January 28, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 34°F


Review: Duo artfully crafts pop record

"Not Art"

Big Scary

With a title like “Not Art,” it would seem that Australian duo Big Scary doesn’t have the highest hopes for its newest release. Thankfully, the album defies its less-than-endearing name, offering listeners a delightful range of intimate and stimulating pop music. Featuring a distinct medley of piano, vocals and electronic percussion, “Not Art” is a catchy and refreshing addition to the pop genre.

Consisting of Joanna Syme and Tom Iansek, Big Scary has the benefit of having both a gifted male and female vocalist at its disposal. Syme’s floaty and elegant soprano contrasts delightfully with Iansek’s deeper, longing vocalizations, providing listeners with two voices to appreciate, keeping each track feeling new and exciting. Tracks such as “Twin Rivers” exhibit the pair’s vocal dynamic, having Iansek sing the verses while Syme takes on the chorus, ensuring that listeners will never hear too much of either voice and keeping every moment of “Not Art” fresh.

It’s not just their impressive pipes that aid this duo in the pursuit of quality music: instrumentation, notably Iansek’s ability on piano, and Syme’s expertise on drums, is at its prime on “Not Art.” Tracks are frequently introduced through the keys and chords of a piano, including “Harmony Sometimes,” which drifts in on an airy chord progression that fully realizes the song’s dreamy, echoing sound.

Once Big Scary picks up the tempo, Syme’s ability as a percussionist becomes evident. Her instrumentation is deliberate and precise, not barraging the listener with cymbal crashes and snares. Instead, she opts to fill the album’s negative space with exactly the right degree of sound, carefully tapping her drums when they are needed and remaining silent when they are not. Track “Luck Now” is a particular example of Syme’s technique, featuring just the right degree of cymbals and bass pedal to back Iansek’s quiet, woeful vocalizations without noisily drowning out his lyrics.

It seems “Not Art” has been misnamed. Big Scary has revolted against its release’s title, producing a collection of delicate pop tracks that not only exhibit the musical chops of its artists but also the strength of their collaboration, with each of the artists merging his and her strengths into one cohesive force of musical artistry.

Steven Pirani can be reached at spirani1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @stevenpirani