2003 Album Review: The Presets ‘Blow Up’
August 19th 2013
On August 29, FBi hits double digits. To celebrate, the Flog is taking a trip down memory lane: we’re counting down 10 years of albums in 10 days. We kick off in late 2003…
2003: The Presets – Blow Up (EP)
First things first: when Blow Up came out in 2003, I was very young. Too young to drink. Too young to go to a club. Too young to fully understand concepts like androgyny and sexual ambiguity. But I was almost not too young for these things. And that was important.
I was growing up on the northern beaches. Kim Moyes, one half of The Presets, also grew up on the northern beaches. Anyone who has grown up on the northern beaches (and left there at some point) will have already snorted a little ‘ha!’ at the inclusion of this context. I think it’s relevant. Stereotypically, the beaches are crawling with blonde, tan, self-entitled kids in Bintang singlets or nappy-length shorts. The population does a fairly admirable job of living up to the hype. (Tony Abbott has also been my local member at home since 1994. Context.)
Over the years I’ve heard Moyes share some less-than-fond memories of his time growing up in Narrabeen.
“I used to be chased up the street by the surfies when I was coming home from music school… Everyone in Narrabeen was convinced I was gay, or ‘a fag’ as they so delicately put it.” (SMH)
Classic beaches kids, right? But before anyone roars up in defence of the insular peninsula, hear me out – Moyes may have copped this from his early peers, but it’s not the way I remember things.
Maybe it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, and of almost the right age – but my earliest memory of The Presets is just that they were fucking cool.
For me it was a time when the beach was becoming old news, chart music sucked, and we were looking for something new to get excited about. We wanted something wilder. We were young, we had fire and a whole lot of hormones and we just wanted to get out there and lose ourselves.
And here were The Presets – these two guys from the Conservatorium of Music wearing skinny jeans, short tees, furry jackets and fancy masquerade, singing about sex and ambiguity, thrashing guitars and synths with equal reckless abandon.
There was a clear androgyny to their art-club vibe, something that hadn’t existed in the local music scene before – and it’s not surprising to hear about Moyes’ early confrontations in an area with such rigid ideals of masculinity as the northern beaches.
But that was the best part. The rising success of these weirdo electro kids gave us something different to latch on to, a way to prove (if only to ourselves) that we weren’t part of a set scene. It was just the right balance of obnoxious, danceable and anthemic. If you must dumb it down, I guess it was the perfect soundtrack for a bunch of bored white kids looking to get into trouble, but not like, heaps of trouble. But it was also much more than that. We were there from the beginning, we knew these guys before anyone else did, and it felt like their success could be our success.
Between Blow Up and Girl And The Sea, my primary memory of The Presets is the feeling that this music was ours.
What I love most about Blow Up as an EP is the sense of anticipation.
The Presets were my first real introduction to electro, and I guess, by extraction, to the concept of ‘the drop’. I remember seeing them at Homebake in ’06 – and even more vividly, the Boiler Room at Big Day Out ’07 – and feeling this heart-pounding expectation through those sweaty, sweaty sets. Even now, listening to ‘Pretty Little Eyes’ stirs up some breathless teenage impatience, wanting to get up and go somewhere or do something. Preferably with glowsticks.
Tonight I’ll meet you and I’ll know just what to do
But then I see you and you split my head in two
With your pretty little face, your pretty little eyes…
If there’s one word that will invariably come up when talking about this EP, it’s ‘sleazy’. The drawn-out vocals seeped in sarcasm and sex, the filthy bass and distorted guitar… it’s hard not to feel dirty when you listen to Blow Up. Even ‘Let’s Go!’ – the first and most accessible track on the EP – is underpinned with club culture seediness:
So young, so now, cutie little fire girl
Come on, come down, and wait for the ride – come here let’s go!’
From a 2013 perspective, this is clearly not The Presets’ best or most defining work. In the haunting harmonies of ‘Beat On, Beat Off’ and the driving riff of ‘Cookie’ you can find clear pathways to their breakout debut album, Beams. But the soaring melodies that drive 2012’s Pacifica are scarce if not completely absent here – replaced by half-whispered, half-screamed vocals which some youtube commenter rightly likened to Voldemort.
But that’s okay. Blow Up was the sleazy foreplay that lead to Kim and Julian becoming The Presets, official. No matter how old you are, or were, this is music to sneak out to. Ready or not, let’s go!
FBi’s 2003 albums of the week:
When we first started the FBi album of the week, we tried something a bit different: we chose 3 albums each week, and then you voted for the winner. Eventually we moved on to having one from Sydney, one from Australia and one international. As you can see…
Spod (Winner) – Taste The Radness
Buck 65 – Talkin’ Honky Blues
The Rapture – Echoes
Sun – Sun
Stereo – Total Party Anticonformiste
Deprogram (Winner) – Exit
Belle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Death Cab for Cutie (Winner) – Transatlanticism
Via Tania – Under a Different Sky
Mull Historical Society – Us
The Bird (Winner) – Audible Inventions
Enon – Hocus-Pocus
Major – The Bliss Domestic
The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow
Various – Straight from the Art
No Through Road – Monkey on a Rock
Pnau – Again
Various (Winner) – Desert Sessions 9 & 10
Alias – Muted
Bluebottle Kiss (Winner) Come Across
Red Snapper – Redone
The Rectifiers – Wear The Weight Of The Resting Sky
The Smallgoods (Winner) – Listen To The Radio
Zoot Woman – Zoot Woman
Fort Lauderdale – Pretty Monster
Screamfeeder – Take You Apart
Triosk Meets Jan Jelinek (Winner) – 1+3+1
The Presets – Blow Up
Apsci (Winner) – Get It Twisted
Mountaineers – Messy Century
A.S Dragon – Spanked
Kool Skools – Best of 2003
Music Vs Physics – Underscore
JC Superstar – Hip2 + Hop1
Missy Elliot (Overseas) – This Is Not A Test
Various (Sydney) – We Are One 2