Distant, echoing vocals. Powerful, thudding tribal rhythms. Drones. If Coconuts sound like the kind of band you’d want to recommend to all your friends still going on about Merriweather Post Pavilion, you’re in for a real surprise on their self-titled debut album. The Australian-born, Brooklyn-based trio may have those elements in spades, but the distant, echoing vocals give a listener nightmares rather than dreams of four walls and adobe slats for your daughters. The ruthless bass drum beatings are best suited for fireside sacrifices. The drones screech and echo back across each song with distorted abandon. Local Natives or Vampire Weekend, this ain’t.
Instead, Coconuts are best informed by the spirit of early post-punk and no wave as they trudge through this handful of songs on a journey to the junkyard wasteland lorded over by bands like Swans and the Birthday Party. Menacing slow-motion psychedelic squalls will scare lesser listeners into thinking this is an unrelenting release, expansive in its night terror imagery and claustrophobic in its immediacy all at once. The trio achieves this with a relatively limited set-up: barely discernible lyrics, Daniel Mitha’s simple skinbeating, nightmarishly loud guitar, and a steady bass holding it all together. “Silver Lights” begins the album with what might as well be a Gregorian chant from the Dark Ages before switching to a fairly simple garage-rock bass line and, not long after, the ear-piercing shatter of guitar. And you’re just over one minute into the album.
Coconuts may know exactly what they’re doing (and repeat reports of inebriated high-volume noise antics supporting acts like Endless Boogie and Total Abuse corroborates this), but they aren’t a one-trick pony. The surprise comes deep into the 35-minute run-time with “When She Smiles,” which is, surprisingly, like the other four songs in that the feel of the song approximates its title. This is the most straightforward song on the album, not quite a pop piece, but more akin to a bastardized 1960s garage-pop tune. Thing is, as positive as “When She Smiles” might sound in theory and in comparison to the rest of the album, the vibes are distinctly lacking. “And when she says she wants me to stay / but the boys get in the way / There’s nothing left for me to say,” goes the end of the first verse. Cue the harrowing guitar. In words as in music, Coconuts convey none of the sunny optimism their name suggests.