The Phantom Tollbooth
June 1999 Pick of the Month

Modern
Artist: Battered Fish
Label: Toupee Records/ Blue Velvet Music
Tracks/time 12/48:26

The development from Battered Fish's first album Lure to their second Megawhat was astounding.  Not only was there the difference of going from a mostly acoustic sound to angry electric rock, but the design and production elements took a big step forward.  Battered Fish continues to take giant steps forward in their latest release Modern.  The first thing that catches your eye is the packaging, a very picturesque art show throughout the CD panels which shows the band's attention to detail.

Battered Fish has a sound that can be classified as true Modern Rock. The CD starts out with "Wish," a track which opens with swirling guitars reminiscent of Starflyer 59 or the Prayer Chain. From this opening, the song attacks the listener's senses and carries you away on a trail of feedback. "Set-up" follows and talks about solutions that you think might be answers but aren't because you have just been set-up with the world's answers which aren't always right.   Caleb James's voice is very soothing and distinctive. Along with Jeremy Bennett's flowing bass and Matthew Gray's drumming, the result is a tight band whose music spews emotion.

The best example of Battered Fish's emotional intensity is "Sometimes" which utilizes a cello to add to a wonderful ride through layered music.  The song talks about a "sadness that has known me too long" and "a happiness has broken through the ground."  The eleventh track, "To the Reverend Love," is a musical journey back to the 50's where hip was at its peak and is somewhat reminiscent of Propellerheads's "History Repeating."

Battered Fish are from Australia and have a strong following down there, but to most outside that land this treasure remains hidden. Given a chance, this band could be the next big thing in a growing list of Australian bands doing well in the US.

Darryl Cottier (5/7/99)


 

Caleb James has come stunningly into his own, with impassioned vocals leaving a song's every emotion drop-dead convincing. When he reassuringly croons "don't cry" on the Verve-ish "Amazing Light," sensitive types may find themselves choking back the tears. The exceptional trio steps outside its typical format on several songs.  During "The Taste," violins underscore a beautiful sense of melancholy, while an understated xylophone line suggests a ray of hope in the face of self-doubt.  "Set-Up" faintly echoes the shifting energy and murky guitar riff of Nirvana's "Come as You Are," though the gorgeous "New Tragedy" has much more in common with Gene's "Be My Light, Be My Guide."

While 1996's MegaWhat? catalogued the admirable first efforts by Australia's Battered Fish at going electric, it scarcely suggested this near masterstroke.

Jeff Elbel