Album Review: Amyl and The Sniffers – Comfort To Me

My first encounter with Amyl and The Sniffers was not with their music.
I had arrived early at their former label mate’s (King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard) musical showcase, Gizzfest, in late 2017 at Luna Park Sydney. None of the sets had started yet, but the bar and the park attractions were open, headliners and punters keen for a bumper car sesh. It didn’t take much mingling to notice a particular crew getting around, among the nerdy band shirts were a few delinquent looking lads loitering and walking behind a woman, who was equally dainty and staunch in appearance. This person shearing through the crowd with menacing eye contact I soon found out was Amy Taylor, front of Amyl and The Sniffers; whose set I unfortunately discovered from a distance only near the end. I had arrived for next act, the polar opposite sounding quaint folk of Leah Senior, but the raw Garage-Punk and stage presence of A&TS instantly explained their atmosphere getting around the festival earlier on.

“You know, she’s just unashamedly Miss Piggy. I know she’s a muppet, but I think she’s pretty special! [Laughs] For a very little pig she’s made a lot of difference in the world.”
-Amy Taylor for i-D

Fast forward a couple of EPs and a blistering raw debut album and we arrive in 2021 with sophomore album Comfort To Me. While their debut EP Giddy Up was written, recorded and released in twelve hours, CTM brings a notable production quality. Engaging some heavy clout with the technical crew, the album is mixed by Nick Launay and mastered by Bernie Grundman; both industry legends who between them worked on crucial records for Nick Cave, Midnight Oil, INXS, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Michael Jackson, Outkast and many others over their 90+ years of combined experience. With thirteen tracks at a keen 35 minutes long, the composition is still very Punk; though containing some of their brightest sounds, colouring some of the vocal and guitar melodies to edge them into Pop territory. The undeniable single Hertz is a good example of this.

There is a long tradition of UK and Australian artists singing in American accents, often unknowingly; Amy Taylor is not one of these artists, overtly intoning the roughest working class of her native Mullumbimby and now Victoria. These vocals are newly refined too; usually having toed over the line of shouting, Amy now sounds more in control. This freshening of delivery might be imputed best by her recent collaboration with UK’s Sleaford Mods, where vocalist Jason Williamson is also known for his thickly accented bitter working class diatribes, not sung or even necessarily rapped, they sound more like flat slam poetry tirades; Spare Ribs featuring the single Nudge It with Amy lending a stanza was released earlier this year. It’s hard to not also mention Mike Skinner as The Streets, the original British spoken word MC icon, Amy deservedly joins these ranks, representing local, blue collar culture with a local, real and familiar sounding voice.

A cheaper comparison would be to The Chats, who have a related brand, drawing a similar international crowd in with novel, brash, idiosyncratically Australian Punk. Though The Chats may have a cleaner sound, they also never let down their guarded character narratives and catchy guitar riffs. In contrast, A&TS drop any pretense in favour of very endearing effort, their initial formation of the band was as much a resolution to learn their instruments as anything else, a principle which can still be heard in the music. Their biggest aspiration at the time was to hopefully do house party gigs, and somehow have inadvertently wrenched their way into the industry in the meantime; as deserved as it is, the viral fame of The Chats suddenly feels very contrived.
Amy is a self confessed angry person, her stage presence a very intentional venting, and even so, it doesn’t take long to hear an un-Punk soft side through the lyrics. Case in point, the track Security would have been a very easy opportunity to antagonise pub bouncers, instead Amy pleads to be let in, seeking love rather than the trouble usually targeted toward the seccys..

“when people go, ‘you’re only up there because you’re wearing short shorts’, or when people don’t listen to you because you’re a girl or whatever. Like, try dealing with casual sexism all the time without getting a bit fucking aggro.”
-Amy Taylor for Loud and Quiet

Additionally, tracks: Guided By Angels, Choices, and particularly Capital very frankly establish a Punk philosophy with the theme of self motivation and personal agency in the face of outside expectations and exterior perceptions. With this in mind little can be said of the track: Don’t Need A Cunt (Like You To Love Me) that adds to the experience of just listening to it; which takes about as long as unpacking the title. Consisting of two short verses and a guitar solo, it is probably the rawest, most Punk thing I have heard since my discovery of the band at Gizzfest.

Professing Miss Piggy as a personal hero, Amy also claims she’s a ‘normie’ whose favorite album ever might be Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy. Another idol is lovable Australian outlaw figure Chopper Reid, so when looking for a band manager they were so impressed that Andrew Parisi used to represent Chopper that they hired him on that basis alone. After winning the 2019 ARIA for best Rock album, in her acceptance speech Amy thanked Gucci for ‘dressing our K-mart asses’. These facts may be a little abstract, but alongside the genuine vulnerability of a song like Knifey, they form an extremely authentic image that surely some part of everyone can relate to. A detractor might refer to this part as the lowest common denominator, however when aimed at someone like Amy Taylor who obviously and veritably is not attempting to appear cool, this would be punching down. Indeed the central idea of the common denominator, ‘low’ or not, is that it includes everyone, and Amy has an astonishing ability to speak for anyone with absolutely zero pretentiousness.

As someone whose first contact with the band was a feeling of literal physical intimidation, I got a sense of basic irony at the very clear message through this album to not take the band at face value. Particularly with such a brazen, self-aware Punk virtue; judgement mustn’t stop at the aesthetic, but how could you analyse this without detracting from it?

Of course, my neurotic intimidation was misplaced, as once you’ve bothered to listen, Amy’s delivery is obviously much more cathartic than it is dangerous, a catharsis easy to include yourself in.
Thankfully everything about this is direct, not just its appearance, there is very little figuration or metaphor obstructing any value. Amyl and The Sniffers make no promises with this release, yet they have delivered so much within it that you’d be wasting your time to not listen to one of the most faultless albums of this year.

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