Australian singer-songwriter Josh Pyke has made quite a mark on the Australian music scene since the release of his first LP, Memories & Dust, in 2007. His particular brand of acoustic rock/folk/ocka has gained him a following and influenced others in the current generation of Australian musicians. The title of his new release, The Beginning and the End of Everything, caused quite a stir when it was announced, with many afraid it was something of a swansong. These rumours appear, however, to be misplaced; and there is no sign that he will drop off our radar anytime soon, with a concert tour covering most of the major cities (though not Canberra).
I would say that The Beginning and the End of Everything is a return to form, but that would imply he’d had more than one form to start with. In true Pyke fashion, the mood is gentle throughout, there is something slightly annoying about the accent, and the melodies never go quite where you’re expecting. Opening with ‘Bug Eyed A Beauty,’ Pyke shows hints of a change of pace with layered harmonies and slightly less melodic lines that place the focus squarely on the lyrics.
The title track is, however, classic Pyke, with a simple catchy melody, references to wolves, and an up-beat folk groove complemented by subtle electric guitar and percussion. The sentiments are sweet, romantic and simply expressed, emphasising the fact that Pyke is strongest when writing stories and expressing emotional ideas. Like many folk musicians, his music is less important than the lyrics and does suffer as a result. ‘Leeward Side’ is much in the same vein while ‘Haunt You Love’ introduces the harmonica with surprisingly enjoyable consequences. I shan’t deny that I have always believed harmonica is best used sparingly if at all, particularly in folk music. In this case, however, its stripped back and gentle character render it inoffensive.
The real highlight, however, is his collaboration with fellow Sydneysider Holly Throsby on the track ‘All the Very Best of Us’. Bringing a new delicacy to the guitar and instrumental arrangements, she also contributes lovely vocals that perfectly balance with Pyke’s throughout. It is certainly true that the limited range displayed makes it slightly monotonous; however, lines such as “And all the very best of us String ourselves up for love” (yes, it’s identical to the refrain in that song by the National) are delivered with heart-wrenching simplicity and bewitching harmonies.
The Beginning and the End of Everything does not venture into new territory, but it does remind us why Pyke has been so influential and will likely remain so. Expressive lyrics coupled with an ability to write the occasionally exquisite melodic line remain his greatest strengths. To quote gratuitously from Shakespeare, “it had a dying fall:/O, it came upon my ear like the sweet sound/That breathes upon a bank of violets,/Stealing and giving odour” (Twelfth Night).
It’s not perfect, but The Beginning and the End of Everything does have some lovely moments throughout. And for that reason it is probably worth a listen.