Two Steps On The Water — God Forbid Anyone Look Me In The Eye

Originally published in ISSUE TWELVE.

Two Steps’ ascent feels like a matter of timing and inevitability, at least in Melbourne, in that everyone goin’ round seems sick of seeing the same straight dude rock bands and their insincere whining to say nothing of their undisclosed dickheaded behaviour. If you’re gonna go out every week to find yourself in the live phenomenon, you’re gonna wanna eliminate the risk of aligning yourself with dickheads, which makes a band as righteous and sincere as Two Steps on the Water a visible first stop. Early dispatches were filed from the live shows: Two Steps on the Water had to be seen to be believed. The scrappy recordings couldn’t hold a candle to the tear-jerking spectacle of their performance. God Forbid Anyone Looks Me In The Eye is the end of that, though. Teased with ‘YoYo’ a couple months ago, the gripping slow-burn of that track belied just how hard the record could go.

Because God Forbid Anyone Look Me In The Eye is furious. It’s furious and vulnerable and finds no contradiction in being so. Some of its most powerful moments are in hellacious belted choirs, like on ‘My Medusa’ — which gives the album its name — where June screams “DON’T LOOK ME IN THE EYES!” and Sienna and Jonathan join her to follow with “I NEED TO BREATHE!”

And some of its most powerful moments are pensive: June crooning “When I see someone who looks like you / Do you see someone who looks like me?” and then “I don’t / Wanna / Be in / Love any more,” on ‘Ships In The Night’, ruminating all solemn every which way the phrase “You put / Words in / My mouth / I wasn’t / Hungry,” on ‘Words In My Mouth’, Sienna joining on backing vocals.

We gotta talk about this dichotomy ‘cos what’s most striking about this album comes down to the virtue of patience. Firstly in the patience of this band to release this album on this day, where there’s no element of capturing the buzz or riding a wave of hype straight to South By or whatever other wretched metrics we use to assign rightness these days, but by the fact of it being as finished as it’ll ever be, perfectly weighted and every edge honed to a blade. But then the patience of each song, which neither rush nor waddle through any stretch but give fair (which is different to equal) time to moments of joy and sadness, ebullience and frustration, a tumultuous adventure which captures the precious fragility of co-existence. In fact it’s after June Jones walks that ‘Words In My Mouth’ opening verse forward and back and left and right and up and over that she breaks into a psychic wail, “YOUR TAXONOMY HAS FAILED ME!”, slashing at the broken lexicon with its fuzzy descriptors which inevitably come short of asserting anyone’s personhood that falls outside of a dubious norm. The song evolves into a terrifying creature with June seeing herself from outside her body, alienated even from the potential to realise her self-conception.

And this seems like a fine time to talk about June’s vocals, which are called “unpleasant” and “hard to listen to” and other dour synonyms while ugliness is continually praised in male vocalists, missing the point that in that monstrous, shredded yell June articulates everything violent about the emotion on show. Like Simona Castricum’s #TriggerWarning40, June’s trans experience is as much a part of the DNA of these songs as a part of herself, contextualising every interaction whether heartbreak or affirming, and this isn’t flag-waving like Transgender Dysphoria Blues (important in its own right) but it is intrinsic. “I don’t wanna talk about what I am / I just wanna throw some shapes around,” she says on ‘Baby And The Bicycle’ but also “Just going outside is political” — the talk inevitably drags back to that ostensibly defining point, and the frustration that results becomes a part of June’s furious roar. But in saying that, it denies her range, and that contrast, again, is from where God Forbid taps so much power. Guttural yells give way to bucolic, tender moments, and they are always underscored by elaborate, stunning arrangements.

Besides June’s vocals, Sienna Thornton’s violin might be the most important sonic thumbprint on this band, not only for its rarity but in how it swings and soars, skitters and tapdances through each track like a puppeteer pulling those near-invisible strings. They’re a powerful hook into the overflowing feeling of every song before one even realises it. Meanwhile Jonathan Nash splits time over the rest of the arrangements, the grounding pounding throb of his drums snaking through the low end and up into eager bodies and pulling double shifts on bass, organ, and piano whenever it’s called for. Both back up June’s vocals over much of the record, stoking triumphantsad moments like the aforementioned on ‘My Medusa’ and the chorus of ‘Decade of Disrepair’.

God Forbid Anyone Look Me In The Eye is enthralling. It’s confronting and dangerous and sensitive and even so far as, yes, pleasant to listen to, if the condition of humanity has any pull for you. Such a thing is terrifying, sure, but don’t commit the sin of looking away. Don’t look away. This is that condition in all its malleable splendor: shapeshifting, inconsistent, but infinite.

This review was originally published in STRINE WHINE: ISSUE TWELVE. You can support the zine by buying it here.