Oftentimes when a debut hits a particular sound on the head so well, there’s a nervousness approaching the follow up to see if that solid connection can be repeated when the band comes around to taking the next swing. On their debut, Melbourne’s School Damage found the woozy, wobbly ground between art-punk’s nerve-damaged tempos and the spare class of post punk that counted Pylon, Young Marble Giants and The Units as alumni. Jumping into their sophomore LP, they pretty quickly dispel any lingering worries. “Assimilate” starts off strong, but by the time they hit the carnival careen of “Psychick Damage” they’re doing laps around any band that’s attempting to wrangle up and repeat the same strand of influences.
The band’s Jake Robertson and Carolyn Hawkins have a deep bench of wobbly pop favorites in their pockets, which speaks well to the Internet’s ability to let a couple of Aussie’s get their hands on US/UK rarities with relative ease these days. Though access isn’t synthesis by a long shot, and the pair’s ability to pull from the nervy nooks of the ‘70s and addled ends of the ‘80s and kick out consistently brilliant gems is laudable. The pair still tag team the vocals and each singer lends a different shade to the record, with Robertson bringing a slightly tempered version of his cracked glass approach in Ausmuteants and Hawkins channeling a more silken cool that works well with their less is more approach to space and sound.
If anything, the record bests their debut, fanning the spark they scratched last year into a flame. A to X, gleefully explores the post-punk road less traveled. Without the sinewy shades of angst that often infect the genre, the band has time to explore the unease, anxiety and aloof discomfort of the bands that handed them down the sound. That they do it with a creeping catchiness and seemingly rapid ease makes this a record that’s impossible to ignore. If you missed their opening volley last year then catch up quick because School Damage shows no signs of slowing their domination of the itchy underground.
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