Highly anticipated after a line of impressive singles, Endless Heights‘ sophomore album Vicious Pleasure releases 16th February, via Cooking Vinyl Australia. Comprising of Joel Martorana, Julian Diaz, Matt Jones, Christian Hrdina, and Jem Siow, it seems that Sydney based Endless Heights can do no wrong, most recently lending their musical Midas touch to “Come A Little Closer” and crowd-enthralling sets on stage, such as at Invasion Fest in December.
With stellar singles and a world-class strength to this band, it was both daunting and exciting to review the album; feeling keen to do its 11 tracks justice, as well as maintain objectivity. Vocalist Joel Martorana had shared that Vicious Pleasure was “an album for those bold enough to love, and brave enough to own their flaws” and I took those words as inspiration to (boldly) embrace Vicious Pleasure in my own way.
Expanding on the album title, Joel shared that within Vicious Pleasure he is reflecting on how he has remained holding onto “some kind of pleasure, convenience, or control” which had felt safe yet was damaging. The five piece lived and breathed this concept in the creation of the album (over 12 days at Jungle Studios with producer Lachlan Mitchell), by breaking out of their comfort zone and tracking live. In the process of bringing Vicious Pleasure to life, Endless Heights had Sam Bassal handle mixing and mastering, and had watercolour artist Tina Maria Elena lend her erotic art speciality to the intimate album cover.
Vicious Pleasure begins with “Taste It”. This 1:03 track has the familiar “You Coward” chords looming as it takes on the feel of a cautionary tale. With ears flooded in typical immersive Endless Heights soundscape fashion already, the lyrical structure (repeats of ‘walk away, walk away’) and vocal melody is so intriguing to me. It would honestly not be out of place if sung by a lone voice out over high hills of Ireland in cold and fog (‘You left me here, you let me down’). It’s a beguiling start and flows straight into “You Coward”.
‘While you hold me by the throat,
Just know I grip you by your mind.’
“You Coward” is sheer massiveness and a melodic pointed finger. Gritty and frustrated, the track’s massive guitar presence floods the track, and the vocals morph into a yell to break through a barrier. It’s sonically fitting for this contained and oppressed ‘narrator’.
The shift from lonely melodic guitar through to a more forceful sound echoes quiet observation before revving up into refusal to take things lying down and continue on the same path. The track’s effects, altered voice clips, and distortion feel like we’re going crazy and feeling overwhelmed, with an ongoing vibe of ‘you need to hear this’.
I adore this gorgeous live version of “You Coward” at Woodriver Studios:
Third track “Toxic” takes off with satisfying and dark riffage at the introduction. While listening to this I got the sense of losing touch with anything solid; falling downward at the hand of something messy and chaotic. Layered and echoed sounds reflect the same sensation, with velvet vocals calling out for change. With so much going on, it’s hard to focus on any specific element here and surrendering to this is the only option; letting this gritty and otherworldly story unfold around you, with impressive drum-induced build-up creating a sense of pressure that fades out.
‘All your poison left me numb.’
From the outset of “Drain”, an ethereal introduction slips us into something otherworldly. Eerie and distorted riffs combine with openly voiced lyrics to reveal that we’ve fallen into memories. There’s a weight of feeling bound by life as it has happened to us, and not in a good way.
“Drain” seems to centre around a lover with a secret agenda. He sees her as darkly and powerfully capable of inflicting herself upon him, with mystic forces he doesn’t understand. The sound is drenched in confusion as well as regret; wanting more than this, and not having seen things for how they truly were.
‘Over and over
I’m struggling to breathe’
“Drain”’s beautiful and eerie nature are represented well in the music video, where an occult-immersed woman of questionable intent is observing and plotting, trying to find her way in.
Beautiful and sweet at times, “Come A Little Closer” feels like insecurity when relating to someone they’re infatuated with. There’s a lot going on here; at times feeling in danger, and at others openly vulnerable and wanting.
‘Dream a little louder.’
I’m grateful to Joel’s generosity in elaborating on the track and making sense of the conflict. He says it’s ‘a song about the power of love amongst a field of insecurities, disappointments and let downs’. He calls it a ‘dance between the pure feelings and yearning you can have for someone, amidst the minefield of fears you may have about that person and/or yourself. It’s that ‘stuck’ feeling you can have in a relationship where you feel ‘this is so beautiful’, but ‘this is not going to last’.’
The coolest thing to me is that Endless Heights and Joel aren’t creating these pieces as any kind of authority at all; they’re exploring the concepts themselves in the process of creating the songs, and still have questions of their own. Joel refers to himself as being ‘humbled’ by “Come A Little Closer” as it both ‘reminds me to enjoy the ‘moment’, [and] it makes me want to become wiser in the future with who I fall in love with, and how I treat people.’
“Come A Little Closer” is one of the most gorgeous and hooking pieces of music ever. I wish I could live inside this track, in its honesty, in its anxiousness, in its fear, in its desire, in its ache. And I’ll never not be in love with that melodic guitar. The artful music video created by Thomas Elliot is a precious cherry on top.
“Pray I Fade” follows on from “Come A Little Closer”, which is originally from Endless Heights’ two-track release along with “Drain”. “Pray I Fade” observes lovers at odds from above, watching unspoken manipulation and inner orchestrations during the song’s verses. The gorgeous expansive choruses feel like relief in amongst the tension. With these two conflicting parts, it feels like coming face-to-face with that which could crush or destroy you, and aiming toward greater and more inspiring experiences where growth can happen.
‘Now you’re staring at the man, cause the boy can’t understand.
No he never stood a chance.’
“Goldleaf” was stuck in my head from the first listen courtesy of its addictive chorus. The track starts huge, thumping, and alarming, with the feedback squeal adding to eeriness. The vibe of “Goldleaf” is suffering under the weight of something, and being pulled to something for survival. The feeling of ‘vicious pleasure’ is most apparent here and as the track progresses we’re drawn down in a darker and more alarmist place with dissonant sounds and more monotonous/unemotional vocals. There’s a very cool sense of overwhelm and being taken over on this track.
There’s a beautiful focus on the vocals in the following track “Shiver Down”, with echoes and isolation and a surrendered sense of “I ended up here”. This is courageous vulnerability, and is one seeking to be unraveled and shown who they are underneath all of this messy humanness. With vocal isolation moments, searching instrumental sections, and willful vulnerability, “Shiver Down” is just breathtaking.
Endless Heights released “Paralyse” last week; presumably the last single in the lead-up to the album release. “Paralyse” is so soft, comfortable, and beautiful in its intimacy which is crafted lyrically and with the open spaces and gentleness. But along with this intimacy is also a sense of things breaking down and choosing to turning away from that and toward the familiar grounds of sexuality; the safe pleasure as preference to facing their relationship collapse.
‘Bitter sweet success, here in our mess.
Know just what to expect, hide from what’s next.’
The last two tracks have been such an incredible world away from the wall-of-sound of earlier tracks and I’m loving seeing Endless Heights be captivating at both ends of that spectrum.
In “Run” we return to the noise, with gorgeous ethereal vocals thrown into static spaciousness before dropping into an edgy and off-kilter world. The drum beats as focus feel like an invitation to come forward, as in ‘Now is your last chance’. “Run” has mesmerising rhythms and authoritative riffs added into the mix. I adore where this track takes us, courtesy of a single phrase repeated:
‘There’s something wrong with me’
Skin-crawlingly exciting as the noisiness builds, with guitar squeals and drum-beat threats building into forceful confrontation. This is dark and delicious and feels like facing the shadows and screaming at them. Alarming at its end, “Run” then dissolves into thin air.
The final track is “Heart Of Your Lie”; high paced and pushing, with layered vocals chiming in from other rooms of the house. It’s easy to get lost in this, and I found it gorgeously and unexpectedly dissonant. The track’s vibe is ‘you can’t get away with manipulation of me anymore’ and it’s so very satisfying. As the track closes, chaotic droplets of melody take on the feeling of standing in the rain of whatever is pouring down, and no longer being held back.
I thoroughly loved Vicious Pleasure and feel warm and full from this experience. The guys of Endless Heights have collectively created something honest and vulnerable, along with a sense of creative experimentation. They truly have pushed their boundaries with this album. At times moving and at times overpowering, this goes beyond my expectations and is an undeniable reminder of why Endless Heights are positioned at the peak of the scene.
Powerfully expressed concepts via gorgeous and ethereal soundscapes to lose yourself in. Impeccable from soft and intimate moments through to unbreakable sonic walls. Just perfect.