Australian duo, Hockey Dad, released their debut album, Boronia, on Friday, August 12. They consist of Zach Stephenson, on guitars and vocals; and Billy Fleming on drums. They’ve been best friends since the ages of 4, living two doors from each other on Boronia Street, in the small Australian coastal town of Windang. This was the foundation, also, of their musical friendship, surreptitiously trying their luck with any instrumentation to hand when nobody was looking.
By 18, they were touring, coming upon the name Hockey Dad from a Simpsons episode. Their sound attempts to evoke the sandy beaches and surfboards of The Beach Boys in a more current frame of mind, Australian style. The past year has seen the duo move from garage band to nationwide exposure. After releasing their debut EP, Dreamin’, in 2014 on local Aussie label, Farmer and the Owl; they now come with Boronia on Brooklyn indie label, Kanine Records.
Their opening gambit, “Can’t Have Them”, opens like a garage band anthem. Chunky bass joins thick, fuzzy guitar, the vocals wailing and high. It’s a chugging number, not the most technical music you’ll hear but very emotive in its execution. Beauty in simplicity, sort of thing. Then comes a refrain as the vocals soar, the increasing animation of the drums suggesting headlong back into how things just were.
“A Night Out With” opens with guitar, punk rock chords ringing out. The drums drive this one, as the guitar veers from intermittence and chugging tempos. The vocals implore, with a slight pained expression in their delivery. Things build to a crescendo, really intense. The whole thing’s pretty passionate.
The song, “So Tired”, is rather despondent, suiting the title. However, there are busy, daresay joyful moments in the track. It’s driving with little let up, but things hang back slightly as if to convey not giving all one’s enthusiasm. The bass licks convey this reluctant joy, like you’re angry with someone but don’t want to admit why. Maybe not even knowing why. A refrain builds, like anger mounting and finally releasing this needless, wasted emotion. This repeats before stabs of guitar blasting away those cobwebs of reluctance.
“Jump The Gun” cuts in with drum, triumphant before very melodically weird, sparse guitar. Vocals then ring out amidst thick guitar work, filling out what the aforementioned melody soars above. This then builds up to crescendo, before ringing and fading out.
“Hunny Bunny”, despite the lovey dovey title, comes in with weighty, choppy guitar. It has much energy, the drums filling out the intervals of said, relatively sparse, guitar. A refrain sees the drums drive as power chords mark the guitars in an even more infrequent mode. The chugging builds so much so the guitars eventually match the drums beat for beat, crash for crash.
Following that is “I Need A Woman”, which kicks in with high register, strummed bass, before the whole band join as one. It flourishes, beautifully melodic yet driving. It feels like a coming of age anthem, addressing the need for love; a man’s need for woman, a woman’s need for a man.
There’s a hint of melancholy, but that’s largely overtaken by joy. Growing pains substituted with the need to feel loved, and then being loved. The song briefly flirts with another tangent, almost progressive in construction. Not enough to get up themselves, though. The tom heavy drums really power this one along, before a gradual slowdown and expert fadeout.
Then there’s a dedication to “Laura”, which’s also bass orientated in introduction, but a tad more guttural than melodic flight of fancy. It’s definitely a moody one as the rhythm section propel this one forward, the vocals afforded a substantial foundation upon which to sing of the girl most on his mind. There are also claps to be heard, giving this one infectious feel. The energy is addictive, and sees another fadeout.
The grungy vibes of “Raygun” are garage rock with punky immediacy. So many things in one track, arguably. The ridiculous brevity of nonsensical guitar, a brief intermission, somehow working. Like praising the times in your life when the stupid in things takes over, and, of course, makes one laugh.
“Dylan’s Place” has a rewinding effect, very atmospheric. This is, again, brief. Like, as said before, not dwelling too much in self importance and progressive leanings. The vocals soar to match the melody of the guitars, very much the foundation of putting a song together, singing on the riff. Refreshingly simplistic.
The flourishes of guitar seem a tad melancholy, perhaps even hiding great sadness behind a lopsided grin. A pretty cool, triumphant middle section, as progressive as the album’s gotten yet, appears. This then builds up, emotion swelling as the hero rises from the ashes of his own destruction.
The urgent “Two Forever” hammers and rings, before becoming sedate and very emotional. The twanging of guitar lick like blues of the soul, impossibly sad. The vocals are delivered in such a way they swing slightly, but not too much as if to come across as emotionally ambiguous. Things build up, the guitars crunching with desperation, a roaring voice holding back the streaming tears. Things then slow down, again, before driving with each chord played conveying a certain finality to things. It closes as it ends, sedate and, having come full circle, clever.
Now for closer, “Grange”, which starts as the last track ended, just a bit more busy. Daresay intense, particularly what later unfolds. Vocals are wispy, like clouds carrying not rain but puffy, pretty things for all the eye to look at. The bass rings out, hammering a rhythm yet slightly delicate despite the intensity of proceedings.
Guitar then also gets busy, almost a solo yet very chordal, melodic and building a sizeable soundscape, amongst the already established clouds in the piece. The addition of sunshine, or something. This urgent song then slows right down, crashing with deliberate restraint. This then brings the listener to hearing the duo clatter on the piano, before making their apologies and ending the album.
There are probably about half a dozen songs on here worth your time, three of which merit a further look at. “I Need A Woman”, for instance, might remind one of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, with that high register, strumming bass. It’s a beautiful, coming of age song. It has the guile to get progressive, but not self indulgent enough to become self serving.
Following that track on the running order is “Laura”. This is another highlight, and also opens with the bass, this time more rounded and grounded. Those hand claps give it an anthemic feel, infectious and addictive. What’s more, this track could be the woman, Laura, that the duo said they needed in the previous song. Clever, in a way.
Leap forward a bit and “Dylan’s Place” is the last addition to the trio in question. Yes, the streaming tears of “Two Forever” and the wispy clouds and sunshine of “Grange” deserve a mention, but “Dylan’s Place” is where it’s at. It verges on pomposity compared to the other tracks on the album, with its progressive leanings, but the duo almost forget this amidst their earnest strivings on the track.
Vulnerable and heart on the sleeve, maybe caught up in the moment. It’s triumphant, arguably needing a woman, finding a woman, in Laura, and winning her over at your friend’s house, in Dylan. The happy ending, though obvious in construction for the most ordinary of storyteller, is satisfying to listen to, giving the album a linear quality, one song directly relating to the next.
Multitudes of things could be construed from each and every song on this album, and the joy of interpretation is in the fact that everyone has a unique take on what this and that means, here and there. Each of the best tracks on this album could have an entire essay written about them, arguably, and whittling them down to the absolute best proves quite tricky. The three chosen, though, are arguably the most linear in relation to eachother.
Hockey Dad have got promising beginnings with this effort now under their belt. Making an album that’ll surpass this one will probably prove to be quite an onerous task. Let’s hope they manage, they’ve certainly got the potential and raw talent to, at least, make a good go of it.
Hockey Dad’s Boronia, out on Friday, August 12, can be bought from iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson