Three years ago I celebrated my 18th birthday by heading to Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge to see – on a friend’s recommendation – a local band called Cub Scouts. They were playing in aid of their new single Pool!. Of course, the unyielding legal force of Scouts Australia has since necessitated a name change, but Cub Sport (as they became in August of the same year) have continued to produce delightful indie pop music and accrue merit badges. This week finally sees the band release their debut album This Is Our Vice. And it’s not quite what I expected.
Before the first words of opening track Sun are even uttered, a change is noticeable. A swirling breeze of electronica – something one might expect from RÜFÜS or Miami Horror – enters your ears. But suddenly, yes, there are the angelic vocals of Tim Nelson, and normal service has all but resumed. What follows is a fluttering, summery track that dares to explore new territory, while reminding listeners what’s always been so enjoyable about Cub Sport’s inoffensive brand of boutique pop.
The band’s popular tactic of incorporating a simple yet infectious keyboard riff returns to great effect on I Can’t Save You, which is Cub Sport at their direct and dulcet best. It Kills Me tries a different approach; the bass is more prominent, the guitar work more taut and subtle. Its chorus is also probably the best example of the harmonies Cub Sport are so adept at. That said, however, Nelson’s vocals are stunning on Come On Mess Me Up, which in itself is a tender and relatable slice of life.
Cub Sport’s charming, familiar style of anecdote may not have changed, but This Is Our Vice is a markedly more full-sounding record. Older songs like Paradise and Evie were centred around effervescent keys and Nelson’s honey-soaked voice, almost to the point of being saccharine. A single or EP was pleasant enough, but, as Bruce Bogtrotter once taught us, a slice of cake is always better than the whole thing.
Pleasingly, the band’s new material has greater depth, at times channelling the likes of Beach House in its conveyance of human emotion. Only Friend – released as the lead single last September – exemplifies this beautifully. It combines all the elements I love about this album in a pulsing, understated fashion that differs greatly from the uncomplicated pop of Cub Sport’s embryonic years. Preceding Only Friend is I’m On Fire; its driving bass line and crashing cymbals, together with the most passionate vocals I’ve heard Tim Nelson produce, make it another standout track.
Runner is a delicate, twinkling song that sees Cub Sport reconnect with their endearing innocence, while I Don’t Love My Baby and I Feel Bad Now are candid and introspective, and solidify Cub Sport’s dynamic new identity. Closing track Vice is perhaps the least remarkable, but on a record brimming with charm and enthusiasm, that’s no great disappointment.
All in all, This Is Our Vice is an impressive debut from Cub Sport. Every aspect of the instrumentation and production displays the attributes of a more mature and accomplished band, while the improved subtlety and restraint of Nelson’s vocals, in comparison to earlier work, is both satisfying for listeners and, unsurprisingly, highly influential to the overall quality of the record. It’s been a few years and a name change in the making, but absolutely worth the wait.