Of all the things that bring joy to a music listener’s heart, few do it better than honest, sincere artistic expression.
And that’s exactly what Ball Park Music did on “Good Mood”, the aptly titled fifth offering from the Brisbane quintet that some have hailed as the defining Aussie band of this generation. Not 18 months removed from their fourth and most experimental effort, “Every Night the Same Dream”, Ball Park have dropped another gem. On “Good Mood”, Ball Park Music eschews the more conceptual themes present on ENTSD in favor of a return to the quirky, feel-good, idiosyncratic pop songs that made them one of Australia’s most beloved bands in the first place.
Too often, perfectionism or overthinking can derail the process of making an album. “Good Mood” bucks that trend. A product of what frontman Sam Cromack describes as “a huge unexpected burst of writing,” GM sees Ball Park going back to their roots; as a result, the entire work feels like a breath of fresh air. Opening track “The End Times” contains all of the band’s hallmarks: gorgeous vocal harmonies between Cromack and bassist Jen Boyce, lyrics both irreverent and melancholic (“All hope is ripped right out of the ground/and mixed with corn syrup/in the end times”) and a synth riff that rivals some of their best. The vocal refrain “Experience incredible music, yes” pulses along in the background like a cultish catechism. It pairs with keyboardist Paul Furness’ frenetically peppy synthesizer to create a feeling of apocalyptic absurdity that makes the listener smile, in spite of the chorus’ existential query, “Are you waiting/waiting for some kind of meaning?” and its lament, “we used to be so close/at one point in time.”
While Cromack’s existential angst has been a theme in the past, particularly on the last record, it always feels earnest, and never cynical. Exemplifying this is “I Am a Dog,” a punchy, unique love song which asks “Will I ever get it right?” before simply stating “I am a dog/and I love you,” a line which cleverly plays with dog’s dual meaning as both an unscrupulous partner, as well as perhaps the most famously loving member of the animal kingdom.
Jen Boyce’s fantastic basswork is on display throughout the whole album, as are the modulated guitar and syncopated drums of brothers Dean and Daniel Hanson. Ironically, one track noticeably lacking in Dean’s classic vibrato riffs is “The Perfect Life Does Not Exist,” the first Ball Park release to be solely written by Dean. Instead, a simple acoustic strumming pattern and a beltering chorus carry this second single, which follows up its thematic sibling, “Exactly How You Are:” an unabashed, sincere love song that stands out as Ball Park’s best song to date. Both singles reveal a level of perspective that comes with experience. They champion the acceptance that nothing can ever truly be “perfect,” and that the best lives — and albums — come from living authentically. Or, living exactly how you are.
Following on from the singles is “Hands off My Body,” a bizarre garage rock song that oozes personality. Over the drone of a raging guitar, Cromack recites an all-too-relatable list of his body parts that he doesn’t like, ending each line by telling us how he “chopped it off.” For a track that wasn’t originally going to make the final cut of the album, it’s an absolute ripper. The best moment, however, comes after the song’s conclusion, where the recording captures Cromack humming the song’s riff after one of the takes, a candid moment that exemplifies what music is about.
As far as instrumentation goes, the same use of vocoder that worked so well for the band on 2014’s “Puddinghead” is back. Tracks like “Frank” and “So Nice” make use of it, but it works best on “Dreaming of America,” a floating, emotive ballad that Cromack claims stemmed from his wife’s plea that he “write about something else you dream of other than bloody love for a change.”
It worked. The song is dripping with a desire to explore parts unknown that hits the listener right in the wanderlust. Even I, a jaded American who has a history of being openly critical about his birth nation, couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of the Midwestern urban winterscape as I listened to this song on a walk through downtown St. Paul this morning.
Furthering the significance of “Dreaming of America” is the fact that despite being one of Australia’s best loved live acts over the last decade, Ball Park have yet to fully crack the U.S. market, a shame for a band whose unique lyrics and catchy sound would certainly appeal to American indieheads. All the more so considering that the album’s closing number, “I Am so in Love with You,” another Dean-penned acoustic anthem, could seamlessly slot right into Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In An Aeroplane Over the Sea” — a work whose status in indie America rivals that of the Aeneid among classicists — and be one of its best tracks. This triumphant love song stands as Ball Park’s best closing number since “Happy, Healthy, Citizen of the Developed World Blues” capped off their phenomenal 2011 debut, “Happiness and Surrounding Suburbs”.
Ball Park Music is one of those bands that grips you right away. If you’re into killer vocal harmonies; if you love bands that have their own peculiar flair; or if you’re a sucker for a good pop tune, “Good Mood” is Ball Park at their most Ball Park — and definitely worth a listen.