Album review: #1 Dads ‘About Face’

No one understands you like Tom Iansek. Big Scary’s frontman has once again tapped into a part of you that you either didn’t know was there, or had forgotten existed, through his latest release as solo artist #1 Dads. It’s the part of you that wistfully stares out train windows without needing to check your phone, the part of you that wrote bad poems in high school. With a murmur and a simple piano line, #1 Dads transports you to a time and place that is both immediately warm and familiar and completely otherworldly.

About Face is Iansek’s result of two years of songwriting in between recording and touring with Big Scary and producing with other artists including Step-Panther, Airling and Unearthed High finalist Hockey Dad. While #1 Dads is in many ways about Iansek being able to branch out in areas separate to Big Scary and develop an independent sound, About Face is also about collaboration. As well as being “a way to lighten the burden of writing/recording/mixing/producing an album by myself,” this collaboration has given the album new qualities that build upon Iansek’s 2011 debut and showcase new areas of production talent as well as songwriting talent.

The album starts with a muffled drum that could be a record skipping, and this throwback grainy style is a recurring theme. Opener “My Rush” builds from a muted mutter to layers of strong guitar and sets a swampy moodiness that trickles down the track listing. Lyrics like “You’re the current I can’t escape, draw me down draw me down to your depths” could be written about the album itself. The utterly gorgeous So Soldier is sung by Ainslie Wills and sounds a lot like your favourite Fleetwood Mac song. According to Iansek, when putting together both So Soldier and Return To, which features Tom Snowdon of Lowlakes, he was surprised to find after working and producing with other artists that it was not his voice he always imagined in the initial songwriting process. The results of these collaborations bring diversity and depth to the album, with a change of tone that lifts tracks like the standout single Return To while emphasising the uniqueness of Iansek’s own vocal style on other tracks.

This vocal style is expressed in full raw vulnerability in Homeward Found. Starting with a 1970s television sci-fi effect and a shout into the dark, Iansek’s voice is like a balm for your soul. Managing to be somehow tremulous as well as gut-wrenchingly powerful, for me Homeward Found is about trying and failing, about longing and reaching out and finding there’s nothing there. The beauty of About Face is how personal you can make each track, like Tom’s delicate murmur in your ear is just for you, and the breadth of connection that different people will make with the album. The pensive and minimalist songs are balanced with the more upbeat mixed media percussion of Nominal and the gloriously clangy Camberwell, which also features a sweet saxophone solo. Iansek has ensured there is no trace of repetitiveness, with fresh surprises in instrumentation and style on every track.

About Face is ethereal, sometimes experimental and deeply evocative. From slow, sensual beginnings it rolls in like fog off a gunmetal pond and completely envelopes you in its hushed melancholy. Languish in the transcendence, and be sure you don’t miss the album tour when announced.