To those familiar with Melbourne-based Yeo Choong’s past releases, the opening bars of his third album, Home, will come as a shock.
Acoustic guitar, harmonica and his voice are high in the mix, rather than the synthesisers and electric instruments that characterised his debut album, 2006′s Trouble Being Yourself.
There, Choong walked the tightrope between pop and funk; to pin him as an Asian-Australian Justin Timberlake/Pharell hybrid was close to the mark.
On Home – available for download at http://snackswithyeo.bandcamp.com/ – the songs are near-nude in comparison, which forces the listener to focus on Choong’s vocal and songwriting abilities.
It’s a bold move, yet Choong clearly has the confidence in his own abilities. These are songs of gentle beauty. A banjo can be heard on ‘Selma Blair’ and ’10 & A Whiskey’, while third track ‘Meeting at Sea’ is the gentlest and most beautiful cut.
There are two rockers, ‘August 28, 1973′ and ‘Caves’, which break up the mellow instrumentation with electric guitars and forceful percussion. The gut instinct is to view Choong’s stylistic change in terms of maturity. The 13 tracks show he has lost none of his writing abilities, but one hopes that Choong hasn’t disposed of the synthesisers just yet, either.
Given the considerable success of two-piece garage rock acts such the White Stripes and, more recently, the Black Keys, the formation of Melbourne duo the Peep Tempel in 2009 makes a lot of sense.
The addition of a bassist for their debut album certainly won’t hurt their chances, though, as what the three achieve here is incredible: they manage to make bare-bones rock and roll sound fresh and exciting.
The Peep Tempel is a dark, invigorating set of songs that demand to be played front to back, repeatedly. The style swings between breakneck rockers (‘Lance’, ‘Collusion’) and the slow, foreboding lurch of ‘Mission Floyd’ and ‘Do What You Want’. Each of the 10 songs imparts a sense of urgency in the listener.
It takes considerable skill to operate within such strict confines – the classic configuration of guitar, bass, drums and vocals – and still conjure up memorable musical and vocal hooks. There isn’t a single moment on The Peep Tempel (the name comes from a strip club in an Inspector Rex episode) that sounds played-out or predictable.
It’s hard to know how much of the narrative, which includes tales of unemployment and police brutality, is based on the band’s inner-city west Melbourne existence and how much is fiction. One thing is certain: this debut is very near to rock and roll perfection.