Like fellow Melbourne, Australia five-piece Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Possible Humans have a way of making tense post-punk songs feel a little brighter and more approachable than many of their peers.
That’s in part because the band comes to its sound via the jangle-pop highway of R.E.M. and The Feelies, where bouncing bass lines dance around staccato guitar strokes and melody usually wins out over monotone. In other words, Possible Humans would rather make you tap your toes than glower at you.
Though the band has been around since 2012, Everybody Split is their debut full-length after a 7-inch single and a cassette of improvisations, both released in 2016. Originally released earlier this year by Hobbies Galore (the Melbourne label run by ex-Twerps drummer Alex MacFarlane), the album is now getting a wider release thanks to the excellent Chicago-based label Trouble In Mind.
Everybody Split starts off beautifully with an undulating guitar part that would make Peter Buck proud. There is a clear sense of motion in the song’s main riff, which keeps things airy even as Sam Tapper unspools lines that communicate a general unease: “I’m not scared of dying alone, just feeling bland,” he sings as buzzy synths surface from the mix.
Three different singers take the lead on Everybody Split, another commonality with R.B.C.F. Low-voiced Steve Hewitt delivers a deliciously dramatic vocal on the downcast “Aspiring to Be a Bloke,” a song that rumbles deliberately for half its running time before opening up into a noisy tangle of guitars. His brother, Mark Hewitt, handles the album’s most inscrutable lyrics on “Nomenclature Airspace,” singing of torn stomachs and catatonic stalemates against the song’s measured rat-tat-tat attack. (A third Hewitt, Adam, is also in the band.)
Possible Humans are at their best when they’re bobbing like a sewing needle at breakneck speed (“The Thumps,” “Stinger”), but they’re pretty good when they stretch out, too, like on “Meredith,” the album’s closer. A welcome convergence of ambling pace and warm acoustic strumming, “Meredith” offers a glimpse at the band’s sweet spirit, something that isn’t necessarily abundant elsewhere. Of course, it’s possible to stretch out too much: “Born Stoned” is a perfectly good four-minute rock song expanded to 12 minutes by tacking on eight minutes of psychedelic guitar soloing. It’s not terrible, but it is skippable, and might’ve been better sequenced as the album’s final track.
For the most part, though, Everybody Split finds Possible Humans capably walking a tricky line: They take parts that, when added up, can (and often do) come off as dour, stilted or standoffish, but by infusing them with a strong pop sensibility and a personal touch, they manage to soften these songs’ sharp corners. This is post-punk with a pulse, and not just the kind provided by the drummer.