After ever-so quietly building up a small catalogue of first rate singles, 2020 was set to be the year Sly Withers broke through with their brand of melancholic punk. All their ducks seemingly beginning to align, the capitulation of the world as we know it only proved to be a small speed bump for the band, as they pressed through and managed to piece together 12 quality songs to make up their second album, Gardens.
The rather unique approach of having two lead/co-vocalists helps set Sly Withers apart in a genre and scene that has seen a dramatic increase in popularity over the past half decade or so. With bands like Ceres, The Hard Aches and Camp Cope receiving their share of plaudits and praise in recent years, Sly Withers and their emo-punk is well-rounded and at all times welcoming to the listener and the listener’s reasons for seeking out a brand of music that at heart is essentially a diary entry of relatable stories being yelled out into the abyss.
Coming five years after their debut, the Perth four-piece has continued with the momentum they’d proceeded to build pre-pandemic and have really managed to bring the goods on Gardens.
While not maybe the most obvious of album titles, Gardens was derived from the environment the band thrives and bonds in: each other’s backyards, amongst the gardens, drinking beers and getting to hear the band’s potential next big track. There’s a sense of closeness amongst the band, a tight knit nature that should add to the longevity of Sly Withers. Being able to openly critique each other’s demos and song ideas without fear of a negative response has helped shape the band into a four pronged conglomerate headed by two songwriters whose ideas are entwined and symbiotic.
Lead single and opening track “Cracks” is the perfect commencement and welcome to the record. With its obviously ironic opener ‘Can’t write an opening line to save my life’, “Cracks” kicks into gear after the first verse and begins to follow a sound reminiscent of North American contemporaries PUP and Modern Baseball. From the get-go, you notice that Gardens is an overtly loud album. The dual vocals are clear on every note sung without being drowned out by the percussion of the band, while the instrumentation is not overplayed and entirely emphatic in its delivery.
Toning it down a little and being more earnest with its delivery, “Taking Steps” and its closing harmonies from Sam Blitvich and Jono Mata is a perfect example of the band’s ability to change it up ever so slightly; just enough to spring a few surprises along the way while keeping the remainder of Gardens spiced up.
Much like “Taking Steps”, the swaying honesty of “Sleep on the Weekends” lends the song to a sound that mirrors the best of emo from the mid 2000’s. A soaring ballad of sorts, “Sleep on the Weekends” is a hidden gem on the album that otherwise may have struggled for the limelight surrounded by the singles of Gardens.
Released as singles over the past few months, “Clarkson” and “Bougainvillea” are the obvious singles that, apart from “Cracks”, will serve fans in a live setting incredibly well. And while it isn’t a single, “Constant Wreck” is an absolute masterpiece filled with tone, tempo changes and wailing guitars that has the hallmarks of a classic and fan favourite in waiting.
Bringing Gardens to a close on “Positives”, is well, a positive. The song highlights everything good about Sly Withers: a broad spectrum of sound, emphatic harmonies, layered guitars and lyrics that will punch at your heart strings as much as it makes you want to hug your best mate at a gig.
Gardens is all things Sly Withers. It’s a solid and complete 12 songs that will go some way in entrenching the band’s place as not only one of Perth’s best bands, but more importantly, a front runner in the Australian emo-punk scene.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Gardens is out Friday 11 June.