Methyl Ethel

Are You Haunted? (Future Classic)

Contact Patrick Tilley about Methyl Ethel

Are You Haunted?” asks the title of Methyl Ethel’s fourth album. But it’s more of a rhetorical question. Jake Webb, who adopted the fibreglass-referencing moniker for a bedroom recording project in 2014 and has carried it through the band’s many iterations, already knows the answer. Yes, you’re haunted. We all are, and the real question is: what do we do with our hauntings?

There are these spirits, memories of our old selves, our younger selves, parents,” he notes, “generations past whose deeds, actions, successes and failures shape us. We all have these ghosts that linger in our present predicaments.” Methyl Ethel has never shied away from themes of memories that overstay their welcome, nightmares or preoccupations that linger in the psyche. But with Webb’s latest longplayer, a more direct and poignant interpretation of haunting takes centre stage: themes of mortality, irretrievable time and heavy presences suffuse the album’s nine tracks. Themes that might make for a sombre listen if it wasn’t for Webb’s knack for exhilarating arrangements, addicting hooks, curious textures and propulsive, syncopated rhythms; elements that add up to a joyous, giddy listen, even if there’s threads of melancholy and anxiety woven through.


Matters’ is a prime, dizzying example. Inspired by time spent in Los Angeles on the San Andreas fault line, Webb channels the ominous spectre of an earthquake that could hit at any moment into a note-perfect (albeit unconventional) pop song. Arpeggiating synths skate over an uptempo post-punk groove and an infectious chorus delivered in Webb’s trademark falsetto, resulting in an alchemical translation of heady dread into liberatory party energy.


A similar alchemy is at play in ‘Proof’, the first Methyl Ethel song to feature an additional singer: in this case, fellow Western Australian art-pop stalwart and one-time Methyl Ethel guitarist, Stella Donnelly. It’s “a song about truth and movies,” offers Webb, a meditation on what constitutes reality in the post-Trump, post-climate-crisis, post-COVID era, in which science and fiercely-guarded fantasy go head to head in the realm of public discourse. But where other Methyl Ethel songs might lean into the blurriness of life and belief, ‘Proof’ struts along as a glittery, funk-infused polemic against nonsense. Webb and Donnelly, tongues-in-cheek, daring the listener to “take a chance on proof (if you want to).” The collaboration feels natural, almost inevitable. “Stella is one of the most truth-telling artists I’ve ever heard,” comments Webb. “It made for a perfect match.”


Elsewhere, ‘Neon Cheap’ channels Talking Heads and Television to reimagine the social media scroll as a three-dimensional, Vegas-like streetscape of human spectacle, while the piano-led ‘One and Beat’ offers a rare slice of metanarrative exploring Webb’s relationship to music and audiences. Songs like ‘Something to Worry About’ (“a song about convincing my mum that everything is gonna be ok”) and ‘Kids on Holiday’—which laments the heavy burden on the Thunberg generation to save the world—stare the doomiest feelings of our present moment dead in the face. But with their irresistible foundations of groove, jittery synthpop inflections and effortless melodies, there’s a through-line of vitality and celebration to be found.


It’s an album haunted by the uncertain future, as well as the dauntingly unchangeable past: dearly departed friends, missed opportunities, forks in the road. With upright piano, glitching sound-samples and sanguine beats at the album’s emotional core, it’s a strange and beguiling journey; perhaps Webb’s weirdest, but also most undeniably pop-leaning and danceable record to date. Like the playful, German Expressionist styled video for ‘Proof,’ it’s a collection that’s as fun as it is serious, by turns oblique and defiantly direct. And like a ghost staring down from your ceiling, it’s the kind of thing that leaves an indelible mark.