There aren’t many bands whose names convey their sound as accurately as Australia’s Died Pretty. The coupling of dark and hard-hewn guitar chords with light and lilting jangles make the Sydney quintet’s records both delicately pretty and devastatingly loud (not at the same time). That contrast and the interplay between scream and shiver is what gives Died Pretty its appeal. One moment Ronald S. Peno is screeching like he’s tried on Robert Plant’s too-tight pants, the next he’s got the voice of Jim Morrison calling from the grave. The band likewise essays both the cat-mating squeals of post-Hendrix guitar with sinister horns and crashing cymbals and a delicate church organ picking out a melody as their voices meld into a vanilla smooth background chorus.
The Died Pretty 12-inch is a compilation of the band’s first two 45s: “Out of the Unknown” and “Mirror Blues.” The four-song Next to Nothing, Died Pretty’s debut US release, does not contain the song of that name — it’s on Free Dirt. The highly recommended album — which contains glimmers of the ’60s, Dylan, Gram Parsons, folk-rock and neo-psychedelic — uses guest contributions of mandolin, violin, pedal steel and sax to magnify the band’s own essential variety.
Lost opens with two glorious pop tunes that give way to the usual slate of heart-wrenching acoustic numbers (“As Must Have”) and pummeling rockers (“Winterland,” complete with introductory gob). Sparkling production by Rob Younger (ex-Radio Birdman) helps put across the alternately delicate and roaring songs. This is the work of a band that, in a perfect world, would rule the album-rock airwaves.
Died Pretty went LA (sort of) on Every Brilliant Eye, replacing its longtime bassist and keyboardist and hooking up with producer Jeff Eyrich (Legal Weapon, Rank and File). But as the nine tracks attest, a change of scenery didn’t dilute the band’s power. In particular, “The Underbelly” (all sprawling six-plus minutes of it) seems a perfect summarization of this fine record’s sound: imagine Ian Curtis fronting Crazy Horse.
Two years later, back in Sydney with English producer Hugh Jones, Died Pretty harnessed every brilliant virtue of its songwriting (by Peno and guitarist Brett Myers) and made its masterstroke, Doughboy Hollow. Passionate, dramatic, soothing and catchy as hell, the album features a would-be hit in the gorgeous “Sweetheart.” Peno’s alternately subtle and cranky croon has matured into a distinctive instrument, even if he actually sounds like Gordon Lightfoot (in the best possible way, of course) on the gradually building epic “Satisfied.” The bouncy “Stop Myself” adds power pop to the unique repertoire of this tightly wound band.
Died Pretty wisely stuck with Jones for Trace, which reveals their true talent — for Outback Heartland rock (check the absolutely devastating “The Rivers”). The fine album’s one wrong move is “110 B.P.M.,” which might as well be a metal-rap-funk reworking of “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.”