Review: Major Napier, Please Stay

a1249769788_10’s Marcus Thaine submerges himself in the latest release from Major Napier:

When it came to deciding my favourite album of the year, I thought of the relentless experimentation of Kirin J Callinan, the subtly and criminally underrated harp pop of Serafina Steer and heartfelt simplicity of Majical Cloudz. These are all albums that come very close to topping the list, but the record that never seemed to weather with each listen, or lose that sense of excitement was Major Napier’s Please Stay.

From the opening inhale and simmering sounds of bubbles bursting on ‘Breath Control’, it’s immediately apparent that Major Napier’s Please Stay is an EP which you can completely submerge yourself in. An entirely instrumental track, ‘Breath Control’ is apt opener for an EP that rises and falls with every emotional flux and finally exhales in the palpitating closing track.

Melbourne’s Johnny Ross has somehow kept quiet in the Australian music scene, existing in that infuriating abyss where it takes forever for Australia to realise how great its talent really is. Last year’s Major Soldier EP was a collection of experimental songs that touched on something brilliant. In particular the closing track “Amazing/ A Tribute to Jan Zajíc” that details the self-immolation of a Czech student in the 1960s, saw Ross drenching his voice with what Marcus Whale of Collarbones describes as “the most compelling use of auto-tune I’ve ever heard”.

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 3.14.22 PMWhere the auto-tune on Major Soldier became the take-away trope, on Please Stay the bizarre bricolage of production techniques and quality of songwriting are what you come away remembering. On In Turn Ross’s vocals shine with a tinge of auto-tune, yet the most compelling thing here are the dub-y whomps, glichty twinkles and twanging synthetic loop (possibly readapted from his brilliant Sharon Van Etten Cover). It’s this sense of cohesion that makes Please Stay such brilliant progression from its predecessor.

The title track demonstrates Ross’s perplexingly brilliant ability to create moments that ebb and flow from distant dissonance to intense sonic saturation. Throughout, a sense of tension builds, edging until the final 15 seconds where the sound suddenly drops off, leaving a concealed sigh of “please stay” beneath the opening beat and some synth reverb. It something that Ross plays on throughout the EP: these subtle moments that seamlessly undulate into one another.

I first came across Major Napier at the Collarbones Melbourne album launch, heaving with every auto-tuned howl to his posse of Brothers Hand Mirror, giddily grinding at the front. You could say that Major Napier is R’n’B, but that’s just a lazy excuse to try and categorize soulful vocals pared with sparse beats and danceable production. There’s an equal pop and indie sensibility to these songs that artists like Toro Y Moi, Inc., Autre Ne Veut, and Majical Cloudz all dip their toes into. The most apparent contemporary to me is buddy and warehouse-studio friend Oscar Key Sung. I’m not just lumping them together because they’re in the same scene and are both male fronted acts – they’re similar in the way they understand dynamic production, song structure and their ability to create a fucking sublime banger.

The banger being EP closer ‘Sensitive Fuck’. I’m not sure whether the title here is implying really tender intercourse, or having a go an overly sensitive someone … but there seems to be lyrical jabs throughout, with rhetoric along the lines of, “how’s the end of existence” and “don’t it feel good to have someone in your corner tonight”. From a fiery flutter of clicks and woozy synth hiccups, Ross manages to draw out this huge impassioned melody fueled by gnawing emotion. It’s a smack of sonic textures with buzzing beats, that make you want to dance and rage and contest it for the song of the year.

For the most part of the EP I struggle to make out the lyrics. Normally this would really irk me, but with Major Napier there is so much loaded in his tone, delivery, and the whirlpool of music surrounding, that the songs simply speak for themselves. I’m not sure what’s next for Major Napier, but Johnny Ross is a serious talent and it wont be long until he leaps out of that Australian abyss.



Review by Marcus Thaine