Continuing their seemingly unstoppable mission to musically define an indefinable genre, ninetynine’s seventh album is yet another fine achievement, and one that in any just world would garner thousands of new fans and prodigious airplay. Singer and main songwriter Laura MacFarlane is one of the quiet giants of the Melbourne music scene, having done years ago what most bands are struggling to do now. Build a profile, a name that reeks of integrity, a sizeable fanbase from multiple international tours, and enough clout to play overseas festivals - without grants, airplay or any industry help at all, in a commitment to quiet, constant industry. Even the refusal to capitalise their name reinforces how this is a band whose fanbase discovered rather than was handed them.
Despite a beloved back catalogue and a litany of smart ideas and catchy melodies it’s hard not to feel that Bande Magnétique is the greatest album ninetynine have yet made, one that succeeds richly in what it sets out to do. Lyrics are concise and evocative, all players on top form, the pacing and arrangements inspired and the production perfectly sympathetic to the band’s instrumentation and vision. Musically, ninetynine channel the warm throb of evelatory post-grunge mid-90s-redolent riffs, and sweltering and bubbling keyboards courtesy of Meg Butler, which MacFarlane’s gorgeously warm voice leaps above and Cameron Potts’ busy but never distracting percussion drives.
The opening melodic vitriolic burst of shimmering Casio pop Guest List Girls details the hip inner city gig-going experience from the stage; a breathless and pointed calling card. It’s hard to believe there’ll be a more beautiful song released this year or a more compelling one in their vast back catalogue than the third track Woods with its atypical string arrangements, perfectly judged dynamics and Catholic v. Protestant subject matter. ‘Bus them away this time/ Vandalise the bleakest skies are begging / If you bus them away, humanise their tongue / This is the way these dogs and days have become’. Other songs to find online include Potts’ San Pedro, first single Broken Hands and gorgeous closer Long Way Back.
That Bande Magnétique will likely just become a high point in a lengthy discography discovered years from now and hailed in distant countries as a triumph rather than win new fans is nothing new for MacFarlane and co, and thankfully won’t stop them making more stellar albums like this one.