Australian psych-rocker Jay Watson is back with his third solo release as GUM. Best known as a key member of both Tame Impala and Pond, Watson crafted a debut hit in 2014 with ‘Delorean Highway’, and returned the following year with the souped-up 8-bit disco on ‘Glamorous Damage’.
‘Flash In The Pan’ digs deeper into ‘80s power pop, and doesn’t exactly start off with the kind of bang suggested by the mothership-esque landing of its title track. Lead single ‘Gemini’ is too long and disjointed, and ‘If You’re Gonna Love Again’ is overwhelmingly uninteresting and soured by patronising dictums about finding love.
Patterned by a shimmering refrain worthy of Avey Tare and Panda Bear, the record shows its first signs of real promise on ‘Deep Razz’, where bonehead snare drumming and devilish guitars ring out in a manic, kaleidoscopic stew. The video-game aura of Watson’s ‘80s-obsessed synth-pop proves quite inventive on ‘Heatwave’ as well, which feels like a slowly driven approach towards Watson’s psychedelic epicenter.
The thermal tropes continue on ‘Deep Heat’ with a skyscraping synth riff that’s equal parts candid and slapstick. It’s without a doubt the record’s most danceable track, and is only blemished by snippets of off-colour robotic autotune that would make even mister ‘22, A Million’ think twice.
The extraterrestrial orbit Watson conjures on the cheekily-named ‘Flash in Japan’ provides a calming reprise, and album closer ‘Distorted Star’ features a handy piano-throttled chorus, but at over five minutes can’t help from coming off as another rambling example of oversharing, a problem which plagues Watson throughout his latest release.
As his solo career has progressed, Jay Watson, like most artists who demonstrate a willingness to stray from guitars in favour of electronics, has been praised for his experimental approach and multi-instrumental dexterity. Where Watson himself differs from this trend, however, is with regards to quality. His best work came on his guitar-riddled debut album — nowhere on ‘Flash In The Pan’ will you find the striking vocal charm of ‘Growin’ Up’ or the melodic immediacy of ‘Summer Rain’. It’s correlation rather than causation, of course, but it begs the question of whether GUM’s potent tonic of interstellar pop plays better within the bounds of more traditional, guitar-rock song structures, something we don’t see much of here.
GUM was never going to rival Tame Impala’s stadium-sized psychedelia or Pond’s dynamic and distracted indie-rock, but for the project’s third release, the writing is on the wall: a handful of bright moments aside, ‘Flash In The Pan’ hardly resembles forward progress.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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