Big Scary: Me and You review – introspective and varied, with wonderful, harrowing moments

The Melbourne band’s compelling fifth record is concerned with love found and lost – and ends with a heartbreaking one-two punch

Connection is the cornerstone of Melbourne duo Big Scary’s fifth album. In their explorations of love found and lost, longtime collaborators Tom Iansek and Jo Syme paint the varied textures of human relationships: grief, loneliness, hope and always, always love.

It’s in the very title of the album, too; leading up to the creation of this record, Syme asked Iansek, “What is Big Scary?” He responded simply: “It is the music made by me and you.”

That partnership is everything here. The pair’s last album, 2021’s Daisy – their first, then, in five years – pivoted towards more bombastic, esoteric sounds, building on some of the big ideas that they’d begun exploring on 2016’s Animal. Me and You is largely a more subdued affair, swapping synthesisers for acoustic and piano-led numbers, and looking more inwards than the duo has previously.

Despite its introspection, it covers a wide array of sounds, sweeping across the two artists’ shared and separate visions and projects; even as Big Scary, they’ve traversed a number of genres and influences over the last decade and a half.

Tom Iansek and Jo Syme as Big Scary
The duo have traversed a number of genres over the last 15 years, shadows of which can be heard on their varied fifth record. Photograph: Lilli Waters

The shadow of Iansek’s other project, the excellent #1 Dads, can be heard here – the propulsive Firefly, building from a repeated, gentle piano line to an anthemic chorus and back again; and the warm, folky All to Pieces, sublime in its simplicity. But the heart of Big Scary remains its collaborative spirit: Iansek’s ethereal falsetto blending with Syme’s sweet vocal – sometimes in harmony, sometimes in unison (the latter particularly beautiful on Lonely Age) – are what sets this project apart from all their others.

The difference in dynamic across the album keeps it compelling, from the robust, crisply produced Asking Right, where Syme’s voice adds a new layer in the bridges, then is layered again with heaped male vocals; to more dramatic tracks like opener F.A. and single Goodbye Earle Street – a nod to an earlier song Earle Street – which begins with theatrical, intriguingly arranged keys, recalling the likes of Kate Miller-Heidke, before gliding into a number of different places, climaxing in a luscious string arrangement. These tracks melodically falter compared to the rest, but present many interesting ideas that are pulled off with great economy, especially considering the fact that Goodbye Earle Street barely cracks the three-minute mark.

Things snag a little towards the middle of the record, but it’s all made good by the impactful one-two punch of Devotion and Real Love, released together as singles. These two tracks are in conversation with one another, dissecting the intricacies of relationships as they disintegrate over time, often not for a lack of love or trying.

Iansek vocally leads the gentle Devotion, singing in his higher register with such urgency that it’s almost hard to keep up. It’s an anxious stream of consciousness as he describes the intoxication of early love right through to the resignation of its ending, despite everything: “you held your end, I held mine.” Then Syme joins for the chorus, voices melding: “This ain’t out of a four-letter feeling / this is out of devotion.”

And then it’s Real Love, a piano-driven ballad that circles that most tragic of things again: the end. “Love’s a doing word,” Iansek sings, voice steady despite the difficulty of what he’s saying. “Let’s put it to a vote: my dear, I want you to stay.”

These two songs are so precise in the protracted heartbreak they’re describing – it’s not the rush of new love that popular music so often deals in, but the desperate sadness of holding on to something you can feel slipping away slowly, then all at once. It’s wonderful, harrowing songwriting.

Then it’s over to Syme on her own to see things out with the simple You Won’t Always – another ode to a love that’s floating away, with the promises made promised to be kept, in spite of an ending. With gentle strings fluttering like birds softly in the background, it’s a suitably contemplative way to conclude a record that finds its truths in the quiet spaces, holding the listener close to find the light together.

  • Me and You by Big Scary is out now


Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

The GuardianTramp

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