Stand Atlantic’s journey to get where they are now is nothing new; rather, it’s the most foolproof way for new bands to accumulate any sort of buzz. Their Sidewinder EP was incredibly well-received, vocalist Bonnie Fraser was highlighted as their key asset and the de facto “star” of the band, and the journey to get the Stand Atlantic train rolling and turn them into pop-rock’s next megastars began. The key difference, though, was, unlike so many others who undergo the same rote hype-cycle, was that Stand Atlantic actually had the songs to back it up, and even in the run-up to Skinny Dipping, both Lavender Bones and Lost My Cool were exceptionally strong singles that actually went a fair distance to justify so much of the aggrandising thrown the trio’s way. And if the whole album could keep it up, the media circus might have gotten something right for a change in pegging these Aussies for much bigger things.
And while that has the potential to be true, Skinny Dipping is ultimately emblematic of so many bands starting out in this vein, that being with moments of real, undeniable quality juxtaposed by the struggle to keep it up for entire album. It’s not like that’s an enormous problem, especially when Stand Atlantic are able to keep their standard higher than most, but for as good as they do end up being, they mightn’t be quite as special as they’re being positioned to be just yet.
It really is a pretty simple reason why too, as in pop-rock of this variety that requires the hooks and melodies to be on point at all times, Skinny Dipping noticeably dips as it goes on. More than anything, it simply feels symptomatic of a new band still finding their feet rather than a lack of ideas or talent, especially when Stand Atlantic are more than capable of holding their own in a way that’s hardly insignificant. Fraser has already been elevated as a trump card in their arsenal, but the likes of the title track really show how powerful and ranged of a performer she is, with the dips into melancholy on Cigarette Kiss and Toothpick having an even deeper sense of expressiveness that the crystal-clear vocal production highlights beautifully. Even in the actually melodies and instrumentation, they’re kept so tight and precise that – apart from the ill-advised double-time drums on Bullfrog – there’s barely a foot put wrong for at least the first half of the album; it’s all very much confined to the pop-rock box, but Stand Atlantic really can pull it off well.
At least, to a point, as Skinny Dipping does reach a point where the hooks start to run out of juice and the padding starts to make itself known at the end. It’s more a case of how abrupt it is and how Stand Atlantic’s potential isn’t being realised to its highest point, the most disappointing instance coming with the appearance of Creeper’s Hannah Greenwood on Clay, and while it’s great to see her stepping further into the spotlight as an artist in her own right, the fact her vocal production has her sounding almost identical to Fraser softens the impact by a great deal. Indeed, Skinny Dipping really does feel like a debut in this sense, with ideas that are yet to be refined for a greater package, and abilities that aren’t yet tailored to hitting the marks a full album demands.
But if that’s the most that Stand Atlantic can be criticised for here, especially when it afflicts other bands so much more harshly, there’s not a lot to complain about. Largely, they seem to be in control of where they want to go, even in the writing and how much more deeply their emotional focus goes than a lot of their peers. Sure, Fraser’s ability to sell these songs extremely well helps, but it does feel like a more real portrayal of human emotion that hasn’t been sandblasted back for wider consumption. It would be nice if the image of skinny dipping as a dichotomy between freedom and vulnerability was explored more than on just the title track and Toothpick, but between Fraser’s examination of her own mental health on Lavender Bones and ultimately coming out stronger for it on Speak Slow, and putting toxic exes on blast on Bullfrog and Lost My Cool, there’s an openness and frankness that’s easy to get sucked into and engrossed by.
It’s in cases like this where it’d seem appropriate to claim that the pieces are all there waiting to be put together, but for Stand Atlantic, it feels like there’s more than that already. There’s already a good, fully-functioning band here, with the only major improvement needed is the ability to extend the songwriting and hook-craft to keep an entire body of work on one level. Other than that, this is so close to being great with that inevitably coming with just a bit more time and seasoning. Skinny Dipping is possibly the best jumping-off point for Stand Atlantic that anyone could’ve expected, and with some more fine-tuning, they’ll easily be capable of the greatness that’s been expected from them.
For fans of: Sleep On It, As It Is, Tonight Alive
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Skinny Dipping’ by Stand Atlantic is released on 26th October on Hopeless Records.