Even: Reverse Light Years

It is a truism of popular music’s album-oriented era that great double albums are rare. In Australian indie rock – at least since the waning of the compact disc’s market dominance and vinyl’s revival among collectors – they have become close to non-existent.

So Ashley Naylor, leader of Melbourne stalwarts Even and a rock & roll classicist to the core, would have known full well the scale of what he was attempting to pull off with Reverse Light Years, his band’s eighth album. The band’s first, released back in 1995, was called Less Is More.

Well, as it turns out, more is more. Reverse Light Years sounds imposing: 17 songs in 80 minutes. Even have always been consistent, but this is by far their most impressive album, a cornucopia of musical delights where everything singer-guitarist Naylor, bass player Wally Kempton and drummer Matt Cotter try comes off.

I have been listening obsessively to Reverse Light Years almost non-stop for the last month, and every time, I’ve walked away humming a different tune. You can listen to it in one long trip, you can break it up into its four sides, or you can just dip in anywhere and hold up another jewel to the light. You’ll also be doing all those things for years to come.

While locked down in Melbourne, Naylor apparently spent much time poring over the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s classic double Electric Ladyland. You can hear that album’s influence in the ebb and flow of Reverse Light Years – a wonderful set of songs, sequenced for cumulative impact. You can hear it too in the flashy solo that lights up Gold Sunday like a solar flare.

It is one of the absolute high points of Reverse Light Years, and yet it comes in the album’s final bracket, such is the embarrassment of riches on offer. Cherry Afterglow, the second single, opens the album at a relaxed pace, a fond remembrance of a live-streamed performance from the Cherry Bar last year, wrapped in a rich swirl of guitars.

It reassures us that as much of a toll the pandemic has taken on live music and those who play it, they will continue to find a way. That’s Naylor: a true believer who couldn’t stop playing if his life depended on it. This total lack of irony is part of Even’s charm, even when they pilfer a riff or lyric in obvious tribute.

Indeed, there have been times in Even’s career where they’ve not sounded like much more than an amalgam of their vast record collections, particularly the early 70s power-pop of Badfinger and the Raspberries (their former manager once described them as the Beatles smeared in Vegemite). But the breadth of Reverse Light Years takes them far beyond homage.

References to rock history are still there, for those looking: Roses, for example, marches in on the beat of the Pretenders’ Mystery Achievement. Halfway through, though, the song drifts off into cosmic country territory, Naylor penning a pained apology to a lost love over a glorious weave of power-pop and pedal steel.

Pacing, dynamics and aural textures are all cleverly varied. For every glam stomper like Six Monkeys, quieter songs lodge in your ear. Let Me Know rests its woozy head on a soft pillow of acoustic guitar and mellotron, and This Don’t Feel Like nods to T-Rex in its mix of hand percussion and spaced-out noodling, Naylor clearly enjoying himself.

Then there are the epics. Miracle Drum, Silver Rain, Chase The Sunset, Starlight Caravan and the magnificent closing elegy Life In A Box are all between five and eight minutes in length. Spread across the album, they are positioned to give the listener a breather without stalling momentum, and they never outstay their own welcome.

Naylor occupies a unique position in Australian music. For the past 15 years, he’s played with Paul Kelly’s band; more recently, he’s been part of the RocKwiz orchestra, answered calls from the Stems and the Church, and formed a psychedelic 60s cover band called Thee Marshmallow Overcoat with You Am I’s Davey Lane.

Around these gun-for-hire commitments, Even is virtually Naylor’s hobby band – the one he, Kempton and Cotter will always return to, playing to music fans as devoted to history as they are. Speaking of history, this might just be the best Australian double album in its field since Kelly’s Gossip. From beginning to end, Reverse Light Years is an unalloyed pleasure.

First published in the Guardian, 30 October 2021

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