The scene: A band set up a recording studio in the back room of their singer’s house, and they accumulate a mountain of equipment, preferably analogue for the “warmth” and added authenticity points. It’s a story that’s becoming increasingly familiar these days albeit with varying amounts of spin. The house is a shack in a remote forest. The singer ate nothing but foraged roots and air. There was an invasion of bears during recording. There was a fire. Locusts. Death. Pestilence. Hardship.
None of these examples relate specifically to Husky, but it would seem that these days if you want to record an album, particularly one that hovers around the Americana genre boundaries, then you’d better have recorded it yourself and suffered considerably whilst doing so. Although there’s little sign of hardship in Husky’s story, they did at least record their album themselves.
Homecrafted songs in place, luck has smiled upon Husky and they’ve become the first Australians to sign for Sub Pop, a label that until relatively recently was synonymous with Seattle and the harder edged side of music. Of course, in recent years Sub Pop has signed the likes of Iron And Wine, Fleet Foxes and Fruit Bats, and it’s alongside such bands that Husky find themselves nestling quite comfortably.
The fantastically named Husky Gawenda and his band trade in gently strummed, occasionally arresting, acoustic folk songs. It takes something quite special to stand out amongst the countless other bands and artists armed with nothing more than a guitar, an optional beard, and melodious tales of murder and crop failure, and on Forever So, Husky just about prove that they’re gifted enough songwriters to get noticed.
Signs are particularly good with opening track Tidal Wave, which is steeped in Neil Young influences, specifically during his time with Crosby Stills and Nash. It’s wonderfully sung by Husky, who displays a fine vocal range and melodic sensibility, The mid-point features a peculiar funk bass interlude that comes out of nowhere and is vaguely reminiscent of Low Rider. The effect is to push the song towards the swamp and away from the fields of gold.
After such a strong opener, things start to go a little awry. Fake Moustache bumbles along with a low-slung strum before it heads into a strange afro-break that presumably tips its hat towards Paul Simon, but in fact is more reminiscent of Living Colour’s sometimes fumbled attempts to jam genres together. It just doesn’t work.
History’s Door quickly redresses the balance however with its rustic folk rutting up against some lushly produced pop hooks. The rushing tumble of the chorus is quite infectious and Husky’s hushed tones somehow succeed in crafting a delightful earworm from lyrics that insist a relationship must end. The Woods follows and is something of a let down after the finely crafted writing of History’s Door. “I went walking in the woods tonight” Husky intones before stating that “bright eyed sprits” guided him home. It might sound magical, but the song itself is a generic lump.
It’s this flitting between moments of brilliance and sections of dainty sounding but ultimately rather tedious meandering that defines the album. On the one hand there’s Farewell (In 3 Parts) a beautifully understated and emotionally charged balled complete with a lovely brass finale and Forever So a blink-and-you miss it exercise in tumbling guitar and Beach Boys harmonies. On the other there’s the weird ill-fitting Paul Simonesque skiffle of Hundred Dollar Suit or the folk-by-numbers of Hunter. There are plenty of positives to be found on Forever So, namely Husky’s agile and emotional vocals, but a little consistency would have made for a slightly less flabby album.