"For a while there it seemed as though classic pop may be a dying beast. After the heady, hedonistic Britpop-era imploded, the music world seemingly splintered into two factions: soft pop (Coldplay, Keane and Travis, bands soft not only in sound but also in inspiration) and garage rock (The Strokes, The Vines, The Hives). Thankfully though underneath this mainstream façade there have always been direct descendants of the ‘60s greats (The Beatles, The Zombies and Love), bands like Dr Dog, The Apples in Stereo and The Bees proudly flying the torch of the true and rightful pop tradition.
On first inspection The Smallgoods are another contemporary act carrying the ‘60s legacy. From the moody and psychedelic stage setter of ‘Intro’, to the heavy harmonisation of ‘Sadness + The City’ (think the infectiousness of ‘That Thing You Do’) and the hyper-fuzz of ‘The Driving Song’ there is a healthy smattering of all that made retro pop great on Down On The Farm
. This in itself would make for a fine album, but The Smallgoods’ third and most ambitious release has more than torch carrying on its agenda.
The jaunty country ride of first single ‘Traipse Through the Valley’ is an early indication of the folk-pop duality of the album. The octave-apart harmonies and vocal layers cascade over one another, creating an ominous, psychotropic feel, the song’s intricate rhythmic and vocal arrangements invigorated through headphones. Similarly, the Sgt Pepper-esque jolt of ‘City Full of Sky’ and the barebones naturalism of ‘Home Song’, reminiscent of early Elliot Smith, sound vastly removed from the prep-pop of the album’s opening – somehow this hybrid between the corn-fed and the catchy gels, the record simultaneously existing in both pop and folk lexicons.
Whichever genre Down On The Farm
leans towards one constant remains the same: the precise and masterful arrangements that dominate the record. Whether it is the hum of crickets on the alt-country ‘Campfire Song’, the reverse-recorded swell of ‘Jeune Du Fille’ or the enormity of the 30 person choir on ‘South of the River’ and ‘You Got a Friend’, the album has been painstakingly crafted – the two-and-a-half-year gestation between idea and end product justified.
However the versatility and exactness of arrangement, the qualities which ensure Down On The Farm
’s success, are weakened by slight overestimations in the length of both the record and individual songs. Potential next single, the seven-minute epic ‘100 Red Buttons’, lags in the additional verses, taking too long to reach its stirring operatic and doo-wop finale. Similarly, ‘Now I See the Stars’ overreaches in its seven-minute-plus adventure – the track itself worthy, but its placement as the tenth track dampens the flow of the record.
With respect to The Smallgoods the decision to cut any of these songs would have been an incredibly difficult one – each individual track is worthy in some regard. Yet The Smallgoods would be well served following the example of ‘60s pop legends like The Beatles and The Beach Boys, acts who were unafraid to leave valuable – and even brilliant material (see ‘Penny Lane’) – from an album if it negated the success of the record as a whole. Such small term pain would have made a large difference to the digestibility of Down On The Farm
, and while the record is still a strong release, a 10 or 11 song album would have been a more cohesive and enjoyable outcome.
Length aside, Down On The Farm
is a pleasant and polished performance, the strong songwriting and universally impressive arrangements justifying The Smallgoods’ two-and-a-half year odyssey." Justin Pearsall, Wireless Bollinger, Aug 27 '07
"The Smallgoods emerged rosy-cheeked from western Victoria a few years back with a bunch of unaffected nostalgic pop songs and fun-filled live set. Two albums followed, granting minor national airplay, as well as a host of domestic support slots mixed with touring alongside international acts such as Ben Kweller, the Shins and Iron & Wine. Perhaps tiring of being perennial bridesmaids, the band has laboured for over two years on 'Down on the Farm', their third long-player. It's predecessors and low-key and protracted development - kicked off with a recording grant from Arts Victoria - gave few signals to the vast richness the final release would contain. Quite simply, this is a remarkable achievement...easily this year's most ambitious work by an established local act. Star-crossed between the psychedelic dreams of Brian Wilson and the fractured pastoral wistfulness of Nick Drake, this is by no mean flawless - but is ever aspiration deserved acclaim, this is it.
Containing some genuinely haunting moments (Traipse Through the Valley, Willow Tree and Jeune De Fille) replete with whispered vocals and backward cymbals, more traditional organ-driven pop (Sadness & the City, Driving Song) and odd, hypnotic picked-guitar patterns (City Full of Sky, Home Song) the album's piece de resistance is the seven-minute hymn-like 'Now I See the Stars'. This is where the former retro feels goods part company with the now all-encompassing and aspirational Smallgoods; it's a leap of faith, a heavenly six-chord progression overloaded with soaring harmonies and provides a juncture from which all future efforts should be measured against.
There are too many other highlights to mention and goodness knows how they plan to replicate some of these tunes onstage. This reviewer will not be alone in wondering what inspired such bliss and what kind of effect it would have on both critics and public alike should it's composers have hailed from the northern hemisphere." EJ Carteledge, Inpress