So, here we have ‘Pacifica’, the third album from Australian electronic act THE PRESETS. The Sydney duo, Julian Hamilton (vocals/keyboards) and Kim Moyes (drums/percussion/keyboards), haven’t exactly been household names in the UK, but they have been pretty big at home, with their last album, 2008’s ‘Apocalypso’, topping the Australian charts and spawning 4 singles, 3 of them Top 40. Their debut release ‘Beams’ has a soundscape majoring on dance-influenced stompers, such as the track ‘I Go Hard, I Go Home’, with its hard percussion and heavily treated vocal samples. They progressed their songwriting craft through ‘Apocalypso’, which, while still containing floor-filling beats and chopped up vocal stylings in tracks such as ‘My People’, also showed a mellower side in tracks such as ‘A New Sky’ and ‘Aeons’.

And so we come to ‘Pacifica’ which on first listen, seems confused as to what it wants to be style-wise. Album opener ‘Youth In Trouble’ features a full-on techno stomp bassline with plenty of uplifting synth swooshes as Hamilton expresses his concerns Daily Mail style about the lifestyle of Australian teens, while second track ‘Ghosts’ is a rather pretty electro sea shanty where an old-timer looks back at his hedonistic times of journeying as a young man and reflects where his life will go next.

Third track ‘Promises’ is a slice of (possibly over-sweet?) synthpop which could almost be NEW ORDER at their poppiest – string pads wash over a jaunty bassline, vocal harmonies soar all over the place, the song structure ebbs and flows – it does however demonstrate how Hamilton’s vocal abilities have progressed since ‘Apocalypso’ and also how the duo have developed their ability to write real songs. Moving on, ‘Push’ could be said to be an attempt to write techno-pop in 6/8 time, choppy bassline and chopped up vocals sitting over a percussion- heavy backing track, sadly to my ears spoiled by the verses being sung in the Club Style a la Vic Reeves, a complete contrast to the smooth vocals of the previous track.

However next track ‘Fall’ moves straight back to NEW ORDER (or even ERASURE) territory, and is perhaps lyrically the weakest track on the album, being a straight-up love song. However once again it’s a smooth and sweeping example of crafted synthpop. ‘It’s Cool’ is a stylish piano and Moog-bass driven minor-key crooner, where Hamilton tells his lover it’s cool if his inadequacies lead them to want to find a greater love elsewhere. ‘Adults Only’ is lyrically the heaviest track on the album, a condemnation of the underbelly of Sydney, the song developing from piano to noise-heavy dance track, instructing the listener to enjoy the city before it explodes but not to tell the children about the dark side of the city (“This is Adults Only”). This leads to ‘Surrender’, an insistent house-influenced pop tune, and Fast Seconds, which revisits the techno ground of ‘Youth in Trouble’ in a more song-structured guise while warning of the speed of modern life. Finally the album ends with the pad-driven, almost beatless ‘Fail Epic’, telling the audience to keep trying no matter how many times they might fail (epically)…

So, on first listen this may seem to be an unfocussed album mining many seams from synthpop to techno to melancholic ballad – however, it’s a grower, and on repeated listening, the feel of the songs, the sound design and production used, make the album flow in a more coherent way. It’s less immediate than its predecessor, and perhaps initially might disappoint fans, but ‘Pacifica’ showcases a growing songwriting confidence and is a good addition to any electronic music fan’s record shelf.

‘Pacifica’ is released by Modular Records

Text by Mike Cooper
21st September 2012