If 2013’s ‘The World Is Fucked’ album saw Primitive Calculators coming back with a bang on the heels of reunion shows, with seemingly more worthy lyrical targets than ever (hey, they even managed to anger Andrew Bolt), then five years on this follow-up ‘On Drugs’ confirms that they’re a band that’s still evolving, 40 years after their initial formation amongst Melbourne’s ‘little bands’ scene.
Upon first listening, two major developments in the band’s music are immediately apparent. The first is the increasingly personal vantage point of frontman / band linchpin Stuart Grant’s lyrics, which focus much more on the individual than before. The second is the increasingly hi-fi nature of the band’s production – indeed the nine tracks collected here feel much larger and more expansive, with a more polished mix.
Luckily, this increase in production values hasn’t resulted in any subsequent dulling of Primitive Calculators’ edge, and while a lot has changed here, there’s a lot that’s stayed the same. In some senses title track ‘On Drugs’ opens this album with its centrepiece, spending its nine minutes evolving from a minimalist pulse of thumping rhythms and whirring electronics. Grant’s vocals curve from a snarl into a sneer as jagged guitar strokes and buzzing bass distortion drop into the mix, but it’s the massed gospel-style backing harmonies that emerge towards that really offer up the biggest surprise here, the repeated refrain of “everybody’s gotta get the good, good feeling”, offering up perhaps the closest thing to a catchy pop hook that the Calculators have given us to date.
‘Power’ grafts the sort of galloping noir-jazz synth bassline you’d associate with Foetus onto scratchy guitar bursts, waspy electronic zaps and thudding kickdrums, O-G-O’s rapid-fire MC flow dropping beneath into the chorus sections before things flatten out into a blur of whirring rhythms. ‘I’m Fucked’ sees the techno pulse that lurks beneath much of this album coming to the fore as contorted guitars intertwine with 4/4 dancefloor rhythms against massed backing vocals intoning the title phrase in a manner that weirdly calls to mind early TISM, O-G-O’s sudden MC interjections adding a surreal rave-y undertone.
The aptly titled ‘Evil’ meanwhile takes things off on a industrial-edged romp through dark overdriven bass synths and scraping guitars, the sudden acceleration off into streamlined EBM capturing Grant in full flight amidst groovy disco backing harmonies. There’s even a piano ballad in the form of ‘I Wish You Were Dead’, albeit one of the most nasty ones you’re likely to hear this year. On the basis of this excellent third album, it’s anyone’s guess as to where Primitive Calculators are likely to go next.