Are You Haunted?
Are You Haunted?, the fourth album by Perth art pop outfit Methyl Ethel, inspects a variety of ways the unchangeable past and unpredictable future loom over us—rule us, even. From regrets to the worsening climate crisis and memories of departed loved ones, Are You Haunted? is a full-blown reckoning with anxiety, fear, and grief.
To make the album, Methyl Ethel hunkered down in the same studio where the band’s singer/guitarist, Jake Webb, wrote and recorded the band’s earliest songs. The studio belonged to a close friend of his who passed away recently. “I spent many years of experimentation with him, learning so much looking over his shoulder. It feels special to continue to share the space with his ghost, I’m still learning from him,” Webb recalls in a statement about the album.
Everything Webb has learned culminates on Are You Haunted?, making for Methyl Ethel’s most experimental, yet poppiest, album to date. Webb’s intricately layered vocals soar over waves of synthesizer and tempestuous blasts of sampled electronics. Vestiges of funky art rock groups like Talking Heads flash throughout tracks including “Neon Cheap,” recalling the grimy glitz of 1970s New York.
But the album’s poppiest moments, which counterbalance the album’s thematic darkness and despair, are its weakest. Unapologetically upbeat, catchy, and simple compared to the rest of Are You Haunted?, “Matters” feels out of place. Are You Haunted? is most interesting when the music matches the emotion. Take for example the windswept, piano-driven “Ghosting” or “Proof,” which instills a sensation of falling backwards forever. The latter includes the band’s first guest vocalist: compatriot and former Methyl Ethel guitarist Stella Donnelly, a shining pop artist herself. Together, Donnelly and Webb mull over what truth looks like in an era where science and fact are openly burned at the stake.
Despite the songs feeling out of place sometimes, even their subjects fit the album’s themes. “Matters” was inspired by time Webb spent in Los Angeles, a city prone to earthquakes. Located 56 kilometres southwest of the San Andreas Fault, a major rupture in the Earth’s crust, Los Angeles is haunted by the prospect of a catastrophic seismic event that could strike at any time and kill thousands of people. Fuelled by urgent synths, listening to “Matters,” one can visualize Webb racing away from the crumbling landscape reflected in his rear view mirror.
The themes Methyl Ethel explore on Are You Haunted?—mortality, time’s irretrievable nature—are broad and difficult, and the band create ambitious songs to match. “One and Beat” and “Castigate Ridendo Mores” both hover around six minutes in length, with mixed results. The second half of “One and Beat” feels unnecessary and borders on overwrought. “Castigat Ridendo Mores,” on the other hand, seems to float along untethered until, in the blink of an eye, it finds itself tossed and turned in the eye of a storm.
Webb’s answer to the central question, “Are you haunted?” is a clear and emphatic “yes.” But in expressing himself through song, he finds more catharsis than answers about how to cope with the ghosts that keeps him up at night. Perhaps listeners will find useful tips for their own struggle. At the very least, they’ll find similar relief.
Pre-order Are You Haunted by Methyl Ethel HERE
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