Child, Blueside: Kindness and Cruelty

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A sophomore outing poses a significant challenge to Melbourne-based heavy blues rockers Child perhaps more than it does to some other bands. Their self-titled debut, self-released in 2014 and snagged by Kozmik Artifactz for a CD/LP release a year later, had an advantage in the element of surprise. Call it the “where’d these guys come from?” factor. That album took Child to Europe and announced their arrival beyond Australia’s borders. More over, it set a high standard of naturalistic groove and jammy vibes for its follow-up to meet. Blueside, Child‘s second offering through Kozmik Artifactz, can’t necessarily rely on that same ability to blindside. While it will no doubt be some listeners’ first exposure to the band, you only get one full-length debut.

The good news is it doesn’t need novelty. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Mathias Northway, bassist Danny Smith and drummer Michael Lowe don’t fix what wasn’t broken last time out, and there’s a lot in common between their two to-date offerings in style and substance. Both records have five tracks, both carry a feel of having been recorded at least mostly live, both play to heavy rock traditionalism and blue-eyed soul, both carry striking cover art by Nick Keller — who’s also known for his work with New Zealand’s Beastwars and whose emphasis on blues with Blueside is hard to miss — and both succeed in casting a memorable impression without necessarily leaning on their choruses to a point of sounding contrived.

The latter is especially true of Blueside, and indeed one of the crucial factors arguing toward Child‘s overall progression across the album’s 39-minute span is the balance they strike between open-sounding jams and the underlying purpose that drives them forward. That’s not to say opener “Nailed to the Ceiling,” “It’s Cruel to be Kind,” “Blue Side of the Collar,” “Dirty Woman” or the 11-minute finale “The Man” aren’t catchy in a get-stuck-in-your-head kind of way, just that what’s likely to get stuck in your head could just as much be a section of bluesy noodling from Northway on guitar as a soulfully-delivered hook, and that rather than one standout part or line or chorus, Blueside feels more determined to deliver a full-album flow and experience. Child take great steps to hone an organic, classic, but still crisp sound.

At the beginning of “Dirty Woman,” for example, we hear an engineer, presumably Dav Byrne, who recorded, mixed and mastered, calling out the beginning of the take, followed by what sounds like a radio signal being picked up by one of the amplifiers. As Child dig into a gorgeous psych-blues jam, that interference seems to pop up again later in “The Man.” Likewise, before “It’s Cruel to be Kind” starts, we hear Lowe play a measure on drums (the room mics sound great) and Northway gives an “okay” that he’s ready to begin the song. What these details do is emphasize the point that Child are basically inviting their listeners into the session itself, as it’s happening.

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It’s not that they’re working toward being raw — “It’s Cruel to be Kind” and “Dirty Woman” feature a righteous backing vocal guest performance from Harmony Byrne, while both “Dirty Woman” and “Nailed to the Ceiling” bring in Joe Cope to add organ to the proceedings — but in their way, the songs push at the core of an ideal of capturing the spirit of a performance without sacrificing the in-the-moment spontaneity that can come when players lock in on stage. They’re not the first to do it, but from Buffalo and earliest AC/DC to today’s vibrant and varied Melbourne heavy underground, Child are the beneficiaries of the lessons a rich rock history can teach, and no doubt Blueside will help them further cast their own place in it after grabbing so much attention their first time out.

One more thing Blueside has in common with its predecessor is that the deeper it goes, the further out it goes. After a relatively straightforward roll in its first half, “Dirty Woman” breaks in the middle into a hard-fuzz jam, bolstered by organ and backing vocals, that sets the stage for Northway — who shines across the album in standout, emerging-frontman fashion — to loose a final solo before backwards guitar and amp noise finish out the song. That sets up the extended finale “The Man,” which takes its time in a satisfyingly classic way, starting almost before the listener realizes it with its tinge of Hendrixian blues, blown-out vocals (doubled in places) and steady but patient build. No rush.

Only after they pass the seven-minute mark do Child really dig into the full-boar tones of Blueside at its heaviest, so that “The Man” — a kind of lyrical answer to the earlier “Blue Side of the Collar” — gracefully makes its way to the album’s apex as it pushes toward its long fade, one last emphasis placed on the dynamic in development between NorthwaySmith and Lowe, whose chemistry already is not to be understated. If Blueside is an indication of how Child will continue to grow as a band, settle in, because much like their sound itself, it seems like they’ve got more of a focus on exploring earthy vibes than willing themselves into forced-sounding leaps and bounds.

I can’t argue with the approach — it couldn’t be more fitting, actually — or with the results that come through in these five songs, and not to be discounted in Child‘s appeal is their lack of pretense and posturing. For a band who draw so much on the blues, it would be easy to get sidetracked into genre tropes and to lose individual identity for the sake of executing a cookie-cutter sonic idea. Child avoid this with a fluidity that is their own and so come out of their second offering with even more momentum than they went into it. An important step, and one they inarguably take in a commanding forward direction.

Child, Blueside (2016)

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