At just over 26 minutes, Melbourne duo Super Wild Horses’ debut full-length, Fifteen, risks inconsequentiality. That’s not to say a strong, memorable album need run a certain length -- it needn’t -- but an overly brief record can feel ephemeral and unremarkable if not done correctly. Then again: is ephemerality necessarily a bad thing? Well, no, especially not when dealing with spare, crunchy, drum-and-guitar-and-little-else garage pop. In fact, the duo’s charm lies in the fact that they embrace ephemerality, that they ascribe to a sort of juvenile hurriedness, that, on many of these tracks, it’s as if they were thinking, “Quick, let’s finish this song so we can play the next one!”
But it works, up to a point. Amy Franz and Hayley McKee play music so utterly devoid of pretension, so disarmingly energetic, so rudimentary, that it can be difficult not to derive some enjoyment from the experience. I mean, what’s not to like? These songs are distillations: Franz and McKee have singled out those aspects of ramshackle pop/rock that are most readily enjoyable, and made an album out of them. One basic beat -- a pounding, 4/4 tom/snare/kick assault, in a few different variations -- presides over the entirety of Fifteen. The guitar tone stays pretty constant throughout, too: it’s overblown, and it’s crunchy, and it sounds a little dangerous, but sweetly so.
Does this routine get boring? Yes, sort of. A formula oft repeated, no matter how tried and true the formula, is bound to start sounding tired, especially if said formula is numbingly simple. And thus is the downfall of Fifteen.
That said, Franz and McKee sing wonderfully, easily, and they harmonize to charming effect. Their dynamic feels natural. Their melodies are simple and catchy and, at their best moments, surprisingly beautiful, contrasting effectively with the stark instrumental backing. Despite a readily apparent knack for brashness, Super Wild Horses are most successful when they are plaintive, thoughtful, and vocal-centric, like on “Fifteen” and “Degrassi” (which bookend the 26-minute run, respectively). It’s at these moments that they sound like a group you would go out of your way to see live, and not just two people playing garage rock. It’s these moments that transcend ephemerality, and it’s these moments, if any, that will stick with you. Unfortunately, much of Fifteen, especially the middle-stretch, eschews prettiness for something messier and louder and ultimately unmemorable.