The Chemist is a West Australian four-piece from Perth, playing a dark and varied style of jazz/blues inspired rock. Produced by Eskimo Joe’s Joel Quartermain, their debut EP ‘The Wolves’ Howls Shatter the Old Glass Moon’ proves all the potential that lay behind their steadily building hype.
Attempts at describing music can often be a curse for a band. One throwaway line claiming an artist to be the next Madonna can get picked up, carried and haunt them from their new-found pigeonhole for the rest of their career. As such, I think it’s generally advisable to leave comparisons to well known artists at the door as often as possible in order to avoid influencing the artist’s image. So when The Chemist’s debut EP ‘The Wolves’ Howls Shatter the Old Glass Moon’ came with a rap sheet with the names of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and the Beatles, it can be a little difficult to lower that solitary eyebrow. Thankfully though, there’s enough quality lying within the EP to bring it back to neutral, but not quite enough to raise the other one to the height of the former…but definitely enough quality to almost sustain that ridiculous metaphor. Almost.
If the title of the EP isn’t enough to evoke the atmosphere of Tom Waits, then the opening few bars of ‘End of July’ at least evoke some sort of dirty, ragtime sensation; stepping away from Waits in part, but certainly not extinguishing the candle they’re holding to him. Of course, the rest of that comparison subsides once vocalist Ben Witt’s high pitched, testicles caught on the edge of the piano stool voice kicks in, moaning over the top of a sound that is heavily influenced by that of producer Joel Quartermain’s outfit, Eskimo Joe.
The follow up track ‘Stars’ is also reminiscent of the Joe, with Luke Steele contributing to the it not only his musical ability, but exerting his influence also. Again, it plays with dark themes, but contrasts those against a sweetened chorus that Witt compares to the Beatles, and it does tend to evoke that sound. This two-track beginning to the album flows into ‘Things Have Changed,’ a two-tracks-in-one effort that not so much pays homage to the black, rustic, gritty themes of Mule Variations-era Tom Waits, as attempts to ghost write a B-Side for the guy. The first song in the track is a really great effort, and is quite cool from a dirty blues perspective. The second song in that track is a spoken word mortician’s tale spoken over the top of a piano, which is starting to show the band’s love for Waits in a way that is becoming less tributary as it is forced.
The final two tracks of the EP are good efforts also, from the powerful foot-stomping ‘Don’t Look Down’ to the surprisingly sweet (considering what came before it) lullaby ‘Find My Way Home.’ It’s a nice finish indeed, one of which can be inadvertently ruined by your car stereo that repeats the album back into the album’s up-tempo beginnings, but you’d be stretching pretty far to try and blame that on The Chemist.
The Chemist’s debut EP is an excellent effort, with all the trappings of a great band of the future’s debut. If this is where they’re starting from, then they’re due for an exciting amount of growth with albums to come. Despite some occasional reaching to achieve a sound that just doesn’t seem in place with the band, it’s an all round solid record. In fact, if they took the spoken word tale out of the EP and erased all references to Waits, Dylan and the Beatles, I probably would have been a lot more taken by it. It does sound a little too much like the lets-be-dark pop of Eskimo Joe at times which is disappointing, With this release, The Chemist have shown that they’re more than worthy of their space in your CD collection, and considering this is so early on in the piece for them, you’re probably gonna have to reserve some space for the next one too.
‘The Wolves’ Howls Shatter the Old Glass Moon’ is out now.