Nick Bollinger finds something familiar and something different in the latest album from The Changing Same.
When Sneaky Feelings reunited last year to promote their first new release in nearly three decades, fond associations and pleasant surprise conspired to create a well-deserved buzz. The new project from Sneakies’ member Matthew Bannister won’t benefit from that sense of legacy, still it would be a pity if it went unnoticed.
The Changing Same has been Bannister’s chief vehicle since he relocated to Hamilton a decade ago. With his grounding in classic 60s and 70s guitar pop, he helped define what has often been referred to as the ‘Dunedin sound’, but it’s clear that wherever he goes he carries his influences with him.
‘Just A Boy and a Girl’ opens Creative Evolution, and as you can hear it’s full of guitars: big jangling ones, like you might have found on an early Sneakies record, punctuated with sweeps of slide, more reminiscent of Little Feat or Exile-era Stones, and the whole thing is undergirded by a rhythm section that truly rocks. But what sells the song more than anything is the vocal, which finds Bannister harmonising with fellow singer-guitarist Mef Storm, and you’ll hear quite a bit of that combination on this album, which brings a real musical maturity to songs like ‘Fringe Dweller’.
The songs are all Bannister’s and are typically informed by his social observations and overcast sense of humour. But it’s not just the local cultural landscape he surveys with his weary eye. There’s ‘2016 Blues’, apparently written on the night of the Trump election, in which he considers his personal domestic situation in the light of geo-political forces.
And then there’s ‘Favourite Clown’, which I guess could also be about Trump. The song simmers on a faintly ominous guitar riff that complements Bannister’s cryptic lyric. But for me its success is as much about the subtlety and precision of the arrangement.
These are songs with something to say, both lyrically and melodically. The guitars and voices chime beautifully together, and unpredictable details are balanced out by things that feel instantly and satisfyingly familiar.
If there’s a touch of the old Dunedin sound in a classic folk-rocker like ‘Sheila Diva’, Creative Evolution shows that Matthew Bannister’s scope as a songwriter is far broader than that. For some reason, the term ‘Hamilton sound’ just never acquired the same romantic ring. Then again, Bannister understands the way places become romanticised and fetishized, and sings about it, with typically droll humour, in ‘Dunedin’, dedicated specifically to his old hometown.