With the dreamy and genuine introduction of the single “Alchemy”, Slowly Slowly had us enticed to hear what they were sharing in their sophomore album St. Leonards. The Melbourne four piece (Ben Stewart, Alex Quayle, Patrick Murphy, and Albert Doan) recently signed with UNFD; a label that frontman Ben felt “understood exactly how we wanted the world to see St. Leonards.”
Beginning as a connection in a factory in outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the twosome of Ben and Alex grew to four, and gradually gained attention with their 2016 released Chamomile, supporting the likes of Citizen, Sorority Noise, and Something For Kate, and then selling out their own shows.
St. Leonards continues Slowly Slowly’s seeming tradition of relatable honesty shared and encased in well-grounded melodic rock. The album itself reflects the band’s ethos of humility and grounded roots, as they’ve taken a DIY approach to bringing St. Leonards to life. Joel Taylor at The Black Lodge Studio gave early drum recording assistance, but all production, recording, and mixing was by Alex and Ben. The tracks also take us richly into the real life experiences of Ben, looking back at childhood as well as recent times.
“Dinosaurs” begins the album and lends a beautiful guitar melody to stream-of-consciousness observations of modern life. The dire destinations of unfulfilled hearts who are following the rules of life and dying while alive. Layered and cascading voices add an emotive element, and heavier riffs seem like growing confusion and frustration about why we’re doing what we’re doing to ourselves. The looping music box-esque melody on this growing track echoes a call for simpler times, far from materialism and the outdated ideas of ‘dinosaurs’ that harm us, and back towards child-like innocence, dreams and creativity.
“Something isn’t right”
After an introduction of feedback wails and heavy riffs with satisfying grittiness to them, second track “Extinction” feels like one big chorus. The track seems to be a call for something bigger, greater, more exciting in life. To feel something. As the big drums, weighty riffs, and anthemic vocals ease back, pensive simplicity remains, and the familiar melody of “Dinosaur” is revealed underneath. Was it there the whole time? Is what we’re seeking there the whole time underneath the metaphorical noise of life? Regardless, I fall easily for “Extinction” in its sense of propulsion and growth as well as the kickass rock it comes with.
“Fall in love with me, hate my guts”
Lighter and dreamier in contrast, yet still strong of sound, the tender third track “The Cold War” explores conflict and the inner fallout. Gorgeous with a cinematic quality to its instrumental sections, “The Cold War” fumbles with understanding the rawer elements of life. Here in the songs of St. Leonards, we have a very intimate front seat to honesty and aches. Wavering vocals reflect a wobbly gaining in strength against forces that tried to steal his identity. Older and wiser, he sees the manipulation and sees the gaslighting. A speechlessly gorgeous build up of these pressures grows into something that feels like relief to be free of a tense situation, and free to live his own life.
“Make me feel like I pushed the knife”
“Aliens” comments on our conveyor belt lives, sharing a metaphor-rich stream of thought of the ‘normal’ things we do in our cages of human existence; artificially fueled by caffeine and soothed by alcohol. It’s a frustrated look at the cycles we live in. Cycles that we adopted from generations before ours without questioning them. We never try to break free, just continue to suffer in our ‘silent asylum’ where we ‘rent till we die’. “Aliens”‘ music video offers the wide open outdoors as refreshing remedy to societal pressures and enclosures.
I’m finding myself consistently impressed with the quality of sound in these DIY produced songs. The passionate emotional expression in Slowly Slowly’s music is 100% backed by the quality and fullness of their sound.
“Ten Leaf Clover” takes an unnerving stance at first with interwoven guitar wails and beats and a distant voice trying to be heard in the noise. As I shared with Ben in our interview, this track is one that I found difficult to understand by way of meaning. Buried in metaphor, the track seems like a homecoming to something good after a long time of wishing it would come. Finding a “ten leaf clover” echoes the unexpected goodness, and is a satisfying outcome to this song which feels like a story of uncertainty and trying to get by.
“Ice cream drips will make Nirvana for the ants”
Sometimes it’s hard to know when the metaphors start and end, and they become a fantastical layer of information and romanticisation of reality. In “St. Leonards”, childlike observations of the buzz of life at a beach lead to questions of the fabric of existence. The unpolished yet clean quality to the recording has you feel like you’re right there with Ben and his guitar, as a steady thread of interconnected thought and frustration tumbles forth. It feels like remembrance and frustration all in one, and I’m feeling like these songs are great examples of how meaning can still be powerfully communicated even if the literal meaning itself isn’t clear.
I can’t get enough of “Alchemy” for so many reasons. As the most recent single (as I write this, anyway) Slowly Slowly take heart thumping drums, solid riffs, and anthemic choruses and wrap it around romantic hopes for the future. A beautiful partnership is being alchemised by the daily addition of little moments, connection, and whole lot of hope. The bright-eyed expressions about the future are grounded in reality with a humble and simple music video and honest vocals, as well as a lingering sense of ‘Things might go awry, but we’ll do our best’. As far as love songs go, “Alchemy” is a healthy and realistic take on possibility while still feeling sparky and buoyant in its romanticism. I will never get sick of this song.
“I won’t run, and you won’t hide
If I split myself in two, I’ll just come running back to you”
“Sorry” hits heavily from the beginning with weighed down riffs, a slower pace, and a 3/4 timed vibe of questioning. The juxtaposition of metaphors with lyrics like “I’m on Taylor’s Road” and a stream of puzzle-pieced items of life works bizarrely well to craft a scene. While not entirely sure what this song is specifically about, it feels distinctly like a heavy sideswiping by life: Something hard hit and things were never the same again. “Sorry” is yet another impressive track and stand out features for me are the appearance of backing vocals (“Leave me alone” / “This is your fault”), doom laden beats, and how the line “You won’t leave me alone” is sung as the song comes to a close.
“Smile Lines” will have you sit holding your breath as its story is vividly told. Darkness and light have a place here, where fear-fueled refusal of the truth shows up with gentle guitar and a wavering voice that grows into frustration and heaviness. The track is asking for a chance while they’re in struggle, a la “Things are really bad and I think you’re going to leave. Please don’t.” Distorted vocals almost hidden in the noise have openness that is hard to see. I’m loving the vibe of wildness and chaos as the track heads towards its end, feeling like last ditch frustration and seeking help from a person in their life they feel is fading away. The huge song is yet another stand-out on St. Leonards.
“I see your smile lines when you’re deadpan
I fall at your feet
I’ve got this feeling that you’re mourning
You’re sick of me”
“The Butcher’s Window” is deceptively gentle in its beginning, as the acoustic track shares imagery reminiscent childhood. As the track progresses, we’re struck with verbal slices of threats of punishment, seeming like a collection of humanity’s ‘finest’ moments directed at a kid. The same judgements seem to persist into adulthood, and my impression of this relatively short piece of music is that it is capturing the ongoing impact of judgements given to impressionable people in raw moments.
Drumming is a stand-out on “Sunburnt Shoulders”. Melodic guitars show themselves here, where strength in breaking free and changing things up seems to be the flavour. The track’s verses feel like being stuck in a bog up to the ankles and a subsequent frustration in not being able to easily get where you want. Noisy riffs are a staple in the track, but take a breather in a moment of lightness and delicateness.
“I’ve got so much to learn”
There’s an impressively huge building up courtesy of drums, driving riffs, and climbing vocals. The whole thing then spills out into noisiness; a raw admission of wanting something great in life, despite being imperfect. After the hectic ‘drop’, leaning into a more sedate and surrendering ending is a beautiful close to “Sunburnt Shoulders”.
Losing a child is never something that’s going to be easy to take. Slowly Slowly have offered their creative energies toward that difficult topic in “Song For Shae”. The track speaks toward Ben’s partner’s sister who tragically died at the age of 4. Every year the family celebrate Shae’s birthday and get together, and it was after one of those get-togethers that Ben was inspired to create this track.
It’s both beautiful and tough going to absorb “Song For Shae”. Shae is brought to life in the track, as is the mind-tangling attempts to make any kind of sense of the loss. The emotionally moving track is gently shared, and as someone who has a loved one who lost their child, I feel that it is perfectly done; honouring of Shae, and amplifying of the ongoing love that exists for her.
“Well life is circles, seeds the trees that drop the fruit,
we are just at different times inside the loop”
The final track on St. Leonards, “Christmas Lights” was another one that felt buried in metaphor. Just guitar and Ben, I feel like I’m listening to a conversation where I’m missing pieces yet also recognising the ache of absence somehow. Synth joins in and the track expands into strength and I’m following the thread of this song as drums turn into grief. The Christmas lights that stay up well past December seem to be a metaphor for holding on to the beautiful things and refusing to let them go. Slowly Slowly somehow rip this lyrical complexity into something heart-wrenching as the track hits a peak and moves into an expansive sound with light melodies as well as soaring guitar. Despite not being entirely clear on specific meanings, there’s something of a satisfying resolution here, and it’s a fitting end to the album.
I’m supposed to somehow summarise this album now, for the TL;DR people who scroll through (and most likely shake the presents under the tree well before 25th December). Frankly, this album is hard to find flaw with as we’re allowed into diary-scrawled moments in Ben Stewart’s life. Powerfully and dynamically shared, St. Leonards touches on both the joyful and creative innocence of childhood, as well as darker places of uncertainty and sanity in adulthood. The vulnerable sharing comes at times in the form of mundane objects and places, where those humble things symbolise far far more to a keen ear/eye/heart. Under the hood of St. Leonards are frustrations, hurts, confused observations, and undying quests to feel that fantastical child-like spark of joy again, where oil-slicked puddles are rainbows at our feet. In St. Leonards, Slowly Slowly have taken a humble wooden spoon from the drawer and in this sonic mixing bowl have folded reality in with hard-hitting emotion, metaphor masks, and world-class sound, and baked something beautifully real that you’ll want to come back to for seconds.
Stand-out songs: Extinction, Alchemy, Smile Lines, Song For Shae.
While an awesome collection of songs, I feel that Slowly Slowly have the skill and creativity to pull off a more cohesive and focused collection of music in the future where the tracks more clearly tie in to a central theme.
Beautiful, powerful, real, rich of sound and lyrics. Slowly Slowly have congruently brought life's highs and lows to life in St. Leonards. A band to watch as they take off. Stand-out songs: Extinction, Alchemy, Smile Lines, Song For Shae.