“It was certainly a joke to begin with”.
In an interview on the excellent Weirdo Wasteland podcast, Cool Sounds bassist Nick Kearton gives a run down of the beginnings of the band that gives the impression that they could’ve easily faded into memory as a ‘one tape on a little known foreign label’ affair.
Talking about their first few efforts, Kearton comments that while there were definitely songs that he liked on efforts like Melbourne Fashion and Healing Crystals, ultimately the work Cool Sounds had been shopping around wasn’t as realised as it could’ve been. The band wasn’t really sure what it was even trying to be yet, which resulted in entire songs on Healing Crystals being based solely off of IMDb movie plot synopses.
The leap forward to Dance Moves, is huge. This record marks Cool Sounds’ debut on Melbourne label Deaf Ambitions, where they rub shoulders with groups like pop duo Zone Out and slacker pop quintet Crepes.
Cool Sounds aren’t new kids at school by any means, with plenty of the team hailing from the “incestuous, and ever prolific Ocean Party clique” (Deaf Ambitions’ hilarious description). The Ocean Party’s presence and influence is easily felt. From that band, front man Dainis Lacy has pinched a few; Zach Denton works the keys, Liam Halliwell is on sax, and Kearton is OP’s go-to replacement when Crowman can’t make a gig. But I digress; we’re talking about Dance Moves here, and its author is Lacy.
You could describe Cool Sounds as being guitar pop with synth rock chucked into a blender with a black and white photo of some urban street in the rain and you’d probably be correct – though, you’d also be really bad at describing things in understandable ways. The band likes to bandy around this genre term ‘jazz-gaze’ and I don’t know if they’re joking but if not I’d have to disagree. The saxophone embellishments on many of these songs are just that, embellishments. They don’t define the albums course or tone, more serving a greater purpose of smooth new wave/guitar pop jamming that many of the songs belong to.
Songs like ‘In Blue Skies’ are effortless masterstrokes of Cool Sounds’ version of this kind of guitar pop, it’s flamenco acoustic guitar bridge leading into a gorgeously harmonised outro. It’s also got a music video you can watch above where the Lacy makes out lovingly with a basketball, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Lacy’s song writing doesn’t sit in any one emotional ballpark; he’ll contrast vulnerable lines like “I begin to shake/stop looking my way” on ‘Shake’ with huge sweeping guitar and saxophone climaxes. Lyrically, Dance Moves touches on elements of vulnerability, distance, isolation, and the struggles of self control. On the opening track ‘Control’, Lacy admits “I keep dreaming that I’m cheating on you” in probably one of the most honest opening lines I’ve heard this year.
‘Heartbreak’ is a fantastic detour into all out synth pop, synthesizer arpeggios scattering about in the background whilst the drums and bass give the rhythm a work out and Lacy croons over the top, it’s also got one of the best lines on the album, “I’m a man, please justify me.”
It’s unfortunate that in certain instances Lacy’s vocals aren’t up to the task though – with the impressive production laid onto Dance Moves regardless of it’s bedroom recording roots (you can thank Halliwell for that too) Lacy struggles at times to match his voice to the hugeness of the instrumentation around him, not quite reaching certain notes and getting lost in the mix at times. This happens worst on ‘Runs Wild’, that song probably being the most undercooked on Dance Moves, ending in a really awkward way, something that betrays its speed. While Lacy’s voice might be an acquired taste, his tender and earnest vocal delivery often make up for it.
Lacy’s lyricism is his real strength. He’s not overtly self pitying or glorifying his own weaknesses. He deals with them in a manner that lays them bare and picks at them mercilessly like an out of body experience. In that interview with Weirdo Wasteland, Kearton mentions much of Dance Moves is built out of experiences Lacy had while holding together a long distance relationship that stretched across continents.
Dance Moves is an impressive feat. Lacy decided to bring together everything great that Cool Sounds was with a shiny new coat of paint, and Halliwell’s production ensures that everything sounds way better than a bedroom recording should. While it’s in need of some variation at times, the blueprint for Cool Sounds going forward is so compelling and infectious that Dance Moves sets very few steps wrong.