Melbourne’s Cool Sounds shift their spotlight from the “Real Estate dreaming of John Hughes subplots” sound they held on previous album Dance Moves and embrace a more languid, jazz-soaked vision of Aussie indie. While a stop-gap EP last year leaned towards a more austere acoustic vision, on Cactus Country the band again fleshes out the sound with rain stained sax lines, sunset twang that makes good on the promise of that title and a narcotic cool attached to the vocals that’s never in a hurry to push out of the permanent vacation saunter. The band once coined the term jazz-gaze to approximate their sound, but up until now it didn’t really feel like they were making good on it. While that’s still a bit of a smirking swing at how their sound shakes out, the comparison lands. Cool Sounds have baked this record on the boardwalks and beachfronts and tied the whole thing up in strains of “Baker Street” sax crushed out just a touch by the din of the waves.
At times the effect can push Cactus Country into the background music category, like quite a few of the lite jazz and drive time ‘80s references it’s evoking. Yet, the band has worked tirelessly on the aesthetic and even when they’re sometimes poking at the saccharine or cheesy (see: “Nylon”) they still feel genuine in their affection for the delivery and that gives the record its own gravity. There are some positively gorgeous moments on the record that melt away the frantic pace of 2018 and help hold the clock’s hands at bay for at least the thirty-odd minutes that Cactus Country spends on the speakers. For that respite, I remain grateful.
Ultimately the record feels like a faded and folded brochure for a long-gone vision of recreational living. The band succeeds in making it never feel like a modern take piped through a wood-grain filter, but rather a vintage find that’s just been packed in a dusted crate all these years. The nostalgia gives the record a slight tinge of bittersweet bliss and an aura of comfort that’s hard to resist. Cactus Country isn’t going to shake your foundations, but it might just soothe your soul, which is a welcome promise these days.
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