I have this moment of panic every January, after finishing my year-end reflections and starting with a clean slate, where I can’t help but wonder if this is the year where everyone finally runs out of ideas and there is no more good music that can be made. Then there’s always that icebreaker album that reminds me that music is great because it’s this infinite thing, always building on itself, and there are always new artists, collaborators, and ways to reimagine the form.
It’s fitting that my icebreaker album this year is by The Green Child (named for a 1935 novel I’m not smart enough to have read), a long-term and long-distance collaboration between artists from two bands I like that I didn’t even know was happening until the album dropped. Mikey Young is a guitarist in the Australian post-punk band Total Control, while Raven Mahon was a member of the defunct Grass Widow several years ago. They worked across continents on the album over a period of several years and the result is a mostly synth-driven collection of psychedelic songs that perfectly meshes their two styles into something that feels really different, like music that exists out of time.
That was a trait I always felt like Grass Widow had: their music was uncanny and strange, but also tuneful, and they were probably too original for their own good in terms of picking up more than a cult base of listeners. While the members went in separate directions, the music they’re making still has that feeling in it. I’ve raved endlessly about Hannah Lew’s band, Cold Beat, and Green Child shares some of that project’s sensibility in its refusal to do the obvious and the way it effortlessly blends different styles from different eras into something cohesive.
This is most evident on this album’s major highlight, “Her Majesty II,” which I’ve been listening to on loop for days. It starts with a reverbed guitar riff that I wish would go on forever, which is joined by a recurring synth part and Mahon’s eerie and distant (yet still expressive) vocals. Every element of the song feels like it’s from a different decade; combine them all and the song sounds like it’s from the future.
I was so enamored with the sound of “Her Majesty II” that the lyrics snuck up on me. Mahon sounds serene, but her words are brutal. She takes aim at privileged people in power: “Captive under the weight of all you consume,” she sings. “In time you’ll rot with the few to replace you.” It’s unclear if these lyrics are inspired by anyone in particular — perhaps even a businessman-turned-world leader of some kind — but they make a clear point while also having a dark poetic beauty.
While it’s hard for the rest of the album to stack up to that track, it is all effective psychedelia that is easy to get lost in. “Traveler” opens the album with a hypnotizing vaguely middle-eastern synth part and Mahon’s spoken word vocal producing more abstract imagery of “going into a green oblivion.” “46 Timelines” has a soaring dream pop chorus as Mahon’s voice blends in with shimmering synths.
The spirit of collaboration underpins this entire project: this is two talented musicians experimenting with the different sounds they can make together, and the songs on The Green Child bring out the best in both of them. Every song has a different feeling to it, but the consistent retro-futuristic vibe makes this an addictive listen and an early contender for the most pleasant surprise of 2018.