Published Jul 31, 2020For much of the last decade, Australian duo Hockey Dad have spent their time turning a sense of wistful, care-free nostalgia into a unique brand of catchy surf rock escapism. However, much like the iconic '90s cartoon that supplied their tongue-in-cheek namesake, there's an upper limit to how far that nostalgic turn can take you. Ultimately, it becomes necessary to make a forward-thinking pivot into the unknown and with that action comes a level of inherent risk.
On Brain Candy, the duo's third full-length album, this uncertainty manifests itself as a foray into new sonic territory, washing up on the shores of '00s indie, alt-rock and shoegaze. The opening combo of "In This State" and "I Missed Out" feel like long lost deep cuts from the Arctic Monkeys archive, brimming with Zach Stephenson's breezy guitar leads, drummer Billy Fleming's danceable rhythms, and a whole host of hypnotic refrains and lush vocal harmonies.
Simplistic, laidback cuts like "Milk in the Sun" and "Germaphobe" will sound immediately familiar to fans of Hockey Dad's 2016 debut Boronia and its 2018 follow-up Blend In. On the muscular "Good Eye," the band level up their sound with a huge stadium-ready riff, as Stephenson uses optics as a metaphor for self-confidence and knowing how to spot the diamonds from the rough. As one of the record's more extended compositions, "Itch" epitomizes the mid-tempo summer banger, with dreamy, pulsing verses and an infectious chorus hook.
However, as one would expect for a third album, there's also a touch of seriousness that creeps in at the edges on Brain Candy. While the warm fuzz of "Nestle Down" allows Stephenson to reflect on those upcoming middle stages of adulthood, he's not ready to give up on fleeting carnal pleasures just yet, singing earnestly about not being tied down and "holding out for the stranger in [his] pocket." Elsewhere, the churning euphoria of "Tell Me What You Want" rails against dead-end 9-to-5s and "Dole Brother" channels some throwback garage energy with cheeky back-up harmonies and a playful guitar solo. "Keg" and "Reno" bring some smooth tropical energy to the mix, balancing the more straight-forward rock ragers with mellow, easy-listening jams.
While Brain Candy does lose creative steam towards the back end, there's still plenty here on offer for those looking for a reprieve from the oppressive reality of day-to-day life in 2020. On their latest record, Hockey Dad manage to flirt and reflect on "big deal" problems but do so in a way that feels as easy to digest as a fresh beer in the sunshine or dipping your head under a crashing wave. After all, no party lasts forever, but it's still fun while it's happening. (BMG)