Abduction by aliens. Encounters with clowns and tigers. A game involving sleep deprivation. A library of regret. Einsteinian space/time delusions. The Nature Strip’s perfect pop is obviously written directly from experience. The whole thing rides – bumpily at times – on a magic carpet of guitars and vocal harmonies, synthesisers (real and virtual) and rhythms pulled from the bowels of old Casios, as well as played by human hands.
The album is called Stars Turn Inside Out. Insert galactic hyperbole here. It’s the supernova of guitar pop. It’s rock music for the whole solar system. They’re huge among the moons of Saturn. Etc, etc.
The Nature Strip began as the duo of Peter Marley and John Encarnacao, who did three albums as Warmer for W.Minc and Half a Cow. TNS is a whole new beast though – brighter, poppier, harder, faster . . . Their songwriting intersects in a rambling holiday house in Currarong, three hours south of Sydney on Australia’s east coast. Pete brings science fiction and vocal harmony hooks by the bucketful, Jonno the curveballs and adult themes. They share respect for The Well Written Pop Song. Together they produce tracks that raid ‘70s and ‘80s power pop and new wave in an almost random fashion to make new pocket masterpieces of the misremembered.
John plays the role of guitar hero mostly, though he’s more interested in melody and sound than shredding, but will play other stuff if the mood takes him (and Pete will let him). Pete is generally the bass dude – call him Bootsy McCartney and he’ll buy you a beer. Rhythm expert Jess Ciampa – also a Warmer alumnus – came on board for about half the album’s tracks (you may notice that most of ‘side 2’ has a more professional sense of walloppp), and Matt Langley completes the sonic picture live on keyboards and guitar.
The faux-blues of ‘Handy Round Here’, its vocal recorded by Pete lying prone behind the sofa after a bottle-and-a-half of red wine, has remained on the hard drive, as has the Sedaka-meets-Ween moves of John’s ‘Cup Of Tea’. They might appear on a 7” later in the year, as it’s more a matter of them not fitting the album than quality control.
These are the tunes that actually comprise Stars . . .
Beautiful Rain ≈ The album’s opener features the first reference to outer space, or aliens, with some guitars that jangle like paisley and others that tower and teeter like skyscrapers. Who knew that the portal to another dimension was a toy piano?
Three-Foot High Sissy Bar ≈ No spaceships here – the mode of transport, and escape, is the humble dragster. The track itself stomps like a pair of Marc Bolan’s platforms, although it might be PJ Harvey wearing them. The drum sound is courtesy of the reverb of a two-story stairwell . . . and a pair of maracas standing in for drum sticks.
Fly ≈ Through This one’s a blinding ray of galloping poptimism, though there is a verse about death . . . Highlights the Marley-E vocal blend. The Everly Brothers they may not be, but they got their own thing.
It’s Inside You ≈ Enter the Portuguese guitar (it sounds a bit like a mandolin, but deeper) . . . and the cello for extra heaviosity. Another dose of killer jangle. The lyrics sound kinda cosmic. Light one up and let us know what you think.
What A Life ≈ It could happen to anyone, seeing your future written in someone else’s face. As poignant as a Colin Moulding song on an old XTC record, this one ambles along on an acoustic-driven groove.
The Worst One ≈ This is the song that kicked the record off really, John helping Pete to finish a three-quarter done power pop monster. There’s definitely some channelling of Big Star and Badfinger going on here.
Hero ≈ One of the real gems of the album, ‘the ballad’ if you will. Pete melts the stoniest of hearts, smashing through meteors, battling with tigers and giants, diving deep for the prize – all for you. With a half-broken piano and an r’n’b drum loop that rumbles like a dinosaur.
Sugar Crash ≈ Do we have to spell this one out? ‘A man and a woman pick from the apple tree’. OK? Pete won’t let up on the harmonies on a track that quotes Robert Johnson and sounds a bit like Kiss gone punk. Maybe.
Beyond The Nether ≈ Outer space? Actually, more like the other side of consciousness, wherever that is. The closest thing to punk here, with a toxic Casio date-stamped 1980 contributing to the claustrophobia.
If You Try ≈ A kindred soul to ‘What A Life’, this one also stares down love with a kiss of life.