Speech Act Theory’s debut self-titled EP is a pensive and brooding selection of sedated alternative rock, infused with dark, underlying trip hop. Spearheaded by Tāmaki Makaurau multi-instrumentalist Pete Hickman, the project is firm and resonant.
The five tracks across the release beckon you to get closer through cryptic songwriting and sparse, sprawling, and virulent alt arrangements, rife with pointed bass and droning synths.
Opener Harder For Yourself sets the tone with an eerie and idly ringing guitar tone, before Hickman’s vocals come in alongside a fragile piano part. It recalls Portishead’s anxious cover of ABBA’s SOS, with Harder For Yourself subtly and intricately building its ominous atmosphere in a similar way.
Next Time is a standout track that begins with a haunting looped guitar, featuring a vocal performance from Brodie Macdonald reminiscent of Emiliana Torrini. The song has an invigorating energy as she sings about sexism with glorious, soft-spoken authority.
Binary is a tenacious and unyielding instrumental cut. With sequenced drums a lá Big Red Machine and synthetic rock instrumentation that feel informed by ‘In Rainbows’ or ‘100th Window’, its collective parts feel like they’re vibrating together at a frequency designed to conjure an animus in its listeners.
Hickman’s vocals on Suburban Crowns evoke a distinctly Maynard James Keenan-esque melody. It’s a softly sensual track that’s arranged to perfection; its eeriest qualities work fantastically with its prettiest ones.
The closer Time To Go wraps things up with Macdonald returning for vocal duties, an understated urgency in her voice resembling her former track. The turning point in the middle of the song where Hickman re-enters and the instrumentation’s pitch begins shifting suddenly is a highlight of the record, giving the track and its respective project an exhilarating finish.
Speech Act Theory has spent the last few years crafting a sound that feels total in solemness. It all culminates on their debut release, a uniquely atmospheric and hypnotic EP that revels in its wickedly dark sound. It will be intriguing to see what the outfit does in the future, and how they continue to evolve their distinctive style.