Channeling 80s synth pop, Lynchian-lounge and Depeche Mode, Jack Ladder’s fourth marks a departure from the harrowing visions of 2011s masterful ‘Hurstville’. With the Dreamlanders in tow, Ladder heads for warmer pastures, setting his potent baritone against bouncy karaoke riffs and light industrial percussion. His signature vocals are confidently allowed to take centre stage on top of the expertly plumped Dreamlander cushion. The music is sinuous and deftly handled, Kirin J. Callinan, Donny Benet and Laurence Pike blending together in powerhouse formation.
Storytelling is one of Ladder’s greatest strengths and he jumps right in on that note, opening the record with the haunting account of a surreal night out in ’Come On Back This Way’. “We’re laying on the grass in the park when we wake / Looking like the candles thrown off a wedding cake.” Offbeat visceral imagery of the same ilk that made ‘Hurtsville’ such a compelling listen and is continued throughout ‘Playmates’.
‘Her Hands’ marries cool vibes with bending guitars and a rave-tinged synth lead that melts into the chilly ‘Model World’ and continues to float until Benet’s bass drives the tune home. You can really hear the individual input of each of the Dreamlanders coming together on this one. Kirin J. Callinan has already demonstrated a supreme understanding of texture, as evidenced on last year’s solo venture ‘Embacism’ and his audible contribution to ‘Hurtsville’. He carries on his fine work all throughout this LP, providing excellent support to the laser-like rhythm section while Ladder does his thing up front.
JACK LADDER & THE DREAMLANDERS - COME ON BACK THIS WAY
‘Reputation Amputation’ is a stomping prayer that sees Jack pleading with his doc to “cut this thing off”, while the band splutter through a ‘Violator’ meets Marilyn Manson synth line. Callinan dolls out added tension with some shrieking guitar lines. The whole thing works itself into a exhilarating cacophony. By now the record’s really cooking as ‘Let Me Love You’ chimes in with an instant pace shift. “I wanna share your pillow / I wanna know your dreams,” Ladder croons over a tropical samba. Neat backing vocals and a tender bassline ensure the thing really pops, while Sharon Van Etten contributes guest vocals on a couple of tracks, rounding out the record’s gooey centre.
Approaching the back end, the band takes some time to revisit some Hurstville postcards, really digging their heels in on the swampy ‘Neon Blue’, successfully blending the sexy and the melancholy. Closing with the pensive ‘Slow Boat To China’, Ladder leaves us on an uncertain note. “I cast a line but I don’t catch much / It don’t seem to matter, cause I got the Jesus touch,” reminding us that while the journey is far from over, we have a lot to think about as we wait.
‘Playmates’ is cool, kitsch and seductively smooth, Ladder and co. stride boldly forward without threatening to repeat themselves. The intricacies of the thing really come to the surface with repeated listens and, like ‘Hurtsville’, is destined to etch itself into your memory like a strange sight or funny feeling that you couldn't quite shake, even if you wanted to.
‘Playmates’ is out now through Self Portrait.
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