“About Face” is the second studio release from #1 Dads, a growing side project of virtuoso Tom Iansek. Iansek’s “day job” is being half of Australian indie-rock duo Big Scary, a band that has garnered some attention for producing several albums with real artistic merit and listenability. Iansek has taken some matters into his own hands by creating a body of work under a new title and his own sole creative direction. Iansek’s solo work has yielded two studio albums, a 10-track release entitled “Man Of Leisure” and more recently a nine-song album called “About Face.” Both have been nominated for Australian music awards, earning acclaim for both Iansek and record label Pieater Records.
“About Face,” which was released in early August of this year, begins with a synthesized beat that will have you drumming your fingers on the steering wheel. It’s the sort of thing that can be found in smatterings throughout both albums Iansek has released thus far. The beat echoes with just the right amount of reverb and muffled effect to lend moodiness to the retro guitar riffs and vocals, which at times are soft or howling. Iansek is clearly a man of great range and talents, most but likely not all of which are on display in this album; he’s the sort of guy who makes a drum pad, a piano and a filtered guitar chord really blend into a single bar of music all by himself.
In the first song, which is called “My Rush,” Iansek poetically addresses attachment and yearning. The lyrics “… You’re a life raft I cling onto, keep an eye on the bottom and my arms around you” are heartfelt. So much so, in fact, that the first time I listened to the album, having anticipated it like the end of December, I piloted the car with a lump in my throat while Iansek delivered all the good and bad news of the world in musical form. I couldn’t believe how strong the music it was, how much I felt the lyrics and the music. I drove my roommate and friends crazy with repeated song plays.
A couple of guests are featured on the album to notable effect. Ainslie Wills, another solo indie/folk artist from Iansek’s homeland, lends her excellent voice to the track “So Soldier” and creates what I feel is a song in homage to female vocalists in rock’s bygone days. Wills’ vocals might remind the listener of Stevie Nicks as she softly tells us to “breathe easy.” Iansek leans into the lead guitar and joins Wills on the chorus to make a song so smooth it’s topped the charts in my Spotify most-listened. “So Soldier” is the song on the album that I feel is most guaranteed to catch the attention of listeners outside of the target audience.
Tom Snowdon, likewise an Australian solo artist, makes the piano-driven “Return To” better than good. His falsetto seems to float like the fog on Lake Superior; it cools and quiets, but does not stifle the base of piano keys and lightened percussion in the track. I would trust Iansek with anything at this point, up to and including using his own singing talents for every track, but I feel he truly made a strong creative choice here by pulling Snowdon into the project. The guest vocalists both add variety and quality to already-strong musical arrangements carefully crafted by the man behind it all.
The song “Nominal,” which has grown to become my personal favorite of the album, is a bouncy and percussive Swiss Army knife of music. It’s on my study playlist, my running playlist and a mix I concocted for the sole purpose of driving back to my parents’ house—though, to be fair, most of the album is in that particular mix. Iansek again starts a song with drum-pad effects, bringing in simple acoustic-electric guitar chords and layering his own voice into a wave of honesty. In the build up to the chorus, Iansek sings, “It’s for my broken ears, it’s for my bleeding heart, it’s for the voices inside my head, the voices that tear me apart.” In the right frame of mind, the listener feels a pang of empathy for what Iansek must have gone through to write this sort of thing, and to sing it with the naked honesty that we can perceive in his voice. This man really means every word.
“Sister” and “So Long,” my two favorite tracks on Iansek’s first solo album “Man Of Leisure,” were the sort of songs I was hoping to get more of from Iansek on his sophomore effort. This is where I feel his new release is strongest; the older album is a bit softer in focus, and while highly likable, it doesn’t have quite the same appeal of “About Face” which I feel more strongly showcases the musical abilities of Iansek and his collaborators. The best songs of the first album seem to be the seeds from which “About Face” grew to its fruition.
But as in many instances, comparing these two albums is akin to holding up an apple and an orange. Both have their merits and failings, small though any failings may be, and any person who calls him or herself a lover of tastes simply must taste both and know their flavors. And unlike my expectations for the apple or orange markets, I have very high hopes that a new fruit will be born from the musical genius of Tom Iansek in the near future.
“About Face” is streaming on SoundCloud and Spotify, and there are excellent music videos for “So Soldier” and “Return To” on YouTube. If you’d like to hear something that really makes you feel heaven and hell, as well as all of the in-betweens, take a run through the album and see what you think. As for me, I’ve heard the entirety of it at least 10 times myself and I still crave it like hot coffee on a cold morning.