Words: Doug Wallen
Band image: Eva Lazzaro

Against the odds, a shelved collection of home-recorded instrumentals has earned a jolting second life as one of the year’s best Australian albums. Enter Skydeck, the unlikely Victorian duo getting high on their own supply of raw nerves and brooding discontent.

Eureka Moment began life as an instrumental album made by housemates Dom Kearton and Mitch Clemens with a borrowed synth and some humble guitar, bass and drum machine back in 2015. Last year the two revisited the recordings, each adding their share of lyrics. Between that roundabout origin story and the names given both to Skydeck and the album – a two-fold play on Melbourne tourist trap Eureka Skydeck, the hemisphere’s highest public viewing platform – there wasn’t much reason to expect more than a quirky, low-stakes diversion from the duo’s off-the-cuff first outing.

Consider those expectations upended. Eureka Moment is not only one of the best Australian albums so far this year, but its after-the-fact marriage of homemade music and patchwork lyrics yields a thrillingly immediate chemistry. The songs themselves waver between prickly post-punk, washed-out New Wave and lo-fi outsider pop, courting kindred spirits in melodically enhanced weirdos old (Tall Dwarfs, The Fall) and new (The Native Cats, U-Bahn). If you only know Kearton and Clemens from their work in winsome The Ocean Party satellites like Pregnancy and Ciggie Witch, you might be surprised at how much more this album traffics in festering anxiety and unshakeable angst than in slackly radiant jangle.

‘Live Bait’ sets the stage with Kearton’s cynical witnessing of pensions blown on gambling, inspired by his time observing older patrons from behind a bar in regional Victoria. Clemens’ following tune, ‘Charon’s Face’, is even more distressing, between its wan propulsion and such no-hope lines as “I’m likely to beg for luck as the machine is likely to give a fuck.” Beneath Clemens’ deadpan delivery, which often recalled The Silver Jews’ David Berman in the songs Clemens sang in Ciggie Witch, is tongue-twisting wordplay made so prominent that it’s actually self-skewered in the video for ‘Tourniquet Too’ (see below). But if that karaoke-style clip pokes knowing fun at Clemens’ rattled-off word soup via comically incorrect captioning, his lyrics are the most indelible feature in that knockout song.

Kearton wades in with plenty of tangled, agitated wordplay of his own, opening ‘Never Not That’ with the pointed salvo “Precog got the date wrong/Now it’s history from a misread.” Skydeck’s photographer and videographer, Eva Lazzaro, contributes nicely contrasting spoken word on ‘Cryptic Bassline Project’, which starts out like a wonkier spinoff of ‘Tourniquet Too’. Such askew creative decisions abound here, from the misshapen electric-guitar buzz closing the otherwise sweetly catchy ‘Solid State’ to the muffled, mumbled claustrophobia of ‘Stolen Car’. A curt couple of minute-plus entries provide a possible glimpse of other influences, in the Gang of Four-ish angles of ‘Shark Eyes’ and the Dazzle Ships-style instrumental ‘A Formal Introduction’.

For all the erratic verve on display, it’s those unstable elements that keep us glued to Eureka Moment in hopes that repeated visits might illuminate its crooked corners. But the album-ending title track seems to declare the futility of resolution, wobbling and stuttering as if to embody its own description of “shakin’ like a fucked-up air mattress” before hitting the open-ended refrain “Where is my eureka moment?”.

If Skydeck can’t even find it, what hope do the rest of us have?

Eureka Moment is out now through Dinosaur City Records.