It was a cosy Friday evening at home when I decided to have a casual listen to After Touch‘s EP You Wish This Was About You. I’m going to be really honest: I wasn’t that excited about diving into the review. The Shellharbour band’s set at Cherry Bar for Better Half‘s Maybe I Was Wrong EP launch wasn’t great, and coupled with this experience to suddenly have the band undergo a name change from Easy Life to After Touch, I wondered if this could be indicative of a band who were struggling to retain a foothold in the scene. Nevertheless, I hit play on EP stream, intending just to have a momentary listen of what I’d be finding when I reviewed it at a later date.
To my surprise, I listened to You Wish This Was About You end to end. And then again. And again. I found myself wowed, impressed, and intrigued. This is not the sound of a band frantically holding on to a scene by their fingernails as loose rocks tumble down far below. This is the sound of a band that have found a path and taken it in strength and are standing confidently on solid ground. My (limited) expectations were completely blown out of the water from first listen onward.
Forming in 2014, the five piece of Max Pasalic (vocals), Jack Rankin (guitar), Jesse Mate-Gallo (guitar), Kurt Haywood (bass), and Jordan Pranic (drums) were originally on a mission to break free of Shellharbour and make themselves widely known. They achieved this, with their backing from UNFD and capturing attention with “I’m Fading Away” and their There Can’t Be This Much Water In The Sky EP. They’ve also shared the stage with Northlane, The Story So Far, Trophy Eyes, Dream On Dreamer. To my ears, You Wish This Was About You is a solidifying of the band’s sound; taking what worked for them in the previous EP, refining it and transmuting it. The band have worked with Elliott Gallart of Chameleon Sound in directing their refined take into something personally meaningful. The name change seems to signify the shedding of an earlier skin of Easy Life; where this entity of the band is nothing like originally existed.
Fittingly, “Let’s strip away your superficial skin” is a lyrical moment of You Wish This Was About You‘s first track (and first single) “Use Me”. With a pulsing and alarming introduction, “Use Me” shares a forlorn yet factual acknowledgment of seeing how disposable they are in their lover’s life, while also finding a fixation with the resulting ache that comes. Aware of how badly they’re being manipulated, we’re shown how the toxic connection is also what they’re craving. A sharp-edged puzzle piece that fits easily within their own broken state.
Max Pasalic elaborated on this topic, sharing that “Use Me” reflects a personal situation for him where he realised he was seeking out painful relationships “in some sort of masochistic sense”. Handling the realisation with acceptance instead of self-pity, Max was able to “use these experiences to become someone new, someone stronger.”
Seeming to blend the infectiousness of Bring Me The Horizon‘s electronic infused rock with Sworn In All Smiles’ dark (almost tragic) honesty, “Use Me” is a deep dive into facing the shadowy parts of the self, as inspired by the treatment of another.
Chapter two of You Wish This Was About You is the EP’s title track. From its opening, this is a feast of sounds and textures, where liquid darkness meets orchestral earnesty, and wide riffs paint our entry into a story. Feeling like a turning point, “You Wish This Was About You” gives a lyrical/thematic nod to the torturous love of “I’m Fading Away” and (again) acknowledges that dark places beget dark connections.
With driving riffs and searing vocal questioning, a line is drawn between what’s real and what isn’t. An out-of-body perspective of their own life (crafted by echoing and reversed vocals, skipping beats, and a sharp melodic guitar) has “You Wish This Was About You” come across as a breakthrough on a journey of insignificance. This is most powerfully reflected by the bridge; where a cry of “God is a million miles away” instantly conjures a scene in my mind’s eye of a lone human calling out into the cosmos for someone (anyone) to care, before we zoom back to eye-to-eye focus when a sharpened yet whispered “You wish this was about you” is cleanly delivered.
Weighty zig-zagging riffs, and atmospheric sounds in closing make this a great track that leaves a ‘wow’ impression. My only criticism of “You Wish This Was About You” is the melodies created by synthy vowel sounds (heard at 1:24, for example), which seemed to reduce the emotional significance/strength and unnecessarily painted something shiny and clean upon what would have been better left as a darkened and imperfect surface.
“I just want to hear you need me.”
Third track “Cherry” satisfyingly brought the hollowed darkness that I was yearning for. A lengthy introduction creates a daunting looming weight with haunting vocal “Oooh”s, meandering guitar, earthy bass, and expectant beats. It’s an unsettling piece of music, where a zombified Max is allowing himself to be drawn, like moth to a flame, toward the reassurance of ‘Cherry’, irrespective of everything else. Slurred and layered vocals tell of the shell of a person he was, where this bright light of a person called to him, and yet the sharpness of riffs railing out reflect the pain of this pull in reality.
Moving from ‘unsettling’ to ‘upsetting’, the bridge of “Cherry” kind of killed me where the sweet magnetism shifted to bitterness, like a seductive red-lipped smile revealing fangs. What had been looming the entire track in the showcase of numbed enchantment was the toxicity that had been selectively unseen.
Delicate chimes, and wildly climbing and emotive riffs coupled with Max loudly trying to understand the mess he’s in, repeating “YOU’RE BITTER ON THE INSIDE” (in contrast to the cooed “Cherry is so sweet” we heard earlier) painted a suddenly frantic state of realisation of how bad this person is for him. It’s a heart-wrenching scramble to be freed of the clutches that he once ached for. And then we’re struck with a last chorus and it just seems to hit even harder. It’s a powerful piece of music that hits thuddingly and destroyingly home with this story of need becoming damaging. It’s stunning, moving, and 100% moreish.
In the wake of “Cherry”, the fourth track “I Heard” is something more serene and clear, at least at its introduction; where distorted vocals are coming to us from a place existing outside of time. We become shocked into a whole other dimension soon enough though, when we’re ripped from a lightly pulsing and ethereal cocoon into a reality consisting of beefy riffs and jet-fueled abrasive speed.
As a strong pace continues with unemotional vocals overlaid, After Touch create a floating sense of being out of body while chaos rains down. Words are released like ripples as one almost helplessly tries to make sense of what he’s feeling from a third-person perspective. The combination of galloping pace and a boundary-less existence makes for a very fluid sound that is easy to just let wash over me. It’s only at the bridge where yelling and frantic ringing guitar pulls me to the subject matter instead of just soaking up the vibe and fullness of sound. But that’s only briefly before a short call of “GO!” has me back into the hugeness and loving every second of it.
As a lyric lover, I have a tiny criticism in that the fluidity in the enunciation, effects of distortion, and focal pull to impressive instrumentation had the vocals buried for me on several songs of the EP.
EP closer “Six Feet Closer” is just as massive and moving and driving as we’ve heard; seeming to pull everything together. With the track’s first verse, I’m struck with a sick feeling of realisation of the emotional torture they’d endured, and a hope that it has disturbed/hurt the other too. Not entirely sure how to interpret the call to “step six feet closer” in the hefty choruses, it nevertheless feels like a demand for the other person to be genuine with him about their own damage, instead of just inflicting it upon him and hurting him in the process.
With lines like “I took too much and I might not make it” in the context of a relationship, it’s immediately reflective of how addictive this connection is; inspiring a high but also negatively impacting them in the process. The contrast of feeling something powerfully while also seeing how ruining it is comes across as a hindsight take on the toxic dynamic.
Sonically, “Six Feet Closer” treads fittingly in multi-layered overwhelm, with thunderous choruses that are as much anguished and aching as they are freeing. The more erratic verses trace lines of moments where shifts through time and understanding see pleasure and pain at the same time. The bridge drop into something else that’s exploring and feeling, with significant changes in sound to electronic samples/pulses, sparks a sense of a turning point. And again I’m ruined by the bellowed “So close to the end YET SO ALIVE”; with it’s emotive climb of drums, guitar, samples, and powerful vocal determination. The EP powerfully ends with crystal clear harmonies in orchestral spaciousness.
It’s at this point where I exhale, and then hit play again on “Use Me” and inflict it upon myself again. Having mirrored this EP’s theme in my own personal life, I’ve been drawn back to You Wish This Was About You again and again since the initial listen last week. I understand without question how mesmerising some connections are, even though they promise nothing but pain and leave the question of mental/emotional survival hanging in the air. Whether lovers or friends, none of these figures are truly the source of what we need, even if they seem glittering with potential as a quick fix in human form. The impact is staggering highs of hope, and crushing lows of limited reality.
You Wish This Was About You is a pull back to the self and an empowering position of confronting and breaking free of the claws that have sunken into flesh; full of promise and delivering nothing. This EP is about the ‘me’ in the situation; about self-satisfaction, and about happiness that will never be found in the shining lights.
I fell deeply for this EP, especially “Cherry”, which copped an unspeakable amount of repeats during the last week. After Touch are onto something really good here with their shedding of old skin and confident embrace of the new. You Wish This Was About You is emotionally real, creatively experimental, beautifully expressed, and infectious. I can’t wait for the world to hear this, and hope the Shellharbour collective goes viral with what they’ve made.
I'm not a fan of voice sample melodies and they weren't needed here. Would have loved to get more understanding of what's being lyrically shared (from listening alone).
Five stunning tracks that are individual enough to spark memorability and stuck-in-your-head-ness. Emotionally moving due to instrumentation as well as voice. Very powerful moments crafted by impressive building of tension before an outpouring of emotion. All hail "Cherry".