DMA’s have only been together for a relatively short period of time but they’ve already garnered significant critical acclaim, been included on numerous radio hit lists, and featured on massive festival bills around the world. The most impressive aspect of all that though, was the fact that it was all done without actually even releasing their debut album. Hill’s End, then, represents the next logical step for a trio that stand right on the brink of big things.
Formed in a flat in Sydney out of the embers of other bands that they were collectively a part of: Johnny Took, Matt Mason, and Tommy O’Dell combined to create music that is crammed full of pop hooks, acoustic leanings and big brash guitar riffs.
Their sound harkens back to the past- think a mix of soundscapes made with influence from the likes of 90’s American rock bands, Britpop groups, and Neil Young. Yet, while they walk the line with their influences worn proudly on their sleeves, they do so also with their eyes fixed determinedly on the future, all the while possessing a swagger which has sadly been lacking in most rock music since Richard Ashcroft took a walk down a busy London high street all those years ago.
Timeless kicks off proceedings amongst an impressively brash clatter of noise and O’Dell’s voice slicing through the confusion. It’s a frenzied start that conveys the dizzying effects of frustration. It can be heard in the angry battering of the drums, the frantic strums of the acoustic guitar, and the heavy distortion of the electric guitar as it comes over like a giant wave that threatens to destroy everything in sight.
Thankfully, we still find ourselves on solid ground by the time Lay Down comes in, which was the first track to be released this year, as a taster for what was to come on the highly anticipated album. It’s a track that glides by on acoustic strums and a catchy pop melody that seems plucked right out of some well-known Manchester act’s book. They may well be heavily linked with Oasis, but this seems more in line with Stone Roses, as the guitar happily noodles along while O’Dell sings how he is “lost in worlds far away.”
Next up is the band’s first ever track that they released, which brought them widespread attention before they’d even played a live gig. Delete may be over two years old now, but it still sounds as invigorating as ever. While Too Soon lulls you into a false sense of security with withdrawn verses, before the chorus bursts to life with echoing vocals, heavy crashes of the cymbal and a chugging guitar line.
In The Moment floats by like a day dream, as it dips into a reverie of regrets. The jangly guitars are present, as is a bouncy rhythm section that threatens to break through the haze momentarily, before sinking into it, along with O’Dell’s vocals, as he details about friends trying “to avoid love.” It’s a carefully restrained effort that stands impressively as one of the albums catchiest tracks.
Step Up The Morphine ushers in the half way point of the album in a sombre mood. It is a song that displays Took’s thoughtful and clever lyrics the most, as he is left to lament on the heartbreak of losing someone close. The vulnerability trembles within as O’Dell ruefully questions the concepts of life as he sighs, “sometimes I wonder why we bother at all”. The song is filled with imagery of heaven, hospital beds, unattainable dreams, and the loss of hope as it slips away like a final dose of morphine administered to the sick.
For a man who had never previously sung on record before joining the band, O’Dell’s range is impressive as he goes from the highs to the lows with apparent ease. His vocals are often put out front and centre, and this is at its most effective when he is placed amongst minimal instrumentation, like on the moving So We Know.
On Melbourne, O’Dell declares, “I won’t feel no pain,” with his voice rising above the brutal guitar riff that cuts through the spacious atmosphere like a knife. The music echoes around like it’s lost deep within a chasm, before it builds into a frenzy that sees the drums desperately struggling as they try to keep up with it all. It’s a pained reflection on a relationship that was always destined to fail. The loneliness is felt within the mellow strums of the acoustic guitar, while there’s troublesome thoughts on the seemingly inevitable collapse of a relationship and the inability to pull it away from the brink despite the best intentions.
Straight Dimensions features an indie guitar jangle that sounds like it’s been cultivated in the summer sun for months. While Blown Away is a wistful ballad that accurately translates a sense of distance with the slow strum of guitars and solemn strings underpinning the pain of it all. It’s too heartbroken to be bitter at the act of the separation, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t ever there. It’s simply resigned to the fact of the matter, as O ‘Dell sorrowfully declares how “it’s all blown away.”
The Switch and Play It Out conclude the album on a suitably triumphant note, as they combine what has worked so well for the previous tracks on the record for a mix of massive choruses, heavy guitar riffs, and O’Dell’s great vocals.
You can almost hear the enjoyment in the music- the boisterous laughter shared between friends and those long nights spent drinking while recording the tracks. But you can also feel the hangover of the next day, when everybody has gone home and you’re left to wake up on your own once again. The feeling of getting up and accessing the damage amongst all the empty beer cans and the stubbed out cigarettes, is very real here. There’s a tangible element of heartbreak and regret, as the past is reviewed with a sobering but eagle eyed proficiency. The past may be laboured over and a source of regret, but it is an integral component of moving you forward in the greater scheme of things, and that is what Hill’s End does so gloriously here.