Review: The Preatures’ Pop-Rock Throwback ‘Blue Planet Eyes’

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Listening to the Preatures, you’re always just one thought away from identifying the band they most closely echo. There’s the ’90s U2 widescreen guitar attack, a little euphoric New Order melancholy, some early-Strokes streamlined swing, and a good deal of Fleetwood Mac’s raw emotion thrown in, but you get the nagging feeling there’s one perfect comparison just beyond grasp. Eventually, the realization hits: There’s no band out there that sounds exactly like the Preatures, but damnit, there should have been one a long time ago.

The Preatures have been building hype out of their home country of Australia for a couple years now, culminating in 2013’s striking Is This How You Feel? EP, which landed them in the top 10 of the locally prestigious Triple J Hottest 100 year-end list. Now they’ve arrive on American shores with their recently released debut LP, Blue Planet Eyes, a welcome ten-song blast that matches the energy of an underground basement gig with the ambition of an arena rock show. A surfeit of hooks and affecting songwriting lend credibility to both sides of the band.

The group’s Down Under roots are important. Australia has been producing some of the finest rock and dance-based pop music of this decade, and the Preatures synthesize the best qualities of a number of the country’s better breakout acts — the Manchester-infused neo-pyschedelia of Jagwar Ma, the open-air beat-driven bliss of Empire of the Sun, the tense instrumental interplay of the Temper Trap — with a sound more coherent and accessible than any of them.

Really setting the group apart, though, is their willingness to acknowledge some of their older, less-cool musical countrymen. On “Rock and Roll Rave,” singer Isabella Manfredi whispers, “Come over here,” as INXS’ Michael Hutchense did on the intro to one of the biggest international hits in Australian history. In “It Gets Better,” she describes the color of her room as “electric blue,” invoking the late-’80s smash of the same name by Sydney new wavers Icehouse. And the rollick’n’groove of classic Oz-rock standards like Spectrum’s “I’ll Be Gone” and Daddy Cool’s “Eagle RocK” echo throughout the album’s jammier tracks. The Preatures’ sound is an inclusive one.

It also seems to have taken a great deal of work to achieve, techincally speaking. The care evident in the production and engineering of Blue Planet Eyes is downright jarring for what is, basically, an Alternative Nation-era rock record made in 2014. Guitars duel from separate audio channels, zooming in from every direction and coiling around one another. Meanwhile, Manfredi’s voice is deployed like an instrument — alternately breathy and vulnerable, pinched and pointed — and she occasionally interrupts herself with a whisper or shriek from the background, as if her subconscious is crashing her primary train of thought.

Little tricks — like dropping the band to a barely audible level in the middle of “Rave” and winding back up to full-blast à la a ’90s house break — give the band a mutability rare for a rock group (Classixx demonstrated this ably via last year’s “Feel” remix, which converted the brief keyboard twinkle at the song’s end into an entire shimmering soundcape). Eyes sounds rubbery and lithe, so that it breezes by with an impressive lightness — though the fact that it’s only 34 minutes long, a brevity rare for the age of the iTunes Deluxe Edition, certainly helps with that.

The album is so much fun, in fact, it might take you a couple of listens to grasp how soaked in heartache the whole thing is. The gut-punching “Feel” sets the tone, pairing an anguished account of being unable to move on from a breakup with a pulse-racing groove, as Manfredi coos, “I could keep on with the same mistakes / Or I could make them with you.” More than half of the songs on Eyes occupy that same emotional space. That lingering post-relationship devastation is obvious on the album’s centerpiece and closer — the lovely but dejected “Two-Tone Melody” and “Business, Yeah,” respectively — but it also creeps its way into the gorgeous sigh of “Somebody’s Talking” and the grinding funk of “Rave.”

Even the album’s highlight, the anthemic “It Gets Better” — which is anthemic in the chest-pounding sense, not the Lady Gaga empowerment sense — uses thundering drums, righteous riffing, and a sing-along to chorus cover up what’s essentially a very forlorn song about an only-in-my-dreams romance being infinitely preferable to reality (“Sound and vision in my sleep…it’s better than it ever could be”). Like much of Eyes, it’s a Best Coast sentiment couched in an Achtung Baby sound, and it’s a credit to the strength of both the band and the songs that it works as well as it does.

The band of recent years that the Preatures most resemble would probably be West Coast sister trio Haim. While they don’t necessarily sound similar, both groups evoke (and actively reference) rock and pop history without being overly reverential toward it. Each ends up with a sound that’s comforting and familiar while still occupying a space that’s decidedly proprietary. And like Haim’s Days Are Gone, Blue Planet Eyes plays like a career-spanning singles compilation, every song coming off like a hit from a different era. It’ll feel like it’s been in your life for a decade by the end of your first listen, and it’s a fake history you’ll be grateful to have shared.

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