Sly Withers - Gardens album review

Sly Withers
(Image credit: Supplied)

SLY WITHERS
Gardens
DEW PROCESS

In the five years since we first heard their self-titled debut, Sly Withers have undergone a seismic transmutation. Gone is the dirty, loose ’n’ livid shredding and abrasive DIY tracking – the cuts on that first record still pack a punch, but in comparison to the Perth quadrant’s current output, they feel like demos laid down on a MacBook. If the 2019 EP Gravis was a soft reboot to the adventures of Sly Withers, Gardens plays out like the big-screen adaptation – huge emotional stakes, captivating story beats and seven-figure production.

Instantly striking is how dynamic and three‑dimensional the LP is; the band wade through a jungle of peaks and valleys across its 12 tracks, ebbing and flowing between heartrending slow-burners and big, mosh-ready punk anthems. The guitars are tighter, brighter and more tasteful all-round, with fretmasters Sam Blitvich and Jono Mata wielding an admirably ironclad chemistry. 

On the moodier and more emotive tracks – like the strained and achy “Glad” or poignant “Turns Out” – the lead work is prickly and warm, cutting turf for the pensive musings on the vocal front to really cut deep. But on songs like “My Bullshit” or “Constant Wreck”, the riffs and ruminations are in mortal combat, dense and driving riffs jutting up against angular, angst-driven vocal hooks that weigh as heavy on the mind as they will on cranked stereos.

It’s doling in these riveting emo-punk jams that Sly Withers truly shine. Don’t get us wrong, the ballads hit hard and are tangibly stirring – but this is a punk record at is core, and such is unequivocally clear on rip-roaring scorchers like “Breakfast” and “Bougainvillea”. It’s hard to picture that once fans settle in with Gardens, the band will ever play a show without “Positives” bellying up a thundering chant-along. Too, when sets open on “Cracks”, the 40-second lead-in will most certainly pave way for some truly convulsive circle-pits. 

An easy highlight tucked in the record’s middle, “Sleep On The Weekends” is its own beast entirely. We start with a dreary, reverb-soaked acoustic passage and a pained, monochrome lamentation. Over two minutes, the band creep patiently into a grungy, mid-energy canter – before slamming into an absolute cyclone of a climax, both singers howling with palpable ardour as the guitars belt and drums clatter at full force behind them. It’s powerfully impassioned showpieces like these that really set Sly Withers apart from their contemporaries.

Effortlessly galvanising the foursome as the clear frontrunners for Australia’s new-gen emo kings, Gardens is a bold, widescreen punk epic well worth diving into.

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Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Their bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (on which they also serve as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Their go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, they only picked up after they’d joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped them see the light…