Regular John - Strange Flowers

Regular John - Strange Flowers

Music is an amazing thing - it can make you think, cry, laugh, f**k, love, dance, forgive and forget at different moments. If it’s good, it will do at least one of these things, and if it’s great, possibly more. And Manilla-via-Sydney band Regular John seem to have ticked at least a couple of these boxes on their sophomore album, Strange Flowers.

The band has not suffered from difficult second album syndrome - far from it. But it’s not like they weren’t faced with their fair share of challenges along the way, as frontman Ryan Adamson had a serious spinal injury, which resulted in a lengthy recovery period. But he used his time wisely, learning how to navigate his way around, and ultimately master the analogue synth.

Adamson’s new skills have lead to a change in direction in the group’s sound. The guitar-fuelled, rock debut, The Peaceful Atom Is A Bomb seems light years away from 2012’s more expansive and psychedelic vibe. The second album often plays like a noisy, esoteric dream, where ruminations on modern romance and early adult angst are coupled with a standard band set-up, plus added goodness from samples, vocoder, synths and all manner of technological wizardry.

'Sky Burial' opens with some sprawling prog and the declaration: “Hey king, now you belong to the skies”. This one builds from humble beginnings to eventually become rather rocky, with lots of distorted guitars (think Dinosaur Jr.) at the two-and-a-half minute mark. It’s a loose journey and one full of tangents, something that frequently occurs across each of the ten tracks here. It’s a recipe that certainly works and proves that it can be as much about what’s left out as what’s been thrown into the proverbial melting pot.

The title track is an energetic number, where some poppier sounds are accompanied by the kind of walls of guitars favoured by Sonic Youth and the Smashing Pumpkins. It’s a swirling sound that warms the heart before the emotional single, 'Slume'. By contrast, this is a break-up anthem and one previously described by Adamson as: “Like a country song covered in fuzz and feedback” - and he ain’t wrong on that latter point.

There is the feeling of sliding off in the midst a dream in 'Letters In Braille', as keys sprinkle colour and light around the place while the line “It’s insane” is met with riffs that seem to agree. It’s a solid foundation and one that builds with intensity with the heavier and more immediate, 'Time Machine'.

The band had aimed to make an album that was heavy like Black Sabbath, and psychedelic like Pink Floyd’s early material, and they seem to have achieved this on all counts. At times, the closest band they seem to align with is The Church on account of the abundance of atmospherics and epic soundscapes, particularly on closer, 'Devil’s Face'. It’s a curious comparison, especially as the producer was none other than Tim Powles from said band (and the same producer as the one they worked with on their debut).

Strange Flowers is a self-deprecating, introspective record full of reverb and fuzz; subtle at the right moments and heavy and soaring at other times. It is rewarded by repeat listens as extra textures and elements reveal themselves and come to full focus, teasing and tickling the eardrums and piquing your interest with every note, every vibration. Strange Flowers is ultimately a dark and romantic album, signalling an honest and powerful band embracing change and creating intoxicating and relatable tunes with a heady musical combination that holds its own among the best by the Smashing Pumpkins and Tame Impala.
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