The Lucksmiths - Staring At The Sky

matcd004  /  November 1999
The Lucksmiths - Staring At The Sky
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The Lucksmiths - Staring At The Sky

matcd004  /  November 1999

Staring At The Sky began in Paris during the band's 1999 European tour. The boys borrowed some instruments and recording gear, and for three grueling days locked themselves into a sixth-floor apartment on the Boulevard Voltaire, living on nothing but baguettes, coffee and red wine. Back home in Australia, and persevering with their new-found worldliness, they invited a few of their friends around to a backyard shed to polish the thing off-some horns here, some strings there, a little piano, an even smaller melodica they found in an op-shop in Finland. The end result is très magnifique!: six understated classic pop tunes spanning everything from love and self pity to aviation history.

  1. Smokers In Love
  2. I Can't Believe It's Not Better
  3. Ie, Eg, Etc.
  4. The Golden Age Of Aviation
  5. Before The Sun Came Up
  6. The Opposite Of Coffee


For a bunch of Australian lads barely scraping their mid-20s, the Lucksmiths have settled into a formula and executed a series of records as accomplished on the songwriting end as they are warm and goo-goo eyed in production. With the kind of yawning and scratching usually reserved for old lovers in the morning, the six-song EP Staring at the Sky doesn't need to stake out its territory so much as imply it with a few simple gestures. The brushed drums, the posh, thick Crocodile Dundee accents and the rhyming of the words afford and bored. In the '80s, we used to call this band the Housemartins, and they were from England. And the arc of the Lucksmiths' growth is remarkably similar: after last year's wildly popular (at least among the sweater-vest set, anyway) compilation of seven-inches, Happy Secret, Staring finds the band expanding more on their brushes-bass-guitar format with horns and piano, and the songs are all the better for it. It's hardly surprising that prior to this recording, the band shared a handful of European dates with Belle and Sebastian. At this point, the Lucksmiths are roughly in the same place the Housemartins were when they recorded "Five Get Over-Excited," they know the plan, but they also realize that it's time to start tweaking it a bit. It's a good place to be. Simple, but oddly baroque and charming, the Lucksmiths don't make music so much as they make conversation-and they're brilliant, precocious raconteurs. These songs are alternately folksy and urbane, knowing and naive, forever trapped in that first six months after college. If Staring at the Sky is anything to go by, they'll make that transition fine, but not without the requisite bumps.   --Spin Magazine
The Lucksmiths released the six-song Staring at the Sky during a fall 1999 American tour. The Australian trio had already received critical acclaim in the international indie pop community, and this collection received positive accolades as well. It starts off with the satirical "Smokers in Love." The song is full of "la la"s and the lyrical narration of a couple hell-bent on overindulging in alcohol and cigarettes. Marty Donald and Mark Monnone share the songwriting duties this time around, with Donald writing four of the six songs and Monnone composing the others. "IE, EG, ETC" features fellow Australian Darren Hanlon on harmonica and showcases the band's love affair with words, as the song is an ode to the abbreviations for "that is," "for example," and "et cetera." "The Golden Age of Aviation" is the closest thing to a title track with the lyric "Staring out the window at the sky." The song is classic Lucksmiths, with Tali White's sweet vocal presence and precise brush stick-drumming. The song includes Richard Ogier-Herbert on piano. The disc closes with the ballad "The Opposite of Coffee," with Monnone's stretched out bass line and a subtle xylophone arrangement. Other guest musicians include Peter Cohen on arco bass, Warwick Lobb on trumpet, and Cameron Lobb on trombone.   --All Music Guide
At the moment I can't say enough great things about Australia's amazing Lucksmiths. Each of their last few records have been nothing short of brilliant: bouncy melodies, clever/funny lyrics all the while being low-key and genuinely intelligent (I'm so sick of hearing bands that are supposed to be funny/wacky and to me, just come off as stupid). Marty, Mark and vocalist/drummer Tali should be really proud of themselves as this is one of this year's best Eps. "Smokers In Love," "The Golden Age of Aviation" and "Before the Sun Came Up" are all instant classics. Don't miss this!   --Dagger
It was mid August, 1999 and my parents pulled into the small college town of Pullman, Washington. They left me standing at the side of the road as I waved goodbye. Thousands of miles away in Paris, The Lucksmiths were recording an EP. Years later, the music they defined by themselves would become the pleasant music of my dreams. The EP was Staring At The Sky, a well crafted pop album that comes to us from a group of Australians whose mastery of the song brings pleasant twists and turns, accented harmonies, and a variety of instruments true to genre of twee. The Lucksmiths are masters at crafting songs, each one presenting a new aspect of common life like a nostalgic existential poem. “Smokers In Love” opens the album on a high point. Harmonies add depth and a melodica adds mystery. This upbeat peppy song is an obvious hit that will have feet tapping to the beats and voices humming to the la las from the first note. “I Can't Believe It's Not Better” slows things down and features the piano with an occasional trumpet and trombone duet in the background. The final track on the A side of this 10-inch, “ie, eg, etc,” replaces the horns and melodica for the harmonica. A nice aspect of 10- and 12-inch records is that the B-Side allows an artist to make a second first impression and The Lucksmiths use this to full advantage. The song kicks off with a sample from what sounds like an old movie. Piano heavy with a light guitar shuffle, “The Golden Age of Aviation” makes awkward rhymes pure art in the catchy chorus: And the novelty wore offWhen the pilots still wore gogglesBut your eyes look skywardsAnd your mind still boggles... Horns take the bridge and carry through the closing chorus of “goggles/boggles” to finish out the song. “Before the Sun Came Up” continues the acoustic theme. It's a shame the vocals are barely audible as The Lucksmiths are excellent storytellers. “The Opposite of Coffee” could easily be what influenced Pehr Records English darlings Arco. The bass leads the melody while an acoustic keeps the rhythm. Soft, melodic and ballad to the core, the song is a perfect closer for a perfect pop EP.   --Fensepost
If that noise is too much, and New Zealand is a thousand miles too close to the International Date Line for you (and if Y2K was a colossal disappointment from the social-disorder point of view, at least a lot of people learned something about the path midnight traces across the planet), the Australian trio the Lucksmiths closed out the old millennium with their second short record of 1999, this one a six-track EP of new songs recorded in August and September. For many other bands, sixteen songs over fifty minutes would be one album, and the two discs are close enough in style and spirit that I think I'm going to pretend that Happy Secret was side A, and this is side B, and the fact that they were shipped in separate packages is some logistical snafu of no artistic relevance. "Untidy Towns" was the showpiece of side A, for me, and I think side B's treasure is its first track, too, the shuffling "Smokers in Love". I never trust my readings of songs involving smoking, since I know, although it constantly baffles me, that not everybody shares my opinion that smoking is a pathetic commercialization of low self-esteem and a noxious combination of suicide and procrastination, but this one really does appear to be condemning the relationship for exactly the kind of deliberate, short-sighted denial smoking epitomizes. Tali White's hushed, accented delivery sounds more like a refined Billy Bragg than ever, the meter of the lines stretched to accommodate plangent insights in just the way so many of Bragg's songs do. "I Can't Believe It's Not Better" adds piano, a purring acoustic bass and doleful horns, but probably even Shania Twain would remind me of Billy Bragg if she sang the phrase "unemployment figures" in a British-Empire accent. "ie, eg, etc." is jazzier, parts reminding me of the Beautiful South and Simon & Garfunkel. The distinctly "You Woke Up My Neighborhood"-like "The Golden Age of Aviation" opens with a section from some earlier-age English aviatrix's bubbly Australian arrival speech, and alludes to Amelia Earhart (one of my two favorite romantic heroines, along with Marie Curie), but turns out to be a surprisingly complex extended metaphor for the way we avoid living our lives by hiding in the outdated dreams of what we once thought they were going to become. The droning, bass-heavy "Before the Sun Came Up" reminds me of the Feelies, but "The Opposite of Coffee" seems to be peering through a window, wistfully, at the Brit-pop bands playing outside, not quite able to dredge up the courage to go out and be a brash anthem itself. Putting "The Opposite of Coffee" at the opposite end of the side from "Smokers in Love" suggests a conclusion of the addiction metaphor, but in fact, despite a concerted effort to interpret this installment as another relationship song, I'm unable to see any way in which it's not a mean-spirited lullaby about the morale-sapping experience of living with a mentally handicapped person. Surely I'm wrong, and a song this pretty can't be that offensive, but I've got no other theories. If it's about a doll, why is she talking? If it's about a pet, why is it wearing a skirt? If it was supposed to be a criticism of the narrator's indifference, shouldn't the tag-line have been something less glib than "She's the last thing I need first thing in the morning"? Then again, maybe I've fallen into the trap of assuming that a musical style implies certain politics, and the Lucksmiths have well-thought-out reasons for feeling that people like this should be in professional care. I don't know, and while it's not quite right to say that I like this particular confusion, it is the first pop song in a long time to offend me in a novel way, so I'm not likely to forget it.   --The War Against Silence
Great six song EP full of Blueboy-esque balladry as well as some upbeat numbers. Understated classic pop tunes overflowing with beauty.   --Parasol
You might have to listen to these 22 minutes a few times to realize that these Lucksmiths songs are something out of the ordinary. The witty wordplay that typifies a Lucksmiths song is still intact (though not as omnipresent as on other releases). Tali White's brushed drums and plainspoken voice are on the disc as well. And, of course, every song is constructed in such a way as to seem oddly familiar and refreshingly new at the same time. However, there's a trait within these 6 songs that isn't apparent on other releases - sadness. "Hurry up, hurry up," Tali weakly implores in "I Can't Believe It's Not Better". The torpor that stains these words typifies the mood of this EP. Guitarist Marty Donald (the main songwriter for the Lucksmiths) offers up 4 world-weary portraits, portraying couples wracked with apathy ("Take your time / Or some of mine" - "I Can't Believe It's Not Better"), or slowly going their separate ways ("A passing interest in the past / But I think it's going to last a little longer" - "The Golden Age of Aviation"). Where the wordplay would work as a comic device in previous releases, it serves as a sobering reminder of the song's situations ("She sits cross-legged on the floor / In an A-line skirt / But she'd make a beeline for the door / If it was up to her" - "The Opposite of Coffee"). Bassist Mark Monnone offers the other 2 songs on this EP. One ("ie, eg, etc.") is a simple tale of lonely people getting together to hear each other's stories. The other ("Before the Sun Came Up") is sung by who I believe to be Mark in a near-whisper that's almost inaudible beneath the instrumentation. Though the words are hard to hear, the liner notes show that this song states plainly what the other 5 songs simply allude to - "And it was something akin to being in love / I guess it's love". While this record might be a downer compared to the Lucksmiths' prior output, it's also their strongest. Where the flippancy of previous recordings might make a lyric out to be more clever than intelligent, the more restrained settings of these songs proves that the Lucksmiths can weigh a heart and head impartially in telling their stories. As far as the instrumentation, it's both ornate and restrained, featuring trombones and trumpets and harmonicas. Such flourishes give "I Can't Believe it's Not Better" the air of a New Orleans funeral march, and add a wistful, feel-good swing to "The Golden Age of Aviation". This type of reminiscence is felt throughout the song - "You can't help it / Hopelessly nostalgic." At the rate the Lucksmiths' music is maturing, though, such nostalgia can only be a hindrance. The sky might be the only limits these three will have to worry about for a long, long time.   --Popshots
This is a drive with the windows rolled down. Summer passing by. There are more slower songs on this EP then previous offerings. Beauty abounds. Do not miss this. It will make your ears and everything happy.   --Isollae
Segundo disco de los australianos THE LUCKSMITHS en este año 99 tras el recopilatorio "Happy Secret", disco que también fue comentado hace unas semanas en esta web. "Staring At The Sky" apenas es un mini-CD, 6 canciones que sobrepasan con dificultad los veinte minutos, pero proviniendo de este trío, menos es más. No hype, puro talento para una banda que dignifica el poder del pop más sensible, que bien pudieran haber grabado para la escudería Sarah si no hubieran compartido tiempos distintos. Fácilmente emparentables con Belle & Sebastian, estas seis frágiles canciones fueron grabadas entre París, aprovechando su gira europea, y Melbourne, donde agradecieron la participación de sus mejores amigos con trompetas, trombones, armónicas o piano. Los resultados, prodigiosos: desde ese monumento al murmullo que es "Before the sun came up" hasta el hit instantáneo que es "Smokers in love", todo invita a rendirse ante tan desbordante amor por unas armon¡as vocales preciosas, con unos coros que ya son patrimonio exclusivo de su sonido. S¢lo veinte minutos, pero veinte minutos que ya tienes prendidos en la solapa, a un palmo del coraz¢n.