by Casey Martin
Hockey Dad, aka Australian surf-rock duo, aka best friends forever Zach Stephenson and Billy Fleming have scarcely had time to pick up their surfboards since the release of their debut LP Boronia in the summer of 2016. The two pals have been busy touring all across the world, bringing their carefree, youthful energy to the US, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and of course back to home-sweet-home Australia. While they were on the road, Stephenson and Fleming found inspiration for their latest album, which they recorded while stateside. Hockey Dad’s aptly named Blend Inn showcases a refreshingly introspective gaze and broadens the scope of the band’s sonic repertoire, while still managing to be jam-packed with the riotous energy and distinctive sound that has always set Hockey Dad apart.
Far from their beloved hometown of Windang, New South Wales, Stephenson and Fleming teamed up with producer John Goodmanson and recorded Blend Inn at Robert Langford Studios in Seattle, which happens to be the last studio that captured the voice of Nirvana’s legendary frontman Kurt Cobain before his untimely death. The environment in which Hockey Dad recorded their new album was clearly influential to the duo, as the studio itself is featured on the cover art of Blend Inn, and grungy, punk sounds are seen peppered throughout the album. The twelve track LP boasts a rather cohesive collection of songs that touches on themes of conformity, familiarity, and finding a sense of home, all of which were ideas ripened by Hockey Dad’s time spent living on the road. The lead single off the album, “Homely Feeling,” has a frenetic and noticeably grungier feel than what we’ve seen from Hockey Dad in the past. While it’s not the strongest track of the album, slightly lacking in dynamics, it does a good job of introducing the overall concept of the album right from the start, as the duo writes of searching for a “homely feeling” in places far from home.
When it comes to sound, there is not so much a shift with Blend Inn but rather an expansion in the types of songs that Hockey Dad prove they can produce. When comparing their debut album to their latest sophomore effort, Boronia feels like one long sunny day on the beach, perpetually abounding with youthful vivacity and reckless abandon. Blend Inn doesn’t lose that liveliness, but it allows space for more serene moments. “Danny” comes in as the fourth track, slowing down the pace of the album in just the right way. The unhurried pace allows Stephenson to have a candid and emotional vocal performance, as he cries out for a lost lover to come back. “Whatever” is a lazy, melting number that is another breath of fresh air for Hockey Dad. The more relaxed vibe suits them just as well as their more familiar upbeat tracks, while lyrically continuing to look inwardly with thoughtful, self-questioning lines like, ‘I just can’t decide/If I will survive.’
Blend Inn falls a bit flat about a third of the way through, with the songs “Running Out” and “Stalker” having a little too much repetition and not enough creativity, both in lyricism and sound development. Both tracks lean quite heavily into a more punk sound, and miss out on the opportunity to use the emotional quality of Stephenson’s voice that makes other songs more memorable and enjoyable. These songs felt a bit like fillers on the album, but they show that Hockey Dad is still a young band with room to grow and learn.
Another layer of nuance on Blend Inn comes as a fun surprise near the end of the album, with the song “Sweet Release,” sung by Billy Fleming, who usually puts all of his energy into the drums while Stephenson sings lead vocals. Fleming sing-talks the upbeat, head banging track with his unmistakable Australian accent, which adds character to the album and elevates the infectious tune. Fleming’s addition to the album shows Hockey Dad to be a true duo, which is part of what makes them so charismatic and engaging as artists.
As their sophomore album, Blend Inn demonstrates a natural progression in Hockey Dad’s growth as a young band. The work as a whole shows maturity and development both in lyrical concept and musicality. While there are a few missteps and places for improvement, the album nonetheless succeeds in capturing the essence of Hockey Dad and where they are now as a band. The two childhood friends personify and embody the music they make, and this authenticity is part of what makes Hockey Dad so likeable. Stephenson and Fleming stayed true to themselves on Blend Inn—they are just two best mates, two surf rockers who love to surf, two artists making music about finding themselves and finding their way back home to the Australian coast.