A pub-punk frontman known for acerbic character studies, Blake Scott specialises in prodding and puncturing the clichés of Australian culture. After all, his band The Peep Tempel made its name with the 2014 anthem Carol: a shout-along exaggeration of blokey masculinity that introduced the cult Melbourne trio to dramatically wider audiences and subsequently racked up more than a million plays on Spotify.
With that band on hiatus since late 2017, Scott has re-emerged as a solo artist. And though he is again leading a three-piece band with a robust focus on lyrical detail and scenery-chewing vocal turns, his debut album explores his favoured themes in looser, weirder ways. Unmoored from The Peep Tempel’s standout rhythm section of drummer Steven Carter and bassist Stewart Rayner (who now play in the spacious yet noisy Shepparton Airplane), Scott mostly eschews his erstwhile band’s muscular drive to instead stretch out and hold forth like the unreliable narrator he’s always been.
Niscitam – which roughly means “confidently” in Sanskrit – was written while Scott awaited the birth of his first child, and welcomed the clarity of a sustained stretch of sobriety. With family very much on his mind, Scott meditates deeply on time and place, following the lead of setting-heavy songs like Kalgoorlie and Constable on The Peep Tempel’s 2016 album Joy. He draws in part on his childhood years in the rural Western Australia town of Narrogin, recounting ephemeral images in the dreamlike way that memories come back to us.
The music echoes that wide-open sense of diffusion, with bassist Nick Finch (Cash Savage and The Last Drinks) and drummer Jacey Ashton (Black Bats) accompanying Scott through sprawling songs more mellow and experimental than Peep Tempel fans might expect. Sounding as exhausted by the vastness of the Australian landscape as he is by the crushing pace of modern life, Scott externalises his fears and anxieties, often distorting them in size and portent to complete the process of separation.
“Where have I crashed? Some strange land without language,” he muses in the album’s opening line. Yet even with pessimistic allusions to fatherhood at the end (“How will I teach you that it matters?/When it never really mattered to me”), Bone Heavy pulls out a surprisingly uplifting (and accessible) chorus while introducing the dramatic heft available from wider accompaniment like piano and Olivia Bartley’s expressive backing vocals. It plays like the opening scene of a fraught emotional journey, which is only fitting for what’s to follow.
Armed with bouncy bass and a sharp, bright guitar hook, lead single Fever could pass for an alt-rock hit, if not for its grotesque refrain: “I’m like a pig in shit/In the land of the living sun.” Yet in the first of many striking contrasts here, it gives way to the serenely pretty Bullfloat Zen and Magic, back-to-back tracks that measure the passing of time (and the idea of daily escape) with gentle irony not far removed from The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon.
Any inner calm – even of the mock variety – is soon interrupted by the nearly eight-minute centrepiece The Plainsman, on which Scott resurrects The Peep Tempel’s occasional ocker-style vocal delivery for a ripe spoken-word mirage that bleeds into a horizon-chasing instrumental jam. Other tracks vary just as freely: Pressure is a cage-rattling garage rocker about the stifling expectations we inflict upon ourselves, while Love offers reassuring melodicism and lingering romantic promise.
The go-for-broke standout is Kalashnikov, which scans quickly across everything rotten about contemporary Australia in just three minutes: “Catholics in politics/Racist, sexist, swinging dicks/Vile old pile of misanthropes steer our little ship.” Named after the inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle, the song approaches the seething commentary that characterises fellow WA native Gareth Liddiard in Tropical Fuck Storm. It’s also a pointed successor to The Peep Tempel’s blackly comic 2016 single Rayguns.
A different kind of ambush comes with the closing track. Hillman Hunter addresses departed family against the backdrop of Scott’s time in East Fremantle (from Cockburn Sound and Blackwall Reach to the Canning Highway), as well as actual ocean sounds. Centred on recollections of the titular 1960s-era model of Chrysler, it delicately circles back to Scott’s preoccupation with past moments we can’t fully re-inhabit: “My memories are at times overexposed and bleached,” he admits in the song.
Finishing the album by once more name-checking the intersecting streets where the car sat parked, Scott explores newly personal territory (though it may not be strictly autobiographical) while maintaining the vividness of his past character pieces. If it plays like the polar opposite of Carol in terms of mood and intensity, it strikes a similar chord of shared experience. More importantly, it shows that subtlety can be just as powerful as a snarled, sarcastic chorus.
• Niscitam by Blake Scott is out now through Wing Sing Records
• This article was corrected on Monday 12 October. Olivia Bartley of Olympia sung backing vocals on Bone Heavy.