Right off the bat, The Big Exercise can be a challenging listen. In simple terms, Dutch trio The Homesick play waggishly experimental indie-rock and angular post-punk, sharing similarities with the likes of XTC or Wire. So far, so good. The difficulty is that wider influences are many and The Homesick like you to know about it. The Big Exercise flips and darts about the place frequently, leaving cohesion hard to come by.
For the casual listener this is a roadblock. But persevere and you’ll find The Big Exercise a more than fruitful experience. It is not worth the time trying to find the words that nail their myriad style, but mostly you’ll find a hallucinogenic San Franciscan ‘60s thing going on, fused with playful ‘70s post-punk and new wave. All very interesting and when The Homesick get it right, it is very, very good. ‘Kaln’ and ‘I Celebrate My Fantasy’ are the psychedelic ‘60s this generation never saw; two tracks full of gorgeous whimsy twinned with sunny vocal harmonies. The latter in particular holds a strong case for the best thing you’ll hear in 2020. And those darting influences we talked about? Well in the space of two tracks The Big Exercise moves from the brutalist-edged post-punk of Preoccupations, complete with rolling carnival drums (‘Children’s Day’) to the whimsy lo-fi pop of Ariel Pink (‘Pawing’). Glorious stuff.
When The Homesick get it wrong however, it stands out like a sore thumb. Interestingly this is the first album I can recall where the title track is perhaps the weakest on the album. ‘The Big Exercise’ is messy and a total nuisance. Fortunately, blots are few and I would refuse to be drawn into picking holes any more than that.
‘Focus On The Beach’ is another highlight, doubling back on the tried and tested first half of the album; a track that sounds like Julian Cope if he’d been born a decade earlier.
The thrashing guitar-punk closer ‘Male Bonding’ is a stroke of real ingenuity. If they managed to lull anyone at all into thinking they finally had their number, they put paid to that idea with a raucous track far more akin to the post-rock of label mates Metz than any speculative fidgy-widgyness that has come before it.
The Big Exercise is by no means perfect. But it sure deserves to be highly awarded by virtue of its sprawling adventure alone, which in the main, is carried through brilliantly. A record built in meticulous detail, with literally so many influences at work you’d need a toothpick to prick them all out; an album that throws the kitchen sink and extenuating pipework in there and still manages to sound coherent and melodic. Mostly.
Seeing some words written about this album so far, I am inclined to feel that some have been too hasty to pull the rating trigger on The Big Exercise. This is not an album that gives up everything just because you asked nicely. It doesn’t offer beatirific background noise while you busy yourself around the house (trust me, I’ve tried). It doesn’t have songs that get people on dancefloors. It’s an album that opens to a listener willing to be attentive to what is actually going on. It isn’t supposed to be easy. But if you feed its ego, you will be rewarded.