As rarely as a winter swallow does there come along a record so tender you could carve it with a butter knife. As seldom and swift as a light breeze in an Indian summer, but also as becoming and cherished. Songs can be crafted with the exceptional power of attachment, like dew to a blade of grass, cohabiting forever-etched memories, forming the fabric of eld. And joining the ranks of Presley, Vandross and Gaye are the affectionate aficionados of Punching Swans, endowing lovers the world over with alluring, whisperable bonne bouches like “Follow me, follow me. In the woods and follow me. We’re all gonna die.”
Mollusc has a knack for expelling its energy in tight bursts, like if the imprisoned Titans of Greek lore had burst from a vigorously shaken-up bottle with the cap bludgeoned off. Havoc and pandemonium pepper with pressure the ephemeral tracks, scattered slabs of stone that can roughly fit together to make a mosaic of some amorphous creature heaving its guts up. It boasts a pace that could trump a ferret on a sugar high, berserk as it bounces off every surface and grins with chipped teeth and bleeding gums. It just exists in its own plane of anomalies and oddities, not so dissimilar from the one that the rest of us inhabit, fuelled by the delirium that gestates under the skin of the everyman.
Not since Spike Milligan has such consummate nonsense felt so satiating. ‘Favourite Nightmare’ recounts what I can only assume is a recurring one, of nipples getting so complacent that they’ve detached themselves from their host bodies and coalesced into one alpha-areola. The guitar, making more guttural belches than a conked out pig, smushes against electrocuted yelping. Behind them is a capricious drumming pattern, as though the skin thumper has been jolted awake and is just whacking whatever’s in front of him. It’s delightfully haphazard but all the same delivered with exactness and rigidity, and it leaves you pleasantly exhausted as though you yourself are encumbered by such bizarre burdens. Bare in mind that this is the opener, and that not a dull moment is to be had from that first expulsion of “TEN TON TITS!”
For all of Mollusc’s peculiarities, it does have a blueprint and a process to it. Every track is terse and to the point, and that briefness makes for a number of “Wait, did he just–” moments that are just as rapidly slapped away. Yet it isn’t quite a barrage; Punching Swans aren’t beating you over the head with examples of how eccentric they can be. Rubbing shoulders with the silliness are candid quotes: “If you insist on staying grounded, find a way to dance” is the perfect pick-me-up, and “There’s one born every minute – that’s sixty new friends for me each hour” the sort of endearing quip that might escape a granddad’s lips.
At the very least, this lot are well-versed in the ways of usurping the squishy bit inside the skull. ‘Beach Party’ will surely be a staple for teenaged anarchists, engorged by the giddy rebellion of a “Sit down! Shut up!” refrain and totally tubular oohs. ‘Rhino in Heels’ demonstrates a skin-crawling tension with its rally against conformity, anchored by sinister spitting and ear-grating guitar salvos. There’s even a highly creative call-and-response between a human man-chap and the mollusc taking over his being (“Mollusc said we’ll speak as one!” “Yeah, we’ll speak as one.”) Like a backstreet, non-council sanctioned funfair, at every turn there’s something unspeakably outlandish going on. But the rides are cheap, the food gracefully grim, and the heart-pummelling thrills unceasing.