In review: DR SURE’S UNUSUAL PRACTICE – THE WEST (MARTHOUSE, 2019)

Words: Doug Wallen

After a strong series of creature-feature singles, Dr. Sure’s Unusual Practice brings the same atmosphere of comic dread to its debut album. But while there are moments of political ire, the band is more notable for hanging back and snidely deconstructing the world at a self-imposed remove.

One of the first songs to emerge from Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice was titled ‘It’s Alive’ , leaning right into the mad-scientist imagery of the Melbourne ensemble’s quirky moniker. It’s an ideal rallying cry for a band that seems particularly self-animated, mutating from central-Queensland transplant Dougal Shaw’s indulgent solo project to a many-limbed beast featuring members of Hideous Sun Demon and Claws & Organs.

On the surface, Dr Sure’s populates The West with the flinty post-punk that’s perfectly on trend in Melbourne right now. But rather than the caustic bite and high-tension rhythms being flexed most often, Shaw and company hang back with a misshapen lurch and glower that’s closer to early Magazine and slower, moodier 154-era Wire songs like ‘I Should Have Known Better’ and ‘The Other Window’.

The guitars are still plenty spiky, and the lyrics gleefully subversive in places: “Aren’t you glad you got that university degree?” mocks Shaw in a Drones-ish drawl on ‘Paradise’, before damning a backwards subsection of angry white people with the assessment “They want the people of Australia scared for their lives” on the surprisingly anthemic ‘Catch Up’. Yet Dr Sure’s generally play more like introverted outsiders than politicised battlers. Even when skewering a “big man” and his laughable ambitions against the creepy-crawly guitar tones of ‘Busy Bigness’, Shaw resembles a hermit nursing a bitter grudge from the insulation of a remote location rather than proclaiming a defiant message from some community-approved soapbox. That distancing effect makes for an eerie slow-burn – Dr Sure’s won’t kick the door in like Cable Ties or Hexdebt, but slip through an unseen gap in the floorboards and quietly fester in the shadows.

That recurring sense of exile (which Shaw even mentions in a faux-Nick Cave growl on ‘The Inherent Joy’) is enhanced by the band’s oddball DIY videos and the fact that these 10 songs were self-recorded and mixed, along with the in-house artwork. Factor in the goofy sense of absurdity that comes through in songs like the album-naming closer ‘Death of the West’ and the aforementioned ‘It’s Alive’ – which is actually about someone turning into a smartphone, limb by addicted limb – and The West offers a grotesque exaggeration of the collective malaise hanging over the world today. Shaw and company aren’t fighting for change or even acceptance, but prescribing therapeutic gallows humour to at least take some of the sting out of our very real plight.

While Dr Sure’s doesn’t aim for the apocalyptic oversaturation of, say, Tropical Fuck Storm, the band’s foreboding airs and dripping, drooling sarcasm coalesce with those spidery guitar licks and insistent mantras for a radioactive sort of charisma. Wonky and corroded, this is a self-manifested Australian post-punk record to laugh nervously along with while facing down the coming darkness.

BANDCAMP