With the impressive “A Place, A Space, A Symphony” as their debut single, Tired Eyes set the bar high. With no sense of newbie awkwardness to be found anywhere near the Brisbane alternative rockers, their debut EP comes highly anticipated. Featuring Joey Keating (guitar, vocals), Jesse Kampkes (bass, vocals), Judah Kampkes (keys), and Samuel Peacock (drums), the band are set to release In Denial, Force A Smile on 29th June. I needed no persuasion to scope out the six tracks, one by one.
“Unforgiveness” is the first of the EP and gives a fitting feeling of opening courtesy of ethereal tones. Encouraged onward by gentle guitar and nudged by sweet chimes, we’d be forgiven to think that something light was ahead. But heavy-heartedness is felt here, as is the sense of looking for answers. Strengthening progressively, “Unforgiveness” peaks at its middle where building drums lead us head-first to a screamed lyric: “Unforgiveness, a sign do you still hear me”. Instrumental otherwise, the searching vibe of the track is punched home by guitar squeal accents and bursts of life from the drums. The 1:55 impressiveness proves to be wave-like with smooth ends and a tensely tangled middle.
With the second track of the EP, “Outta Sight”, the tired eyes become literally and metaphorically covered. Visually reinforced by the music video (the creation of Nick Hargans Media), the fact that they are blinded is seemingly annoying to them, but also not necessarily understood or dealt with at the core. Every day activities are carried on while they’re metaphorically blinded to the bigger picture. Tandem vocals between Joey and Jesse create a really satisfying to-and-fro experience here, echoing a discussion bouncing between two, and lyrically painting the picture of a relationship in damage control. Tentative back-and-forward riffs and grooving bass brilliantly add to this situation of wanting to change but also relapsing into old habits.
Joey filled in any blanks of meaning when “Outta Sight” was released as a single, sharing that this track encapsulates the essence of the EP and the concept of In Denial, Force a Smile, instantly communicating a ‘keep the peace by not dealing with it’ approach to conflict resolution. He says “The song was originally written about a relationship that ultimately collapsed because of the denial of crucial issues that were swept under the rug and ignored. Though the facts were hard to ignore and even harder to talk about, love was the perfect denial. The song resolves in the weight of conviction leading to wisdom in action, even though wisdom feels too far gone.”
With that concept in mind, the sound of sweet vocal sharing coupled with gentle chimes seems incongruous at times, reinforced by lyrics like “For us to care would be a waste of time”. True fierceness floods out with hectic instrumentation and frustration spat forth. I’m unsure why the music video cuts off at the point it does, well before gorgeous instrumentation gives space of contemplation and piecing everything together. Warm and smoothing over the earlier fire, we’re taken to a last-gasp expression of earnest spoken word and a sense of resolution; unlearning the old and taking responsibility by facing the fire.
A warm and delicious slice of escapism, “A Place, A Space, A Symphony” follows on, seeming to add further weight to the ‘denial’ element of the EP in its position after “Outta Sight”. The possibility of just not having to deal with anything troubling at all is palpably alluring from the beginning of the steady track: “Eclipse my pain, erase my memory. In my dreams I could be whatever I want to be. Rid me of shame. End my guilt just the same.”
By eradicating any need for fight or push or confrontation, the dreamy and pining chorus is bliss in its expansive wistfulness. It’s easy to fall into the grooves and flow with it, letting yourself go wherever the song goes, and easily captivated by spoken word that floats between gentle thought and the intensity of frustration. In Joey’s words: “The song is a plead for relief and rest – in the midst of a revolving door of complacency.”
The weight of factual impossibility of avoiding reality lingers like a strict disciplinarian. Reality is never far away and the fantasy tinged plea (to “sleep through it all”) seems to be a nod toward it, knowing the refusal, resulting in something emotionally impactful in hearing and knowing both.
There’s something about this song that draws me back to it again and again. Relatable for a serial escapist who loves drifting away into beautiful things, it’s something of an anthem for dreamers going through a bad time and craving freedom from that. Not confident that I can do written justice at all to the breadth of beautiful instrumentation on this track, know that it powerfully moves between out-of-reality fantasy lightness and a gritty sense of frustration and fear with a guitar focus, with either pauses or collisions courtesy of the drums. Sombre keys hang in the air as the track comes to a close.
An introduction soaked in anticipation (or maybe even trepidation) is where “Tempt Me” begins. I find it emotionally moving to soak up, where heavy thuds combine with spiralling riffs, heart-hitting bass, and an overarching airy sense of watching-and-waiting created by keys. The tone of voice adds to this when vocals begin; breathy and sinking at times, and calling out for something more at others. The 2:23 piece of artistry feels like a sonic version of a question mark for a couple as to where they’re headed, remaining stuck in limbo in the meantime, which is bolstered by the “In denial, force a smile” lyric that echoes around us. Building and growing, “Tempt Me” flows right into “Dissonance” at its peak.
“Caught in the discord of disgrace”
Brilliantly, the lyric “Caught in the discord of disgrace” that exists within “Tempt Me” is where “Dissonance” begins. If I wrote that lyric, I’d probably want to use it more than once. The link between the two tracks works intriguingly, where “Dissonance” immediately feels stronger on all fronts, and more able to break out of that limbo and to make something happen instead of complacency.
My first listen of “Dissonance” inspired a kind of deer-in-the-headlights ‘wow’ reaction and literal tears, due to relief in feeling like there was finally something more than: relationship tension, trying to ignore reality, wanting to escape reality, or being stuck going nowhere. It’s due to this feeling being conveyed that I suspect “Dissonance” would be a track that listeners will be drawn back to again and again.
The strength of sound of “Dissonance” is captivating and takes us passionately to an experience of beautiful intimacy; intense in its lushness, as well as its vulnerability (“Like amber wrapped in ivory, your eyes wouldn’t lie to me“). I kept feeling like this intimacy came with too many repetitions of reassurance, a case of “thou doth protest too much” perhaps. But it could also be that those repetitions were needed to break through the shell of inner anguish that he’s lived within. Beautiful in its warm comfort at times, it is the continued amplification of a looping riff that confronts the listener like an unavoidable wake-up call (“I’ve been complacent for all these years”), and takes us crashing down into Realisation City. It’s a powerful end to the track.
“I feel I’ve forgotten your mercy
I feel I’ve forgotten your grace
Inside of my world of sorrows
Inside of my world of pain”
Sixth track “LOVECVTS” is a surprise cover of The Cure song “The Love Cats” (or “The Lovecats”, depending on who you talk to). Before it begins, we’re treated to an echoing and emotive audio clip from the movie Brief Encounter (1945), with keys reflecting the separation and realisation of a moment in the film: Having been in an affair with Alec, and him deciding to move away for the sake of their individual marriages and families, Laura is watching him go on a train and not quite believing that it will actually happen.. until he is gone:
“I said to myself: ‘He didn’t go. At the last minute his courage failed him; he couldn’t have gone. Any minute now, he’ll come back into the refreshment room pretending he’s forgotten something.’ I prayed for him to do that, just so that I could see him again, for an instant. (Pause) But the minutes went by…”
To have a cover of “The Lovecats” follow on from this soundbite makes it seem like a celebration of a vibrant relationship that was amazing while it lasted. While I’d heard the original version over the years, I never really gelled with it and it’s eclectic self. The Tired Eyes version being more clear and strong than the eccentric original, is far more to my liking, to the point of genuinely being one of the best cover songs I’ve heard.
Sexy bass and raw vocals make “LOVECVTS” very appealing to me, and the metaphorical full-on dive into the song (and into the song’s experience of connection) by Tired Eyes carries far more assertive determination than I ever felt in the original. I’m surprised how well this works, and for this reason can easily appreciate the cheesier elements (“Da da da da da” vocals and finger clicking/hand clapping). Especially when those same musical elements that I’ve appreciated all the way through are presented here too. It’s a bit like “What can’t Tired Eyes do, really?”
What I’ve come to understand now, after consuming the whole of In Denial, Force a Smile, is that Tired Eyes are painting for us: With every track was the unmistakable sense of scenes being painted via instrumentation. Creative accents such as drum stutters and well-placed guitar squeals added to these pictures, just as significantly as the wash of fog or lightness that the keys provided. Moving over this canvas with heavy dabs of intensity or light strokes were the vocals, that added definition to the scene, but weren’t solely defining of it. This impressive intermingling of artistry from each member of the band resulted in breathtaking masterpieces that ask for time to be taken with them.
With In Denial, Force a Smile, Tired Eyes have painted scenes of raw reality. Shifting moments of life and love: where we don’t necessarily know what’s going on, where we’d rather hide under a doona than face things, where we crave more, and where we just want to be happy and feel the love of another. The interconnectedness of the tracks as well as the instrumental interludes have the EP suit an end-to-end listening experience, though favourite tracks will garner repeat listens.
None really. I sought to understand more at times, instead of just being content with the scenes that were being painted.
A creative combination of comfort and confrontation. Warm and emotive at times, and hard to sit with at others. This feels like the soundtrack of navigating real life.