Song Review: ‘Deadlands’ By Shining Bird

Shining Bird’s new single, ‘Deadlands’, is the kind of track you should want to turn off. As a band, Shining Bird have often sat in a lane of pretension; a lane defined by atmospheric synths, dry saxophone punches, and bored invocations of Australiana. Over the twelve minutes of ‘Deadlands’, they floor it into this lane, chasing the horizon without a qualm. Cymbals are hit, guitars are fuzzed, and Rhodes-like piano keys are riffed on – and no vocals come in. It’s the kind of sonic meander that would normally result in unidentifiable paste; a forgettable mash of alt-prog-jazz. Yet, surprisingly, it all falls into place, and the track becomes an emotive excursion one that allows the band to convey themes of bushfire-inspired horror. And as the track plays, each potential lift of the finger towards the skip button is answered with new musical fragments of change, and the piece pushes forward, expanding into sprawl.

The tune opens with Michael Slater’s saxophone playing; a soft whine that quickly hardens into growls, up against a thin wall of synths. Overblowing the horn, Slater makes strange leaps from the sweet opening to ’80s rock, and then to Coltrane-inspired arpeggios, effectively summing up Shining Bird’s credo: the blending together of delicate indie sensibilities, slyly out-of-date pop, and earnest musical experimentation. When the drum and bass finally come in, the song is brought to a cruising speed, carried by a soulful groove. This laid-back funk of bass, drums, and electric piano is seemingly at odds with the theme of the song as an ode to the extensive damage of the 2019-’20 Summer bushfire season. But, maybe if one were to extend the metaphor, this could be a symbol for the ecstatic joys of Scott Morrison’s Hawaii holiday, taking place while fires raged throughout last December.

Just as the scale of the bushfires were eventually large enough to reel Morrison back into his country for rural games of handshake roulette, the calm of this track is similarly replaced by panic, the pained guitar of Alastair Webster coming in to feed back and shudder with distortion. As he solos for several minutes, the band conjure up a wall of intensity that floods the song, albeit never at the expense of the groove they lay into. Frenetic jazz drumming eventually winds the tune back down to the ground, pulling the band into a short coda of confused sound; a seeming echo of destruction, lingering in its aftermath. With all this, ‘Deadlands’ might seem quite self-indulgent for an album single, at least upon first listen. But this matches the scale of destruction and loss caused by the bushfires, from a time that’s already been relegated to the back of many Australians’ memories.