The Con – or more formally the Sydney Conservatorium of Music – is one of the oldest and most prestigious music schools in Australia, the mere mention of which is unlikely to make the average punter think of much else besides classical music, esoteric scales and music theory. With this staid image, it’s hard to imagine the school’s alum having much impact in the musical world outside the realms of classical, jazz, and the academic. Yet it is here that Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes would meet, with the pair going on to form one of Australia’s most popular electronic acts, The Presets.
It’s been nearly six years since the duo’s third album, Pacifica, rated internationally, and a decade since Apocalypso tore its way to the top of the Australian charts, so expectations are high for The Presets’ fourth outing, HI VIZ. As with a lot of electronic music, HI VIZ is difficult to assess as a simple listening experience. With few exceptions, HI VIZ passes its fifty-two-minute duration exceptionally well as background music, as a soundtrack to a ho-hum work day, but an album to sit down and just listen to this isn’t. But then again, HI VIZ is clearly a collection of songs meant for parties and live shows.
HI VIZ opens strongly with the eclectic, 8-bit sounds of Knuckles, and closes just as well with Until the Dark, but the meat in the sandwich isn’t especially flavourful. Lead single Do Want You Want has a disconcerting sense of the familiar about it, which distracts from an otherwise solid track, while Martini strong groove loses its charm by halfway through. The appearance of Alison Wonderland on Out of Your Mind, and DMAs on Are You Here, introduces some welcome novelty – general quirkiness notwithstanding – into The Presets’s sound.
The effective looping of the vocals on Feel Alone, and the cross-fade into Brains, highlight The Presets’ arrangement skills, but overall it’s difficult not to feel that these skills will be somewhat overlooked in the intended listening environment. Live audiences will undoubtedly respond well to the tracks presented on HI VIZ, but those listening at home may find the record a little underwhelming.