Inspired by the year that was 2018, both personally and globally, Jake Webb AKA Methyl Ethel serves up his third studio album, Triage. Recorded between Webb’s home studio in Perth and the 4AD Studio in London, Triage is a reflective dream-pop album that has profound depth amongst catchy hooks and meticulous arrangements. Presented as a coming of age record, Triage for the most part successfully captures the listener’s attention with one of the most unique voices in Australian music coupled with compelling self-production, assisted by mix engineer Marta Salogni (Björk, MIA).
Triage mixes a blend of throwback synth-pop and dream-pop with a darker flavour to creates an original sound that is distinct from the majority of current Australian releases. Existing fans as well as new initiates into the cult-like following Webb has built over the span of his career won’t be disappointed. Triage features sombre ballads through to up-tempo disco numbers and all manner of frivolities in between. It’s an album that contains so many intricate parts that each time you listen, you can find something new.
The record starts with bouncing opener “Ruiner”, a track that is in opposition to itself. On one hand, the rollicking beat bounds forward, propelling the listener on a feel-good ride whilst the self-deprecating lyrics talk of self-destruction and inadequacy. The best aspect of this song is the backing vocals and how they are intricately woven into the melody. Webb takes the production side of his music very seriously and uses it as part of his writing process. “The songs that work the best have the least amount of tracks or elements in them and each one serves their purpose,” he tells Sungenre, in a soon-to-be-published interview.
“Scream Whole”, the first single released from the record is a prime example of excellent songwriting. The song plays with layers of instrumentation, pulling and pushing before dropping to almost a whisper then building to a catchy climax. Excitingly, this isn’t even the best song on the LP. It appears that Webb has released the three most single-worthy songs, but has withheld the real gems for the full release. More specifically, this is mostly referring to track three “All the Elements” which exhibits the interplay between lead and backing vocals at its most effective. This song again displays the complex layering of instruments and vocals, culminating in a constantly moving and evolving soundscape.
The second single “Real Tight” is possibly the most commercial song on the record. It’s a jangly indie-pop number that will no doubt be a crowd pleaser. Third single “Trip the Mains” is the funkiest song on the album. Featuring Earth, Wind & Fire-style horns, synthesized bass and one of the catchiest vocal lines, this track is a major highlight. The song is unapologetically nostalgic and plays on the funk-style in an almost tongue-in-cheek manner, providing relief from the tension of other tracks.
Methyl Ethel solidifies the solemn reflective mood in track five “Post-Blue”. “Post-Blue is a song that has elements of songs that I wrote quite a while ago and seeing that one completed is really nice,” Webb explains. This track is reminiscent of Muse’s “Take A Bow” (2006) and “Madness” (2012) with distant piano and open soundscapes, vocal gymnastics in the upper register and pulsing sequenced bass. It does enough to stand on its own but definitely pays homage to the ‘big’ sound that Muse is known for.
The last three tracks maintain the quality of songwriting presented throughout the whole record, though by this point a lack of real sonic variation may prove tiresome for some. “Hip Horror” features a disjointed, almost uncomfortable feel with the piano that leaves the listener on edge until it finally resolves at the end of each phrase. This creates a constant moving beat that drives the song forward. Peculiarly named “What About the 37°?”, it’s not the most memorable song, but the faint hint of a saxophone solo does enough to ensure its place. Final track “No Fighting” is different to other songs on the record. It is more open and sparse – vocals, drums and sound effects make up the bulk of the song but it does build throughout to a climactic chorus ending.
Overall, Triage is a fun and exciting pop album which both current fans and new listeners should be able to find enjoyment in. For the true believers, the record won’t lose its appeal after repeat spins and it is an exciting indication of what is to come from Jake Webb in the future. An early contender for best Australian indie-pop album of 2019.
Triage is released Friday 15th February via 4AD