Fendahlene is an Australian rock duo featuring Paul Whiteley (guitar/lead vocals) and Ashley Hurst (bass). For this album they were joined by Matt Ingram on drums and keys, but you never doubt for a moment that they’ve been a performing band for years. Local heroes in Sydney, Fendahlene have already earned success with singles on commercial and indie radio, and had two songs chosen for an ad campaign by the Sharp Corporation.
Relocating to the UK in 2018, Fendahlene spent a year in East London recording High And Low And Back Again, which is available by download or on vinyl. These 12 songs feature vocals reminiscent of Glen Hansard, jangly pop-rock guitars, solid harmony choruses and ace rhythms. While never straying too far from melodic rock, Fendahlene borrows from diverse styles (folkrock, new wave, punk) to drive home their themes of struggle and alienation within our current, Matrix-like existence. Their tunes are not content with a couple great ideas, throwing curveballs just when you think the songs have said all they came to say.
The boys come roaring out of the gate with “Burnt Out” which plants their flag against a world in which “everyone seems out to sea.” Jam-packed with hooks, this anthem of techno rebellion is built around a catchy “It’s all zeroes and ones” chorus. “Cookie Cutter Life” continues in this thematic vein with a wall of crunch-guitars and assertive harmonies.
The title track “High And Low and Back Again” changes things up with a tentative piano melody leading into a Dire Straits-like mid-tempo rocker: an achingly sweet unrequited love song with almost choir-level backing vocals. “Speak Out” goes the Stones route with blocky, clap-along Keith Richards riffs.
Fendahlene’s inexhaustible bag of hooks continue with the highlight tracks “Which Way To Go” and “A New Thread” both featuring fine pop-inflected power strumming and infectious choruses; similar to The Barenaked Ladies minus the snark.
One looks in vain for a song that doesn’t work here, and though “Can’t Feel This Way” (another sad love song) is the closest these guys come to leaning too hard on their formula, even this song surprises with a note-perfect backwards guitar break, very difficult to pull off.
“Dead And Gone” is a gorgeous Dylan-esque summing-up with gentle guitars and plaintive lap steel, and brings the “zeroes and ones” refrain from the opening track full-circle: broken relationships and a broken society mourned in equal measure.
Overall this is a remarkably consistent effort with enough musical surprises and interesting lyrics to engage indie pop fans. Fendahlene’s themes are both of-the-moment and timeless. The cover art reinforces the idea of tech homogenization by first appearing to be an urban skyline, but on closer inspection revealing itself to be towering racks of computer hard drives.
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