If you look up the word ‘joyful’ online, then it returns a link to the new self-titled album by Fortitude Valley. Okay, so that’s not true but it should do as the eleven tracks on this release are brimming with indie pop drenched in what Ren & Stimpy called ‘happy-happy-joy-joy’. The band are named after Laura Kovac’s hometown, an inner-city suburb of Brisbane, which is known for its nightlife of bars, cafes and clubs. It’s a departure from her tenure as keyboard player for Tigercats as she is now front and centre as vocalist and guitarist and joined by Nathan Stephens Griffin on drums, Greg Ullyart on bass and Daniel Ellis on lead guitar. Kovac says “Writing songs on guitar and being the front person for a band is a new thing for me, I’ve never been in charge before!”. Well, it’s working as the band sound like they have been refining their sound, crafting hooky guitar lines and happy-swoopy tunes for years.
‘Baby, I’m Afraid’ sets out this merry manifesto with lashings of crunchy chords and guitar riffs, bass and drums boom on tracks like ‘Wreck’ where harmonies glide over a sparkling guitar motif that runs through most of the song. Songs like ‘All Hail The Great Destroyer’, ‘Cassini’ and ‘Forget About Me’ punch in like a flyweight champion, there’s the exhilarating speed of ‘The Right Thing (Part I)’ and on the mellow side sits ‘It’s The Hope That Kills You’, ‘It’s Not U, It’s Me’ and the final track ‘The Right Thing (Part II)’ which revisits ‘Part I’ but reimagined as a gentle unplugged version. The way rhythm, lead, bass and drums weave around each is dazzling and the grit from overdrive, distortion, and the occasional moments of dissonance, bring some welcome savoury notes to protect the songs from being overly sweet. And when you add tunes to die for and those gliding harmonies then this is an uncut diamond of an album that overflows with buckles being swashed, derring-do and head-bopping glee.
Considering this album was recorded in two blocks that bookended COVID, and spanned Soup Studios in London, Rocking Horse Recording Studio in Durham plus home-recording, it’s doesn’t feel Frankensteined but totally cohesive. In a world of super-serious indie bands with moody black and white pictures in bleak landscapes it’s great to have access to Fortitude Valley’s technicolour world. Hell, they are even pictured smiling in many of their press shots. This super-happy music is unalloyed joy and the perfect treat when you’re in between Beths albums and I would strongly advise setting a reminder for July next year so you can play this album loud and proud as you soak up some summer rays or drive to the coast.
Review by Paul F Cook