Take a trip to Melbourne, Florida with Dick Diver
Love. Betrayal. War. Kitchen interiors.
For indie artists outside of Melbourne’s northern suburbs, one of those might seem out of place in a list of things to sing about. But aided by Dick Diver’s release of their debut LP New Start Again back around late 2011, it’s almost become a bit of a norm. A few years ago – a lifetime in today’s quicksilver music culture – the group’s endearing, off-key jangle and deep-thinking, everyman lyrics inadvertently coined the popularity of a localised, loose and jangly movement, which like a certain Harry Potter villain, shall-not-be-named. For acts incessantly associated with this faction, the name has become a dirty word, a word with negative connotations.
Also pushed by fellow locals Courtney Barnett and Twerps, the movement has since garnered both national and international attention, though the consensus among most is that its end is nigh. Genres and movements today repeatedly arise from nowhere (even just from a single song) only to be fossilised by father time into forgotten ephemera. Nobody likes to think their craft is becoming less relevant, or be boxed into something – especially when that something started as a joke on an internet message board.
Like requiems for the middle class, Dick Diver’s albums have continually been praised as time capsule material, soundtracking life for indolent, jobless, 20-something Australians. In this sense, the group’s music is often misconstrued, constantly (and idly) branded as ‘slacker’. But aren’t slackers supposed to be lazy? Though aesthetically negligent in comparison to the refined indie polish of Real Estate, The War on Drugs and Tame Impala, one can tell from first listen that Melbourne, Florida is the by-product of much hard work, industry and deliberation.
Named after the city of the same name in southeast USA, Melbourne, Florida sees Dick Diver, in both a titular and aural sense, make a conscious shift from the location and essence of previous works. Despite the presence of Melbourne rock icon Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control) behind the boards, there is an inherent local 80s pop sound to the album. Lead guitar parts have largely been replaced by horns and the group’s jangly backdrops are now filled out by synths and pianos, resulting in a sound that borrows the best parts from both Kylie Minogue and The Go-Betweens. Considering the comfort and popularity of the group’s previous sombre jangle, the move is a commendable decision. Wanting to break free from the burden of labels and shackles of expectation, it’s also an understandable call, though it is one that at times feels a little belittling.
In lead single “Waste the Alphabet” and “Tearing the Posters Down” listeners are reminded of the catchy, callow footstomp of earlier releases, while “Private Number”, “Percentage Points”, “Leftovers” and the beautiful “Year in Pictures”, one of Dick Diver’s most delicately crafted songs to date, encapsulate the best parts of their concurrently fresh, nostalgic new sound.
Conversely, Melbourne, Florida’s lyrical content remains intrinsically unchanged: rooted in the present and the quartet’s most endearing asset. With lines and moods only less laconic than their execution, it’s always been easy to lose yourself in Dick Diver’s soundscapes and let their lyrics – like insouciant, self-deprecating, relatable thinkpieces – drift over your head. As always, even if the sounds on Melbourne, Florida are not subjectively ideal, the subtle, pensive wordplay demands your appreciation.
New challenges are being shunned (“a new result / you can’t recall / or just avoid like a private number”), while the ‘ideal self’ (“we wake up wanting / to be Tonya Harding”) is pondered from the view from the veranda couch (“then the sky goes blue to grey / it’s like a widow rolling down”). Who would have thought a few years ago waiting for Centrelink to process your claim with a Carlton and near-empty pouch of Champion Ruby in hand could be so poignant?
But for all of the album’s deadpan, philosophical poetry, it is a particular line on “Competition” which perhaps sums up the four-piece best: “I hear on the TV / that glamour’s everything / it feels wry / it feels wry”. Dick Diver don’t feel the need to be picture-perfect, or in fact in competition, and this is why in an age where there’s probably an indie band for every second guitar sold, they’re able to enchant and fascinate as much as bassist Al Montfort’s killer mullet.
Though the figurative genre box Dick Diver find themselves in may not endure the dusty shelf it will soon be placed on, the band’s music, what’s really important, most definitely will. There’s always been more to their wry, mid-tempo nonchalance than what meets the ear, and Melbourne, Florida is another example of their endearing ingenuity. Like New Start Again and Calendar Days before it, Melbourne, Florida is more than a collection of astute minutiae from day-to-day activity. It’s also reminder the band have always been ahead of us, and a great listen deserving of the hyperbole it will undoubtedly reap.
Welcome to Melbourne, Australia: where the music is out of tune, the mullet is back in fashion, and life on unemployment is strangely touching. Enjoy your stay, just don’t mention the “D” word.