The Paradise Motel have never been ones to do things the easy or the obvious way. Since their first album in 1997, they have chosen to follow in the footsteps of classic Australian bands such as The Go Betweens, in creating subtle, intelligent pop music, with albums built to last and songs that reveal themselves the more that they are listened to.
This is the case with their most recent release, I Still Hear Your Voice at Night, their second since the group’s reformation in 2008, a comparatively lush affair to last year’s Australian Ghost Story.
Once famously described by The Melody Maker as ‘a deliciously unsettling proposition’, I Still Hear Your Voice At Night is all about the spaces in between words, just as much as it is about the physical and philosophical spaces across this country. The sparse nature of the arrangements, somber lyrics and very particular phrasing of Merida Sussex’s vocals has an unsettling effect indeed. Her almost spoken, breathy incantations occasionally recalling Nico at her most androgynous.
On songs such as “Bear Never Left Her Home” the band take their motto of ‘the violence and the silence’ to a new plateau whereby the melodic instruments take turns in playing single note melodies, the arrangements so sparse, the performance so understated, that the music occasionally threatens to stop completely, leaving just a softly brushed snare drum or Sussex’s voice to continue. Eventually, this amount of tension has to give, and the full band and string section appear for the chorus sections, which is far from ‘violence’, but it is indicative of the delicate level of restraint shown throughout the album. The silence, it turns out, can be much more powerful than the violence.
On “Memory of Leonski” the band manage to make strings, organ and guitars sound dangerous, as Sussex repeats the hook line ‘have you ever lost a lover?’ over and over. The effect is threateningly spooky, the drum beat and the string swells building tension to an almost unbearable point. The song is a definite highlight among a series of great tracks, leading on to “Moonlight and the Scrub” in which songwriter Charles Bickford duets with Sussex, his almost whispered vocal proving a welcome counterpoint to the vocalists own understated style.
On “The Exiles” the fast jazz shuffle beat and surf rock guitars married with strings and violin recalls simultaneously The Boys Next Door and Warren Ellis-era Bad Seeds while allowing the band to cast off some of their built up energy. But this sudden burst of movement is only momentary, as on the title track, abbreviated to ‘Ishy Van’, Sussex and Bickford are accompanied by softly plucked guitars and child singers. They repeat themes and refrains from throughout the album, singing together ‘don’t think of me as someone you knew’ in what must surely be the most melancholy sing-a-long ever recorded. Eventually the guest singers and guitars give way, leaving just Sussex repeating over and over ‘I Still Hear Your Voice at Night’, bringing an album that is a lesson in minimalism to its eerie conclusion.
I Still Hear Your Voice At Night is a quietly insistent record, full of maturity and sorrow, and will surely grow upon its listeners with each subsequent play. The Paradise Motel are back, and we are all better off for it.
Review Score: 9/10