EP Review: The Moderate Themes’ ‘A Movie I Used to Love’

Written by Fenn Idle

It’s hard to write a good Facebook status. Having an answer to the eternal “What’s on your mind?” prompt is a lost art in this day and age where posting feels more like a performance than an earnest means of communication. The quotidian Facebook status is less combative than the Tweet due to being isolated to the user’s Wall. It is also distinguished from the Instagram post by the lack of visuals and vanity. Big blocks of text are welcome, as are pithy jokes. 

Paul Macadam writes a good Facebook status. (Disclaimer: I am Facebook friends with the subject of this review.) He uses a combination of self-deprecation (“Yesterday a young student said I look like someone from “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – choosing to assume she didn’t mean one of the beasts”) and slice-of-life update (“Going out for a walk to have a nice relaxing argument with myself, which I lose”) to create an internet presence that is witty and engaging but not attention-seeking. The same could be said for his most recent musical effort, A Movie I Used to Love.

The name of his new band (alongside bassist Sean Lees) is the Moderate Themes – a combination of words that recalls a pre-Rotten Tomatoes era of teenage hours spent reading VHS covers at the local Blockbuster in search of the perfect M15+ movie. The recollection of outdated technology isn’t limited to the band name. The first couplet on the opener “MSN” (“I got broken up with via MSN / Found out my nan died via voicemail”) is an indictment of technology’s dehumanisation of relationships imported from an era of landlines and dialup. Later in the song, the line “Watched a movie that I used to love / Yeah, this really hasn’t aged well” functions as a relatable anecdote for those of us who grew up on the Farrelly brothers and a self-critique of nostalgic tendencies. 

This line of criticism continues in a verse of “Guilt.” Macadam bemoans his grass-is-greener relationship with the past (“I hate how things are, I miss how things were/ask me next month and I’ll say the reverse”) until the melodious basslines and blues-adjacent guitar tinkering give way to a more thorny chorus both harmonically and lyrically (“My sense of guilt is old enough to drink”).

“Observation” finds Macadam in second-person mode, illustrating the struggles of learning from one’s mistakes. “Your favourite song got ruined when you set it as your alarm” is a specific and funny insight that can only come from personal experience. In the last line, he uses the analogy of self-employment to describe getting older and more independent – “So you’re finally your own boss / Measure what you’re gaining against the sense of loss.” As anyone who has done a sole provider tax return might ponder, is having control worth all the struggle?

Over a groovy plodding bassline, “Routine” sees Macadam takes stock of a person who is no longer part of his life, listing objects of theirs that he has kept. The mundanity of the items (“the last email you sent,” “a coaster with your signature, you wrote it four times”) speaks to a sense of emotional hoarding – replacing people with objects that represent them – and the difficulty of parting with objects once they become symbolic of something greater. The song’s final minute consists of a repeated wordless vocal melody with odd-numbered phrase lengths, creating a cyclical loop reflective of the song’s title.

It’s ironic: on a release whose lyrical theme seems to be that it’s hard to get anything right, there’s hardly a note out of place. The music is performed and produced with great precision, and the inventive compositions contain structural flourishes that evoke the unpredictable rock progressions of Elliott Smith or the Beatles. Unlike certain movies of our collective youth, the songs on A Movie I Used to Love have a timeless quality that, one suspects, will age well.

Score: 7

Fenn Idle is a musician from Sydney who makes bedroom pop under the name Fenn is cool. He has a degree in composition and was shortlisted for the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer Competition in 2012.

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