Liam “Snowy” Halliwell has been a key cog in the Melbourne music scene for years now. Be it through performances in The Ocean Party or mixing and mastering albums from Cool Sounds and Ciggie Witch, his fingerprints lay all over the indie pop output from the live music capital of the world.
Over the last seven years Halliwell’s solo project has operated as a lo-fi sketchbook. Recently blossoming into a fully-fledged ensemble with revered local favourites Emma Russack, Nat Pavlovic (Dianas) and Dylan Young (Way Dynamic), the newly minted Snowy Band sees the group debut with an LP that’s both intricately composed and suffused with the magic of it being recorded on first or second takes. Anchored by a nylon acoustic guitar, Audio Commentary causes you to question things you otherwise wouldn’t confront with a comforting warmth through its mix of tender jangle pop, jazzy intrusions and minimalist folk.
There’s a dream-like ambience grounded in Halliwell’s reality that greets you on opener “Edge of the Weekend”. As its name implies, jazz chord progressions evoke a summer’s Sunday night sit on the porch watching the sun and world go by. Tranquil whispers that roll in poetic circles match the feeling of lying around in your “Sunday best,” before backing vocals allude to it being a shared experience. Cascading sax hypnotises further before the more rhythmic single “Love You to Death” hooks you in with detuned strums and a soothing lead lick. It bleeds with melancholic yearning for those loved but no longer near; “You got a kid, you got a family, but we’ve all been through the same shit lately”.
Halliwell’s deliberate decision to make a band-based album offers points of familiarity for fans of his back catalogue. “The Rest of Your Life” feels fuller and pops with proficient production relative to its former lo-fi rendition on a 2018 Bandcamp record of the same name. Utilising Halliwell’s knack for holding a lead melody among a wandering chord progression, it amplifies the theme of conflict between complacency and over-achievement. Muted strums within an atmosphere of feedback gives “Never Change” more punk undercurrents. Lead guitar is let loose for a rare solo as Halliwell expresses his resentment for the idiom that “Some things will never change”, refuting simple explanations.
The Melbournians dive deeper into folk-ballad territory on “Grown Men”. Serene fingerpicking is alone enough to catalyse reflection through Halliwell’s alternating pace and exaggerated pauses, “It’s the fear of doing nothing that is harder to forget”. This ambience is shared by the album’s second single, “East West”. The intimacy of isolating the single plucked notes of the guitar with vocals again arrests time to ponder cryptic lines that colour the experience that’s as blissful as it is forlorn. Like wary animals emerging from the shrubs with trepidation, other instruments arrive to give the arrangement a soft shimmer.
More minimalist arrangements act as a canvas for the listener to project themselves onto. Snare and bass note strums on “Don’t Waste It” create a perpetual state of tension that’s contrasted by sympathetic directives to be better at making the most of your chances. Sung as a mantra, it makes for a catharsis grounded in the perpetual motion of life’s struggles. “Been Trying to Explain It” is similarly sparse. Its backing vocals, ever present on the record as a whole, echoing the struggles of stunted self-expression; “I’ve been trying to explain it… my way out”.
The record comes into its transportive best on “Coast Road”. A hypnotic trip of intricate percussive patterns anchored by strong melodies enhances the symbolism within the vivid storytelling; “You took a call from an unknown, it was me at a payphone, love is red, there was nothing to say that you didn’t already know, I heard the line cut, then the change drop”. “More Than Enough” goes further by changing textures between verse and chorus. Washed out chords curl around the slinky bass before a crisp rhythm ignites into a unified dream-pop swell.
Album closer “Don’t Want To See You Again” ends things on a different note. Halliwell’s vocals are unrecognisable pitch-shifted down against a despairing backdrop of detuned strums. With negative sentiments regarding an irreparable relationship, it leaves you in a dark state of limbo.
Snowy Band’s debut LP is far from a safe release. It pushes beyond the expectations for where an indie pop record should tread but feels apt with respect to the musicians involved in its creation. Diving deeper into more abstract introspections that straddle the line between relatability and emotive ambiguity, the soundscape Halliwell constructs feels like a true extension of himself as an artist.