Ono and Bacharach on the soaring “Don’t You Know”?Lovers is much more than pastiche. It’s a sun-dappled, idiosyncratic delight, flooded with warmth and vitality, yet weighted by an undefinable sadness. Even the honky-tonk “Miniskirt” (one of two tracks here pulled from their earlier record), which reads like a simple ode to the joys of minimal dress, sounds a faintly disturbing note?”the pretty ones seem to get fucked up all the time”. The use of massed choirs (for the most part, heavy on the ba-ba-bahs), a plaintive child’s voice (on “Morning Bird”) and ripples of lachrymose pedal-steel guitar complete the feeling of dark clouds that threaten to cross the sun.
It’s easy to romanticise about music from far-off continents, but The Sleepy Jackson’s muse is dreamy and distinctive, their Lovers a star-crossed triumph.