This record reminds me of Edward Furlong’s character in Terminator 2. John Connor was the quintessential early ‘90s Kid With Attitude, with his asymmetric bowl cut, deadpan barks and precocious world-weariness. It’s impossible to overstate how cool John Connor was in the first half hour of Terminator 2. The rest of the film paled in comparison to this stealthy Hollywood how-to guide for 1990s preteens.
The John Connor association comes tangentially via the album’s cover art, which is reminiscent of the setting for the famous storm water chase scene in Terminator 2, the one where the T-1000 antagonist emerges unharmed from an explosive truck crash. This is the moment when Connor realises this thing pursuing him cannot be stopped: he’s powerless and it’s immortal. From this moment on, Connor loses his cool while simultaneously becoming cooler, because his life is important and endangered.
Look at the gaudy, 1980s sci-fi action typeface on the album cover and the lightly distorted VHS veneer of the storm drain photo, and it’s easy to draw conclusions about this debut TV Colours record before you’ve heard it, ie, that it’s just more zeitgeisty nostalgia. You know, half heard pop culture rememberings committed directly to tape. Don’t let it mislead you, it’s important, but not in that way.
When you actually listen to the songs, Purple Skies, Toxic River reveals itself as a kind of paean to the receptiveness and interiority of adolescence. Everything about TV Colours is exaggerated: the colours are rich, the sentiments are instinctive, and the album itself — its structure, its moody interstitials, its crests and troughs — is unreservedly overblown. But it’s nonetheless very comfortably provincial and suburban: its interpretation of punk rock sounds close in spirit to ‘90s pop punk, reflecting a world of staunch teenage self-regard and a mood of utterly unashamed introspection, where the rest of the world is circumstantial at best and an annoyance at worst. The world is just you and your bleeding heart. This record is common teenage plight as epic narrative or set-piece laden ’80s sci-fi action.
The unusual thing about Purple Skies, Toxic River is that its mood is very specifically ‘90s, but formally it’s far from a period piece. It’s a loud, melodious rock record with indecipherable lyrics, punctured by moody and melodramatic synth instrumentals. The drum machine lends a precision and sense of commercial rock professionalism that is very rare in punk music this inherently rough around the edges, especially in Australia right now. It gives the album a pre-digital cinematic quality. Meanwhile, the songs are forthright odes to youthful anxiety: shitty situations, beautiful untouchable girls, rote hatred of authority and having to go to school. The instrumentals are grandiose and cinematic passages swollen with meaning: wedged between the louder songs, they translate as periods in which to learn, to cogitate. They’re eye-openers. They lend colour to the grainy, guitar-oriented songs that surround.
The record isn’t miserable or petulant. It has an air of reverence for those hugely consequential lessons and rawest of experiences, because inherent to these is a receptiveness which experience and adulthood can permanently neuter, and those aesthetic references to ’80 and ’90s popular culture are a byproduct of having experienced them at the height of that openness.
Yet it’s a pretty good-natured record. Amiable, hummable and cathartically loud, TV Colours manages to be genuinely beautiful more frequently than you’d think possible for a rough punk band from Canberra, from a scene that birthed Assassins 88. The exaggerated sonic qualities of Purple Skies — its surplus of feedback and distortion, its refusal to rein anything in — mirrors the interminate drama of being young, when every sensation was sharply and punishingly felt, when all the colours were richer. This whole record feels like learning from regularly made mistakes for the first time ever.
John Connor in Terminator 2 was the luckiest teenager alive. His life was legitimately epic. If you felt your world was falling apart as a teenager, John Connor’s world was genuinely falling apart and better still, he was undeniably at the center of it. He was deserving of his angst. it truly belonged to him. This cool teen hustler who hacked ATMs, was permanently flanked by a brick shithouse bodyguard, his narrative enriched by Guns N bloody Roses. John Connor was a model, a legend, a modern James Dean for 1990s teenagehood.
TV Colours acknowledges that actually, being a teenager felt exactly as epic as being John Connor. To those who experience teenagehood as an objectively bland series of universally relatable anxieties, a kind of decade long limbo of ennui and unknowing, then the desire to have these feelings validated and rendered truly important is both kinda pathetic and kinda gratifying. That’s what Purple Skies, Toxic River is: a validation of the friction of teenagehood, a tribute to its redness and grandiosity, a retreat into its drama.
In ‘Bad Dreams’, Bobby Kill sings about being 17, sitting in a friend’s parents house, staring at some posters on the wall. This, he says, is a bad dream. This absolute nothingness, this inconsequentiality, this inert existence that fails to make you, precisely and only you, the most important person in the world. Most teens are tragically unlike John Connor from Terminator 2, but experience comparable tumult nonetheless. This record is about raw, unmitigated receptiveness. It’s about how greyer the world becomes, how less radiant and surprising it is, when life sinks its teeth in. As inevitable and seemingly inconquerable as T-1000 emerging from the fire.