Built on surrealist pop hooks, and psychedelic tendencies, Methyl Ethel – the musical project of Jake Webb – created a world of sheer pop wonder on Everything Is Forgotten (2017) and Oh Inhuman Spectacle (2015). Dark and evocative, yet brimming with pop joy, they were brilliant pop-rock albums that had a wholesomely Australian twang of the ilk of Tame Impala and Pond. Things have changed for maestro Webb, however, as the musician turned 30 and started to look introspectively. The result is Triage, a more contemplative album lyrically than its predecessors, which explores the ideas of coming of age. Musically, though, it’s an expansive, sweeping pop behemoth with its influences rooted in funk, disco and glam-rock.
A deeply personal album when read between the lines, Triage can work as both a meditative study into the life of Jake Webb, as well as a foot-stomping delight that proves impossible not to dance along to. Opening with ‘Ruiner’, Triage kicks off with a beautifully propulsive drumbeat and bassline but, it has to be said, much of the joy from the record comes from Webb’s wonderfully taut art-rock vocals. Throughout, Webb carries himself as an extremely impressive frontman, evoking the likes of Brandon Flowers, Russell Mael and Tin Machine-era David Bowie.
The album really steps into its funky art-rock message, though, with second track and lead single ‘Scream Whole’. A breezy synth number on its surface, with a Currents-era Tame Impala-style bassline, Triage begins its contemplative nature with its constant question of: “What’s the art in killing all emotion? / I choke on mine, it’s barely noticeable / Who am I to think I could forget?” A captivating pop track with a beautifully infectious synthline, Webb is constantly prodding his – and our – subconscious at every waking moment.
There’s certainly a lot going on with Triage, and it’s undoubtedly the Methyl Ethel project that has the biggest melting pot of influences and ideas. While ‘All the Elements’ is a brooding and sophisticated slow-burner that, bizarrely, sounds like an art-rock take on The Police’s ‘Message in a Bottle’, recent single ‘Trip the Mains’ is a stone-cold classic. Without a doubt the best song of the year so far, it’s a straight up disco-funk track that would get a person of the most nervous disposition up onto the dancefloor.
Elsewhere, however, Webb revels in the darkness of some of post-punk and art-rock’s finest. On ‘Post-Blue’, the longest song on the nine-track record, he evokes Thom Yorke’s melancholic tones, while ‘Hip Horror’ displays a spooky backdrop for Webb’s Marc Bolan-esque glam-rock inflections. A dizzying array of influences on display, but still deeply rooted in Methyl Ethel’s brand of obscured expressions, the balance here has been crafted perfectly.
All together, it makes Triage a project with considerable depth, and one that is a joy to get to grips with. A fusion of accessible musical melodies and wily social observations, Jake Webb is an exceptionally talented songwriter with enough trademark Australian pop nous to create a backdrop of transmittable euphoria. A mixture of brilliant funk delight, as well as some darker moments of eerie pop melodies, Triage continues Methyl Ethel’s excellent streak since their inception back in 2014.