Hey man. I heard your girlfriend just broke up with you. That sucks, bro. Really, I can empathise. Ain’t nothing worse than getting your heart shat on. So, where do we go from now, hombre? We can either a) drink until we puke b) take acid and try to fuck some leprachauns, until we sober up and realise they’re garden gnomes, or c) play some Step-Panther. In all seriousness, Step-Panther might have just taken over Twerps in terms of providing the ultimate break-up soundtrack. Sure, the person that you used to bump uglies with may be feeding your emotions through a tree-shredder, Fargo-style, but at least there’s Step-Panther providing the bonafide album of the year.
Going into ‘Strange, But Nice’, there’s the immediate notion that Step-Panther have altered course. Whilst some unimaginative dickknobs might call this ‘maturing’, it is most definitely not. It’s the sound of a band that are stretching themselves out, exploring new territory, diversifying themselves from their original roots. About 70% of the time, this ends in disaster. But Step-Panther have completely pulled it off, and taken their sound in a new direction, propelled by a momentum that I honestly thought had been lost from music. Step-Panther have built on the direction they hinted at on tracks like “Bad Mood” and “Dreamcrusher”.They intricately mix their previous excellence at shredding with songs that blossom into incredibly personal and hurting testaments from frontman Stephen Bourke. The result is an album that is both complex and beautifully simplistic.
The album starts off incredibly strongly, chucking a bit of a Palms, and opening up with a solo acoustic number that almost tricks the listener into thinking that they might have cracked onto the next Elliot Smith. But then there’s a double-whammy of “Nowhere” and “User Friendly”, irreverent and insanely fun tracks that point to Step-Panther’s origins as a band that loves to strap on a guitar and beat the shit out of some riffs. “Nowhere” is especially potent, swelling like that chick from cult horror movie ‘Slither’. It feeds itself, ballooning into a goddamn masterpiece of headbanger heaven. This vein of excellence is continued later in the record on tracks like “Namor”, “Zombie Summer” and “Something Must Be Done”, speedy, semi-doom laden riffs skating over bass-gods and wicked drum twacks that threaten to split your head open like you’re a 12 year old with greasy hands climbing a jungle gym.
But the real beauty here comes from Step-Panther’s ability to lay it all out, baring themselves to the world with some of the best songcraft to come from this smouldering island that is Australia. “Parallel” is a complete and utter standout, something that gives me (and everyone else) shivers whenever it comes on. It’s like if Bob Dylan had grown up in the ‘Gong and was exposed to radiation. It’s quaint but weird, heartbreakingly honest, and the little quavers in Stephen’s voice when he hits the chorus causes my own mouth to shake uncontrollably. “Don’t cry,” I whisper to myself. “Don’t be a pussy. Put on some Metallica or something. C’mon. Who’s a big boy? You’re a big boy”. But, just like the protagonist, I’m going to wish that phase goodbye, and sink into the rest of ‘Strange, But Nice’.
This. This album. It’s got everything. Star Trek, swamp monster and retro-video game references, Big Scary’s frontman on production duties, and the perfect duality between decapitation-shredding and lyrical/musical prowess to tear your heart out through your chest. Fuck, it’s an underdog story about loss, repulsion and the faint hope of moving on. There’s not a whole lot more to say here, other than that you need this record in your life. Pronto, now, immediately. Andale andela! Arriba Arriba! Record of the year, right fucking here!