Album Reviews

Southpacfic: Radar Road EP

The Ottawa three-piece return with their first set of songs in 23 years.

In the late ’90s, Southpacific seemed to be one the few gems that many had failed to unearth. The Ottawa three-piece (guitarist Joachim Toelke, percussionist Graeme Fleming, and bassist Phil Stewart-Bowes) were simply flawless. Not just from release to release, either; throughout their two releases, from one track to the next, Southpacific had an uncanny ability to continually shift the goalposts throughout the landscapes in which they inhabited.

Their high-watermark moment arrived following their 1998 mini-album, 33, in Constance. Released in 2000, it was as crucial as anything in the experimental guitar space, joining fellow outliers, Landing, Yume Bitsu and Windy & Carl in thinking outside the box to present that immersive experience. 23 years on, and Constance remains as a crucial reference point.

Amalgamating the most forward-thinking aspects of sound, image and texture via protracted drone-based psychedelia, Constance was equal parts aggressive and serene. Elusively euphoric, and where that aforementioned immersive experience was concerned, Southpacific crystallised it.

Southpacific: Constance

20 years on, and Southpacific teased us with new music with the standalone single, Depths. Over the last three years, the track has fermented and places nicely amongst Radar RoadSouthpacific’s comeback EP which has arrived like a beautiful bolt from the blue.

Despite the blustery drones and carefully sculptured dreamscapes that this 21 minutes offers, like the band’s persona, Radar Road (recorded in Toelke’s basement and produced/mixed by Fleming) arrives with little fanfare. Beginning with the blistering title track. Quite simply, songs like these are the defining reason why bands get back together.

Southpacific - Radar Road

From the opening notes that crackle and spark with frightening vigour, Radar Road explodes with vivid colours that light up the night sky. Post-rock, drone, shoegaze – whatever you want to call it – this is a song that simply cuts through, impacting the same way whichever mood or surrounding you’re in.

While Constance only contained two vocal-based tracks (33 didn’t have any), on Breakdown Fleming takes the reins; his voice creating a slow-motion splendour that sinks deep into the bones. It may just be the most emotionally-charged track Southpacific have delivered, taking the origins of post-rock and twisting them into a new world reverie.   

Landing’s Seasons 20th anniversary

Continuing to shift the needle, Pure Distance follows. Its motorik charm leaning into the world of cinema and that open road we all yearn for when we just want to disappear for a while. Here, Southpacific haven’t sounded so direct. And it continues on the churning cadence of Depths. If Windy & Carl ever transformed in full-on rock band mode, then it may sound something like this.

Fleming returns for the closing track, For Years. “I moved you away to find you” he sings, with a delivery that is like a nagging ghost from the past. In many ways it encapsulates the Southpacific experience: mysterious and brooding, underpinned with a grandeur few bands have emulated since Constance.

And now we have Radar Road. A wonderful resumption from a band that should have reached far more ears in their prime. With some luck, that may change with Radar Road: a scrupulously plotted marvel that maintains the sublime essence of Southpacific.

In a year where new music is thriving, even before 2023 is out, it’s not an overreach to suggest that the return of Southpacific will be among the defining moments.  

Radar Road is out now. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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