dark country cvrDark Country- Sonic Garage (self released)

Sonic Garage burst on the Sydney music scene about two years ago with "Asteroid", which what the best local single released in 2021.  The album it came from, “Space Travels”, was raw, tough street level Northern Beaches rock that referenced the Stooges, Dictators, and Radio Birdman.

It was a record from the tradition of that area’s melodic, guitar driven, gritty and surf-tinged music, in the tradition of the early Midnight Oil, Celibate Rifles and The Hellmen.

Sonic Garage developed a small but devoted in the following 18 months, focussing on local gigs and the occasional foray into the inner-west. They headed back into studio with Richard Ball with a mission of developing their sound and showcasing its influences to a broader audience.

The title track, “Dark Country”, opens with a swampy, almost Scientists feel; It a song that drags you in through the shadows and dust. It recalls a brutal landscape of twisted trees and dry earth, hollow and stark like the aural equivalent of a Sidney Nolan painting.

The lyrics are never obvious and but hint of a hidden history of massacres and proud people. It’s timely but was written well before the Indigenous Referendum.  The song is delivered with a weary, Johnny Cash-inspired vocal, and Peter Bourke sounds like a returning serviceman returning from the frontline. It’s underpinned by the keyboards of maestro Russell Parkhouse. Bourke's lead break cuts and slices like a storm thundering over the land.

“Final Fall” features lead vocals with a sound and delivery reminiscent of Radio Birdman and The Visitors. It’s the song that echoes the direction Birdman were moving to on “Living Eyes”. Power but with more refined melodic hooks   The guitars blaze with some sublime solos without fat or wank, They’re there to add to the song, not overpower it.

“Little Red Dress” gets down and sexy with a mid-‘70s funky edge. It’s the Rolling Stones with swagger but without the swing.  There’s also a classic groove to “Violet Jones” that heads into Patti Smith ”Easter”, underpinned by a haunting, repeated guitar line from Phil Van Rooyen.

The band has moved on from the garage rock, Detroit stylings of the debut album and walked further down the road, showing a much wider range of influences.
While this album is a more diverse and melodic affair than “Space Travels”, “Gone” rips back into action with a classic rock ‘n’ roll riff and searing guitars. Even so, Russell Parkhouse’s organ playing is to Sonic Garage what Garth Hudson was to The Band. He has the ability to sprinkle magic dust over the guitar runs. As the wah-wah steps in, it’s clear that this is a song that means business as it explodes over the back beat of Ronny Walsh’s drums.

The only forgettable track is “Good Time Girl” which is a step down lyrically from the intelligence of the rest of the record and comes across like a yarn from the front bat of the Brookvale Hotel.  That said, even Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” wasn’t perfect.  

The final tracks, “Got to Decide” and “Underground“, are a return to full force. The former has killer riffs and a lyrical darkness talking of benders and human frailty. A killer solo with a Gibson blazing paired with lyrics with a social conscience.  “Underground”  is another strong track that leaves you wondering what’s next with this band?  

“Dark Country” is a powerful, melodic rock ‘n’ roll record that ticks all the boxes. It has depth, intelligence and great playing that carries on the tradition of the Northern Beaches.

What makes this band stand above the heap is the depth of the song writing, due to Peter Bourke and Phil Van Rooyen. Phil is an obvious disciple of Detroit rock with a nod to surf via his peers, the Celibate Rifles and the Hellmen. Peter Bourke draws more from Dylan, mixed with the proto-punk and ‘70s bands like Mountain and Alice Cooper. The combination of both writers is killer.

And then you have some seasoned musician on stage with them who have a thousand gigs between them and the knowledge and talent to get things done in a tradesman-like manner. One best and most rocking local releases you’ll hear this year.


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