Dick Diver – New Start Again (Chapter Music)
By Ben Green
“That striped-sunlight sound” was a term coined (by whom? I forget) to describe the early Go-Betweens’ humid, suntouched but indoors, peeping through blinds aesthetic. What Dick Diver has is a sun-on-brick sound. Sun on the brick back wall of a house seen from a lounge hauled out to the backyard. Sun on the low, postwar-built brick fence around a beachside parking lot filled with blinding windscreens. Sun on any brick building with ramps and smooth metal handrails – Centrelink, the GP’s clinic, the club that houses the namesake of track five, ‘Keno’. You get the impression these are people who go outdoors during the daytime. I could swear the phrase “I took a walk to clear my head” gets used in at least a couple of Dick Diver songs, but maybe this guy just gives off the vibe that that’s something he does a lot. Think Silver Jews, Wowee-era Pavement, ‘West Palm Beach’ Palace, some Flying Nun.
So while the Velvet Underground comparison some critics have heard or picked up from the press release is in the sonic ballpark, Dick Diver aren’t so hectic and citified. They belong to that moment – the last couple of years – when the Australian underground, like its American counterpart, has stepped blinking into the daylight and ditched the smog for the beach, picking up melody and humour on the way. Only our picnic isn’t as brashly rowdy as the skater/surfer dude/babe party across the Pacific. It’s as though everyone’s a few years older or just a bit more chilled, sipping tallies rather than smashing kegs.
It’s the bittersweetness that somehow lives in all that sunlight and sand that most illuminates Dick Diver’s songs. The seagulls in their song aren’t screaming and thrashing up the bay – but one of them shits on the windscreen, which like the crack in the surfboard resin seems to portend something. “Something wasn’t working so/I’m on Newstart again” is sung with the fizz of a twist top coming off, yet it’s clearly not just a pun on unemployment.
The lyrical modus operandi seems encapsulated in the opening lines of ‘On The Bank’:
Have sweeter words been sung
than “I’ll see you there at one
by the river at the bend”?
This focus on small things, the phenomenology of everyday life, gives these songs the enduring appeal of a finely-drawn comic and the universality of a good novel. Something of significance seen “through the D of BREAD spelt backwards” on plate glass. The TV blue room through a screen door at dusk. The video store on the other side of the windscreen that “sells lollies for Hollywood”. People together, ignoring eachother, “like toothbrushes in a cup”. “Cold milk trickling through your teeth”. Hitler gets mentioned, but only when the second person’s intention to move “back up to Canberra” gets the narrator thinking about planned cities.The music mirrors this Kodachrome realism, all clean bass and guitars chiming like sunlight over muted Mo Tucker toms. In fact, in both sound and content it’s a little like a less pithy Bell Divers. But some of the best moments on the album are wordless, when the music lifts off, Television-like, not with pyrotechnics but pirouettes. It’s a welcome zoom out from all those inscrutable minutiae, a bit of sky in the frame.