After eight years of suspenseful radio static, Something For Kate have returned with their newest album 'The Modern Medieval', a musical treasure that's just a little dusty after being kept on the shelf since the end of 2019.
The band's far-reaching fan base has surely been holding its collective breath, and it's not been wasted.
The dependable, keenly anticipated SFK hallmarks are all there: Eclectic subject matter, bittersweet lyricism, military-tight production, and Paul Dempsey's ascending vocals that lift the emotional rug out from under our feet.
'The Modern Medieval' is an invitation to feel one's own feelings and think one's own thoughts; a nudge of hope and human vitality, lending a strange yet familiar resolve amid the swirling absurdity of the world. In short – it's the bluebird we've been waiting for.
The band has already released four tracks from the album ('Situation Room', 'Waste Our Breath', 'Supercomputer', and 'Come Back Before I Come Back To My Senses').
Dempsey, SFK's frontman, returns astonished gratitude to their legion of fans who've stayed with them throughout their 25-year trajectory, as well as new ones blowing the dust from their album covers for the first time.
"You couldn't ask for more supportive fans, and they seem to really enjoy what they've heard so far," Dempsey says.
"We're not a super-snappy, fast band when it comes to writing songs. That's because we're hoping to create something that rewards repeated listens over long periods of time; we don't expect our music to reveal itself straight away.
"I think that's why we have such a wonderful audience. . . you have to invest in Something For Kate. You have to invest some time in our music and engage with it and meet it halfway, or it won't reveal itself to you," he says.
This much is evident in SFK's cryptic subject matter and lyrics. Dempsey – a Raymond Carver-like figure of songwriting – proves economically enigmatic in his verse as always, burying indeterminate layers of empathy and elaborate backstory for listeners to unearth with a fine-tooth comb.
"It's like trying to use six words to write an essay," Paul says.
"I also really like it when you can put words together that don't make literal sense; but when you sing them in a certain way to a certain rhythm to a certain melody, they make this kind of magic.
"Trying to do that is like trying to sidestep your own consciousness; the voice in your head that says that doesn't make sense, but then you pull a fast one and dodge it, and a door opens up."
Profound, paradoxical, and often humorous examples include the tracks 'Last Resort Town', a futuristic extrapolation of billionaires buying up property in New Zealand and cryogenically freezing themselves in the event of an apocalypse; and 'Our Extinguished Colleague', about a friend who leans in too close to a candle and becomes a demigod.
Then there's 'Bluebird'; "a symbol of hope and joy" for two people drinking in a bar to drown the outside societal noise; an invitation for sanctuary amidst chaos.
"The way the world has been the last few years. . . it's a lot to swallow. So a lot of this album is like 'look, if you need to just come over here and ignore the rest of the world, this is where I'll be'."
Despite a particularly lengthy hiatus while band members took on individual projects (Dempsey produced two solo albums; Stephanie Ashford, bassist and Dempsey's wife, twice became a mother; and drummer Clint Hyndman launched numerous hospitality businesses), 'The Modern Medieval' was described as a "joy" to make.
Recorded in Byron Bay, mastered in Toronto, and heard for the first time in a rental car CD player driving around LA – as per SFK's accidental post-production ritual – it's among "the most fun" the band have had in the studio.
"I used to look at [the studio] like it was an airplane cockpit; it was a mystery to me," Dempsey says.
"Now, we've struck the right balance of how to make the best use of [the studio], and how not to go down rabbit holes or waste time or get self-indulgent."
The album's ease of creation testifies how radically the trio have evolved together over the decades. Growing pains in the band's younger years include Dempsey suffering from deep bouts of depression and "a kind of nervous breakdown" due to chronic writer's block.
"The only way back from that was to rebuild my thinking and reconstruct my whole attitude towards [writing]," he says.
"All that means is going upstairs and sitting in this chair and opening the notebook and beginning to write. I think just getting up the stairs sometimes seems like an impossible challenge, but once I'm up here it's good.
"You have to just do the work and don't be so hard on yourself. Just keep going. You can't expect to have good ideas all the time, and you can't expect things to just go great all the time."
SFK are renowned as their own harshest critics. When asked whether they've finally – after a quarter of a century in action – reached a point of satisfaction with their music production, Dempsey's point-blank response: "No. Never gonna happen.
"There's no finish line, you know. There will always be a better song, the song you haven't written, and the opportunity to get onstage and play to people. I don't know how many hundreds or thousands of gigs we've played at this point, but none of them have been the same. I don't expect that will change.
“We're not in a position of going out and playing records we made years and years ago. There's an interest in what we're doing now, and that's a lot of trust being placed in us. That's really valuable. We're not living in the past; which, as you can probably tell by now, I wouldn't be any good at," Dempsey says.
The release of 'The Modern Medieval' comes as a welcome surprise after months in cultural lockdown. However, the ever-changing nature of the pandemic means the band sadly do not, as yet, have any tours planned.
"We're desperate to play shows, and we do have some dates on hold for next year; but we don't want to announce anything we might have to cancel. We don't want to set up any disappointment."
Heed some wisdom from the substance of 'Situation Room': "You just have to accept that you can't control some things. Patience is a virtue," Dempsey says.'The Modern Medieval' will be released 20 November, 2020. Pre-order it.