Strangers – not to be confused with the other recent Australian début, The Stranger – is another in a long line of groups whose band names were created on the premise of making it increasingly more difficult for the listener to search for their music anywhere online. Mild vexation aside, Strangers is a rock-oriented band with a touch of prog and a knack for commercially approachable melodies and structures. For the better part of a decade, this Sydney-based group has released its fair share of fun and accessible music and garnered a modest following that falls far short of what the quality of their music would imply. Cue the introduction of Mirrorland, their most recent release, and the topic of today’s analysis.
The album wastes no time in throwing the listener into the thick of it, with a palpable grit hanging off the chugging guitar riff that greets you from the moment you press play. Opening track “God is in my Head” does a great job of establishing the kind of atmosphere and pattern that incites the listener to want to bob their head or tap their foot along. It has a bit more of an overbearing tone to it than many of the tracks to follow, but the core thematic elements presented here can be seen throughout the rest of the album. It’s this drive that really helps bring the music together in a way that creates such an enjoyable experience. This is even more salient in the third track, “Fear of Nothing”, where an infectious drum pattern and immeasurably catchy vocal melody grab the listener for the entirety of the track.
Those aforementioned drum patters are perhaps the most attention-grabbing aspect of Strangers‘ music once you get past the highly approachable choruses. But the rest of the band shows no shortage of ability either, and the production on the guitar/bass parts has a real thickness to it. The actual riffs and rhythms are not particularly dominating or overly complex, though; the relatively simple bass and guitar, from Tristan Griffiths and Mark Barnes respectively, show a restraint that works in favour of this style of music. However, it’s Timmy Hansen’s performance on the drums that breathes life into the compositions, adding a bit more depth to them. From the bounce and pop of “Fever” to the aggression in “Hex Mob”, each song contains an energy that pulls the listener in and elevates it to be something that stands out from its peers.
As mentioned before, the other prominent aspect of the songs are the vocal elements in each song. Ben Britton’s voice is equal parts casual in its approachability and deceptively powerful. It helps that the melodies within the choruses are well-paced and varied enough as to not become stale, while still managing to be hum-able even before the end of your first listen. There is something endearing to these moments that’s hard to put a finger on. In many ways the band shares the same DNA as prominent pop-rock acts, but in tone and execution they manage to pull off music that could potentially appeal to crowds gravitating more towards technical musicianship. Two standout moments in which this variation elevates their music are the tonal shift midway through “Sand” and the outro to “Flex 2230”. The former does a great job of complementing the earlier melodies while keeping it fresh, and the latter builds on the earlier assertiveness to successfully bookend the album in a very satisfying way.
I walked away from Mirrorland thoroughly enjoying my experience and wanting to return to it sooner than I expected to. It might not scratch the itch for virtuosic mastery or guttural aggression, but what is present here is done with a confidence and clear direction that is very appealing. Or simply put: it’s fun. It has a great drive to it, and it’s easy to get lost in catchy melodies and rhythms. If you’re looking for a new casual record to enjoy with some friends or chill out to but with a little more depth, definitely give Strangers‘ newest album a go.
Notable Tracks: “Fear of Nothing”; “Hex Mob”; “Sand”
FFO: Dead Letter Circus, Hellions, Caligula’s Horse