The Cup of Pestilence
Frenzal Rhomb’s surprisingly articulate, frequently disarming, punky slices of Australian life are so culturally specific that they almost have no right to be so accessible—and enduring. In less incisive hands, a similar band wouldn’t be on its 10th album, though it’s easy to wonder if the hampering years since 2017’s Hi-Vis High Tea reshaped the Sydney quartet’s approach. Opener and lead single “Where Drug Dealers Take Their Kids,” from its title through to its hysterical whiplash breakdown of what should be troubling subject matter, sets a familiar pace that doesn’t let up: All 19 tracks are ticklingly frenetic, cleverly absurd and rooted in cringing realness. To wit: “You act like a c**t but my love never ends,” croons “The Wreckage,” cheerfully detailing a toxic relationship. “Instant Coffee” could be one of the most whimsical odes to poverty ever written, too, but there’s nothing cheap about this record. Opting for a strontium-plated production that elevates every little ditty to unlikely radio-readiness, 19 tracks might seem like a lot—but each one finds its own excesses are nurtured best by, well, an excess of brevity. The longest song, “I Think My Neighbour Is Planning to Kill Me,” clocks in at 2:33. That’s more than enough time for its itchy domestic paranoia to leap into the dietary concerns of “Horse Meat” before landing on highlight “How to Make Gravox”—a NOFX-level shambles doing the unthinkable to Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly’s beloved, unofficial national Christmas anthem, “How to Make Gravy.” Like Frenzal Rhomb’s oeuvre at large, The Cup of Pestilence timelessly delights when it’s sketching pot-shot caricatures of whatever strange individual has obsessed vocalist and societal court jester Jason Whalley. Ably backlit by Gordon Forman’s energetic drumming and new bassist Michael Dallinger’s (this is his recorded debut) refreshingly present, jangly basslines, “Laneway Dave,” “Deathbed Darren,” and “Old Mate Neck Tattoo” ensure that, while it’s bizarrely easy to enjoy Frenzal Rhomb’s ever-colloquial 10th record from start to finish whether you’re Australian or not, you might not want to actually meet them—lest your most disfiguring personal qualities end up in (admittedly great) song on the next one.