In Review: CALIFORNIA GIRLS – DESIRE (OCHRE BEAT, 2016)

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Desire by California Girls is an album of  subterranean vibrancy. Colour is illuminated by pulsing strobes, revealing silhouettes of gyrating bodies. It’s a engrossing listen, making you wonder what happens in the darkest recesses of the night.

Desire by California Girls is a cold and distant album, yet one that encourages warmth through the sharing of body heat – on dance floors and in bedrooms. Gus McGrath, the man behind the moniker has etched out a niche of underground dance to call his own, filling the space with hypnotic rhythms and vividly visceral storytelling. The electronic producer / cold wave crooner leads a dual existence – one side as an otherworldly conductor of body movement and propagator of lurid thoughts and the other as a fragile, dispirited loner who is seemingly trapped in the twisting tunnels of love and life.  Set to a backdrop of secret and smoked-filled dance clubs, Gus cuts a lonesome figure, seeking fulfilment and solace in company but also looking to unleash secret urges and perversions in a setting where anything goes. Desire (out through Ochre Beat) succinctly sums up the nature of the double edged sword Gus shaves with – a desire to belong, and a desire to satiate a hidden hunger.

From the opener ‘Skin on Skin’ to the ending notes or ‘Merge’, Gus inhabits the dim hallways of miscellaneous subterranean realms, watching and musing from the shadows created by phosphorescent lights. ‘Figure In A Room’ – which I think would have made a better opener – lulls listeners into a half-asleep, half-awake state, lucid and open to ideas. This song is all about the mood and I’m all about that. ‘Cold Face’ takes me by surprise and sees Gus at his most nihilistic. The song communicates frustration and falling short of expectations and amounting to less and less. “What do I equate to? Nothing” Gus laments before he digs deeper into his search for oblivion and gratification – both seemingly going hand in hand.

‘Touch Wood’ is slick with New Wave smoothness and again shifts focus to physical interaction and ecstasy. “I only need my hands” seems to convey an even more perverted sentiment, than initially perceived. ‘Hidden’ seems to refer to a secret purpose, a hidden intent, a stalking silence, while ‘Euphoria’ breaks the walls and indulges in rave-like ascension and sonic hedonism. Towards the end of proceedings ‘Broken Chest’ brings us back down to earth:

Calls in the night / you say you really need me / I really need you too / you know that I really need you / your mouth tastes like metal / are you trying to / drink my blood?

The opening lines of ‘Broken Chest’ manage to semi-encapsulate the nature of the Canberra artist’s musical identity. The line hints at the vampirism inherent in Gus’s world. The exploitation of feelings for physical gratification and the soul destroying nature of what one has to do to get their kicks form potent thematic motifs throughout the whole record, making it engrossing from the get-go. It’s like a glimpse into a world most of us never encounter, one that is enticing with its hedonistic allure and intimidating because we know we won’t be better people coming out of the experience.  Gus has offered us insight into a realm where the rules have changed (or maybe there are no rules here at all) and lets us witness his own unravelling, succumbing to physical temptation while his heart and soul scream for something meaningful. It’s a engrossing listen, making you wonder what happens in the darkest recesses of the night.

BANDCAMP / SOUNDCLOUD