Karl Smith (once the key figure of Melbournian indie-folksters Sodastream) hasn’t escaped Belle and Sebastian, not yet, but the first offering from his new project Lee Memorial shows signs of wider listening. There are cute dual guitar arrangements on Berlin and Listen to Yourself which are Pavement – there are sparse band moments as serene and strange as you find in Palace-era Will Oldham. But honestly, Drifting is a high-quality photocopy of B&S – it’s not bad, in fact it’s got a bit more attitude than the “original” – it’s just that it’s not original.
Despite this kind of cribbing, it’s a great album. The band jangles and croons with the best of them, and songs like Mayflower and Boxing are, in a way comparable to the Drones, “Australian” without cringing. The characters Smith sings for are colonial and horrible like we like ‘em; “The fathers touch the sons / and the family kills the little ones” he croons (Boxing), whereas album highlight Private Joseph Skelling is a first-hand narration of murder and rape, with blood and sex and everything. It’s not tacky, it’s arresting and horrible, and when Skelling “stupidly” begins to cry, and Smith howls, it’s a visionary moment, and I feel nostalgic for an Australian 90’s slacker movement yet to come – Lee Memorial heading the charge, Karl Smith yelping plaintively.