Have you ever imagined what John Mayer's Battle Studies would have sounded like if Mayer were Australian and it were 2017? Simon Okely, the songwriter behind Melbourne act Slow Dancer, has managed to create nearly that with his latest release In A Mood. Okely, too, was inspired by the same '60s and '70s blues records that are such oft-cited influences for Mayer, and it's hard to imagine that Okely hasn't heard "Your Body Is A Wonderland" at least once.
In A Mood hooks you immediately with its two most upbeat tracks, "In the Water" and Bitter." After that, Okely sinks you down into the Slow Dancer trance. There is little discernible arc to In A Mood's progress - no rise of tension or pace in the middle, and not much of a release at the end, but this does not take away from its grace. Instead, listeners float lazily along, as if the tracks were sections of a gentle river carrying them towards an estuary not into the ocean but some calm lake in a rural county you used to visit when you were still growing up. If you turn the volume down low enough that you can hear Okely's voice but not his lyrics and shut your eyes, it's a beautifully meditative groove.
"Don't Believe," the leading single, was clearly chosen as such with careful deliberation. A soft, smooth groove keeps the track engaging without ever raising Okely's voice or mood above a croon. Its chorus, sung with an audible smirk, catches in its listeners ears and pairs perfectly with the summery but monochromatic music video to stay there until it makes up its mind to walk smoothly away in smart leather shoes.
Lest Okely's suave attitude become too much, though, "I Would" sees a poetic sincerity over plucked classical guitar, foregoing the keys for a simpler serenade. Romance flows in lyrics throughout, with lines like "All the others went and bought their cars and built their houses, but you and I make for better dancers." It holds a sincerity that lacks the bold, confident charm of a Mayer hit but instead contents itself with the warm, welcoming love of a glass of whiskey on the front patio late on a summer's night.
Throughout the album, a distinctly Melbourne influence is heard; a special sound that can be picked up in acts ranging from Alex Lahey to Nearly Oratorio. Its exact cause is hard to name, but it lies in something bigger than accents and more specific than culture. Bigger groups like Tame Impala have a hint of the sound, but the high production of their work dilutes its clarity.
"It Goes On" gets particularly blues-y in its verses while lifting its chorus to a nostalgic and airy vibe, while extended notes in the vocals give the guitar room to have its own melody. The following track "Heaven Knows" follows a similar pattern, giving Okely's skills as an instrumentalist a bit of time to breathe.
"I Was Often" gets a little twangier, and a little darker both in vibe and imagery. Lyrics like "Leave your light on, even when I've done something wrong" weigh heavy on the heart but slide smoothly through the ears. It's the sort of mourning love song that inspires sympathy - unlike so many of its peers, Okely manages to be lamenting without disparaging the character of his beloved.
The album closes with "In A Mood" and "I've Been Thinking," the latter fading softly with plunking piano keys far up on the right hand, a soft ending that allows both for a gentle comedown and an easy transition right back into the opening track, should your device be set to "loop."