Party Dozen are a duo that revel in the fact you can’t put them in a box. The Australian duo of Kirsty Tickle (saxophone) and Jonathan Boulet (percussion and sampler) aren’t the type to stay content in one place for long. Their ferocious live shows are a testament to how important the noise they make is – but don’t simply file it under the ‘noise’ genre. Boulet’s drumming is busy and flourishing, taking on jazzy tinges one moment and crashing the door down with sludge metal intensity the next. Tickle, on the other hand, is a mutating presence; she repeatedly sings/screams into the bell of her saxophone while also playing it through a series of pedals. When listening to their new album, The Real Work, it’s not often obvious what exactly is making the noise.
During its best moments though, it matters not. Spacey explorations like “Earthly Times” and “Risky Behaviour” lay out thick, muggy atmospheres. On the former, languid sustained synth notes carry the track along, eliciting an eerie feel. It’s moments like these that the destination doesn’t seem to be of prime importance or consequence, the explorative journey the payoff instead.
Unfortunately it isn’t always the case, as a fair share of The Real Work’s tracks get lost in that moment where they seem aimless, but are equally unrewarding and frustrating for not taking you anywhere notable come the end. “The Worker” might boast an impressive bass riff and sax playing that cuts like a drill, but it’s also distinctly insubstantial when you go exploring for any nugget worth latching onto. Similarly “Balance” boasts screeching wails (which could equally be a guitar or a saxophone) and thrums along with a feverish head-banging tempo, but again comes up surprisingly hollow on closer inspection.
But Party Dozen are a band that aren’t necessarily about meaningful moments hiding in the fray or about settling into an expected and predictable path. Echoing country-mates Divide and Dissolve, the best moments here are those that are truly incendiary – the most notable of which open the record. “The Iron Boot” drops you into a slew of lurching, doom-y noise, delving into free jazz-like tirades as the tempo is driven up (while Tickle’s sax is played to sound beguilingly like a harmonica at points). Perhaps even better still is following track “Macca the Mutt”: Tickle yelps indecipherable syllables into the mic before the track charges forward, becoming a full inferno. In the final minute, as the track builds to a molten hot climax, a sneering Nick Cave appears to add fuel to the fire.
This pair of tracks is demonstrative of two things. Firstly, this is music best listened to as loudly as possible and ideally in a live setting. You can feel the sweat dripping and the blood pumping on “The Iron Boot” and “Macca the Mutt” and it’s entirely forgivable that the album loses steam after this one-two concrete punch of an opening (to be fair, most albums would). The second thing is simply that Tickle and Boulet shouldn’t be afraid to add more guests into the mix; Cave’s presence (despite only repeating the line “I’ve got a mutt called Macca”) brands the song into memory, and though the duo have their own brand of uncategorizable genre melding, more discernible voices would help tracks like “The Worker”, “Major Beef”, and “Balance” stick in mind more.
Sometimes no voice is perfectly fine though. The bastardized blues of “The Big Quit” revels in its oily, stodgy textures, dragging you into its swampy lagoon with each marching beat. “Fruits Of Labour”, which manages to marry a krautrock rhythm of what almost definitely sounds like Boomwhackers to a needly guitar riff, brings a welcome lighthearted and playful tone to the mix. It might lose its way a little by the end, but it shows the duo aren’t afraid to have fun with the creation process.
Despite not being able to easily categorize the music on The Real Work (if you like to do that sort of thing) and many noises remaining ambiguous in origin, the flair of each member’s playing is evident at the best moments. For instance, Boulet’s impressive snare work on “Major Beef” or Tickle’s psychedelic stylings on “Risky Behaviour” are feats worth listening out for, but as a whole The Real Work’s front-heavy display of force saps energy away from the latter half. You might not be able to label it easily, but it is easy to tell that its best moments are gone all too quickly. The rest is just noise, but probably not quite in the way the duo hope for.