2009 Top 10: #6 – A Death In The Family – “Small Town Stories”

It has become quite fashionable over the past 5 or so years for bands to use obtuse, abstract song and album titles that have no apparent connection to the work itself. Chiodos’ No Hardcore Dancing In The Living Room, for instance, disappointingly contains no mention of broken TVs or parental head wounds. Melbourne’s A Death In The Family, though, apparently don’t much like this fashion. The band’s 2009 release Small Town Stories serves up exactly what the title promises.

Possessing an innate “Australianness” without ever falling into cloying John Williamson-esque cliché or sentimentality, A Death In The Family tell tales of the common man on Small Town Stories, slices of life rendered in widescreen with an almost cinematic quality to them which is not far removed from Paul Kelly’s best work. These are the sort of songs that bands seem to find difficult to write after they hit the big time – songs born through living in the working class rather than watching it from afar.

A rumbling bass line and driving guitar riff propel the record’s first single Erasing The Maps along at pace, and when lead singer Atom sings “we’re so desperate and hurt” in his cracked voice over a ramshackle-sounding string arrangement, you don’t so much believe it as feel it. The lyrics on the record are so sharply realised that while listening to a song like Sinking Slowly or Our Divide (which begins with the line “How ‘bout you try to explain the two days you’re missing, and I’ll settle down?”) you almost feel as though you’ve wandered into someone’s life just as it is falling apart. It is a measure of the authenticity of the writing that listening to the record feels somewhat voyeuristic.

The musical approach the band takes is perfectly matched with the lyrical theme of the album –gritty and authentic punk rock, sounding almost “unproduced”, not unlike Sink Or Swim by the band’s contemporaries and friends The Gaslight Anthem. It is a sound that would be very much at home being played (live, of course) in the front bar of a dilapidated Melbourne pub.

Boasting an authenticity that is simply impossible to fake, Small Town Stories is a brilliant record from a band that has all the potential in the world. And yet they’re probably the best Australian band you’ve never heard of – they’ve toured the US with The Gaslight Anthem, supported some of punk’s biggest names in Melbourne, but still can’t even get airtime on Triple J. If the powers that be ever wake up to A Death In The Family these guys could be huge. With the state of play in the radio and TV music world at the moment, though, I’d advise against holding your breath.

Listen to A Death In The Family HERE

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