Best mates turned Aussie surf rock duo Hockey Dad return with the anticipated follow-up to their 2016 debut album Boronia. Hailing from the small town of Windang on the New South Wales coast, Zach Stephenson and Billy Fleming found themselves on the other side of the world during the production of Blend Inn. They teamed up with producer John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Cloud Nothings) to record at the supposedly haunted Robert Lang Studios, twelve miles north of Seattle – the location of Nirvana’s last studio recording session. “Blend Inn is the part of your head that you want to go to when you’re overseas and wishing you were back home, it’s within,” says Fleming. “We’re always just trying to be comfortable and semi blending in, so it’s the name we gave to that place you zone out to”.
The opening guitar strums in “The Stride” sounds like something straight out of Melbourne’s burgeoning indie punk rock scene, rather than something you’d expect of a surf rock duo from a small town on the New South Wales coast. This is a song which strikes as a tight and upbeat performance, with lovely vocal harmonisation in the chorus adding some extra depth. Lead single “Homely Feeling” is up next and serves as an ode to the band’s roots. “In a way, the lyrics of this song reflect on trying to find that ‘homely’ feeling all the time,” explains Stephenson. “This one’s for when you’re surrounded by heaps of people and kinda freaking out. Whenever you’re heaps off it and just wanna be back home.” At 2:21, it’s a short, snappy single showcasing the duo’s sharp songwriting skills, with double tracked, jangly guitar and an incredibly punchy and catchy chorus. Needless to say, it was an obvious choice for lead single and it feels tailor-made for a receptive summer festival audience. At one point the paranoid lyrics refer to a “psycho killer”, perhaps in a nod to Talking Heads.
“I Wanna Be Everybody” is a little more chilled than the previous tracks, yet still retains a driving beat. The opening guitar chords for a brief moment sound vaguely reminiscent of XTC’s “Respectable Street”. The lyrical content speaks of not feeling comfortable in a crowd, seeking solace in going home, serving as a continuation of the theme carved out in “Homely Feeling”. The final, distorted guitar note serves as an uninterrupted bridge to the next track, “Danny”, a reverb-soaked song of longing. A chorus effected broken guitar chord at the end continues the medley in Abbey Road fashion, with the fast paced “Join The Club” taking off in the same key. This is another song which would well-suit a festival crowd, with a catchy, soaring vocal melody in the chorus.
“Whatever” rudely interrupts the medley, with a dreamlike, easy going pace accompanied by a jazzy ride cymbal, “Octopus’s Garden” style guitar and the occasional whistling. “Disappoint Me” takes a U-turn yet again, reverting back to the driving, punchy rock style. It strikes as a little repetitive, with little deviation from the two chord riff. Its title serves as an ominous precursor for the remainder of the album.
“Running Out” starts with a jazzy intro (mirroring its ending) but quickly shifts gears into a frenetic rock track. It’s far from the strongest track on the album, with the choice of chords in the verses making it sound as though it’s not built on a solid foundation. “Stalker” continues on the same path, with unrelenting pace and repetitiveness. The hook and the chorus do redeem it somewhat, although the lyrics in the chorus – “don’t wanna be anything but a stalker”, doesn’t make any attempt to relieve from the song’s repetitiveness. “Where I Came From” starts off sounding like a slower, reworked version of the previous track due to the similarity in its bass line. It takes on a pleasant groove soon thereafter, albeit one lacking the true sense of purpose displayed in the first half of the album. A cough punctuates the beginning of “Sweet Release”, a song featuring nonchalant, Jad Fair (of Half Japanese) style singing in its verses. The chorus, consisting of “yeah, sweet release” reinforces a feeling of the song being underdeveloped. Album closer “Eggshells” also feels underdeveloped – an atmospheric bass noodling and drum-led jam which lacks direction.
Blend Inn is accurately, albeit perhaps inadvertently, represented by the split colour artwork on its cover, which features a photo Fleming took of the recording location. This album is undeniably a tale of two – two best mates, two sides of the world and regrettably, two halves of contrasting musical output. The first half contains some inspired, tight and incredibly catchy songs, however, in all honesty, the second half serves as a let down.