AFTER two thrillingly bleak albums, Melbourne’s Harmony wanted to “flip the thematic default” and do something a bit more positive for their third record.
They called it Double Negative – which we guess makes a positive? – and it was recorded in a hall in Kyneton, Victoria. The album opens with a song called ‘I Love You’.
“There is nothing more hit and miss than love,” says Harmony’s frontman Tom Lyngcoln. “It is the most ubiquitous base line for terrible music but also responsible for rare moments of ecstatic magic.
“The real estate in between is a turgid no man’s land,” he continues. “A flaccid glut of lumpy cringe, populated by unrequited stalkings and blurry underage obsessions of middle aged men in mid-life free-fall.”
Here are Tom’s notes on the album’s 10 (sorta) love songs.
After two albums of really sad and uncomfortable songs I wanted to flip the thematic default of the band to something more positive. Writing about negative things is really easy. Writing about something positively and in particular love, is really difficult. It’s hard not to sound saccharine or synthetic. Starting the record with the proclamation, “I love you”, made sense somehow. It’s reckless. The most confronting statement, devoid of nuance or subtlety. You’re more likely to hear “I hate you” than “I love you”. Love is a rough ride, out past the good times.
The two chambers of the heart. One side pumps deep blue, flushed with oxygen and life, and the other receives paling grief and fluid stripped of nutrients. This song was a monster demoed that became a casualty of being the first song we recorded. It doesn’t swing like it does now when we play it. Originally to be sung completely by the Harmonic Division [vocalists Erica Dunn, Amanda Roff, and Quinn Delany-Veldhuis], it never got through the planning stage and I was left to carry its hulking mass to conclusion. It does feature a particularly spicy saxophone wig out played by Joe Greenway from The Spinning Rooms, who is the only guest on the album.
‘Love is a Chemical High’ details the condition that has kept me off the brain pills for the past 20 years. As a raging, cold-blooded teen in the 1990s, the storm fronts would roll in dense and dark and weigh heavy on the back of my skull. I would slide under for a while and eventually resurface. Love is the best medication for my particular problem and it’s detailed here as a Springstonian historical index of a developing relationship. Love is a chemical high, a complicated structure bound by raw desire. That complicated structure is the insane bass line that Jon Chapple insisted on playing for the duration of the song.
The thing about being a bad singer in a band surrounded by amazing vocalists is that it requires a level of denial that is so infuriating to the casual observer that they may start to believe you’re good somehow. We reached that critical mass on the last record, so here I am handing over the keys on a thrashed rental to Quinn Delany-Veldhuis. Quinn casually nailed this song to the wall in a single take at 1am last November. I recall nodding off at the computer while recording this and thinking I might have dreamt it, but here it is preserved in majestic 1’s and 0’s and pressed to vinyl for the whole world to hear. The title track of the album, Double Negative also ties into the album art shot by Matthew Ellery where he failed to load a roll of film properly and ended up with a 24 exposure picture.
“Silence in the halls but one thing rings true/I could never be indifferent to you.” This song was an afterthought that I greased with narration as opposed to trying to sing anything. It escalates but never really takes off Cher style. More like Jason from middle management daylight annihilated in the front bar, propped up by the head by a pint glass unravelling at his tie and spewing on his shoes. Some of the spew is in tune, some of the spew is spew.
This song has more edits than a Metallica drum track. We recorded a bunch of isolated instruments in the big hall of the Kyneton Mechanics Institute on the last day of recording. We played segments of songs and vocal arrangements through our amps and recorded them at the other end of the hall and generally got weird for a few hours. This snare sound was a clear winner and I systematically replaced every snare on this song so that it sounds more like
A vocal heavy rumination from the bedroom. Voices occupy a lot of space on the audio spectrum. They are greedy for frequency, particularly when they don’t exist as a background consideration. Double Negative features incredibly sparse instrumentation so that the voices may take their rightful place at the fore. It is still a challenge to tuck guitars and snare drums in around all of the chewed up aural real estate. But Amanda Roff, Quinn Delany-Veldhuis and Erica Dunn – as the vocalists in Harmony – are not a traditional vocal ensemble. They are half the band’s sound, at war with the instruments and my brutalist, atonalisms.
Musicians on major labels talk frequently about their music appearing to them as chart hits in the mundane moments of their amazing lives as though they are conduits to a God. Here is what that gift sounds like happening through me. I was sitting in the car drinking a coffee, thinking about my impending ball surgery when ding! ding! ‘Fatal Flaw’ drifted in through one of the cracks in the front of my face and onto Double Negative as track number eight. I’m half sure
The calendar days of the modern worker are long and repetitive. The nights can be longer if you love someone at work. Make sure it’s cool though, creep. If it’s unreciprocated have a cup of toner and a pie from the roach coach and leave her or him alone. The longest days at work are spent hiding from Jason in middle management and navigating the rats maze free of contact. Nine to five. No one works those hours any more.
Written on the spot during recording, It Hurts has an unhinged-something-about-it. It’s the sound of a yacht wrecked in the shallows of its destination after nine songs of uneventful cruising. A classic Harmony non-song with a bunch of improvised riffing. We chased the final broken heart/breaking bottle for an hour, repeatedly smashing an extensive stockpile of empty beer bottles into a mic’d up bin until we found the perfect shatter to end the record. Big thanks to Mike Deslandes who engineered the album and risked his expensive gear to satisfy our hazardous urges.