There are a handful of seminal bands from Brisbane, Australia—The Saints and The Go-Betweens, among them. But few have achieved the breakout success that the dreamy indie-pop group Cub Sport has in merely three years. The blissed-out, anthemic title track from their first EP, Told You So, attracted global attention, which in the U.S. alone vaulted it up the top 20 college-radio chart. And based on enthusiasm for that debut, their second EP, Paradise, won Stateside audiences, too, thanks to airplay at influential radio outlets such as KEXP, WXPN and KCRW.
After touring everywhere from Singapore to Philly (“Some people drove four hours to see us. The American crowd is dedicated!” lead vocalist Tim Nelson enthuses), Cub Sport—which also features guitarist Zoe Davis, drummer Dan Puusaari and keyboardist Sam Netterfield—is finally ready to drop a full length, This Is Our Vice (Nettwerk), their hotly anticipated debut full length. If Nelson, who’s also the principle songwriter, has a superpower, it’s effortlessly transforming mercurial topics such as self-doubt and self-immolation into an expanse of shimmering harmonies and sticky melodies.
“I used to avoid writing about things that meant too much to me, in case it didn’t go well,” Nelson says. Taking piano lessons from age 6, he graduated to writing songs in high school, where he recruited a random sampling of fellow students (who’re still his band members) to join his act. “I think the break though in my songwriting—being more honest with myself—was ‘Come On Mess me Up.’” The ethereal track was born after Nelson read a book of Leonard Cohen lyrics, moved by how sincere they were. In fact, his renewed vigor for creating music is so profound that Cub Sport can’t contain it: His “side project,” if you will, has been collaborating with songwriters Jim Irvin (Lana del Rey, Pixie Lott) and Julian Emery (Lissie, Gavin Degraw) on songs for other artists.
This has likewise emboldened Nelson to step out of his musical comfort zone. This Is Our Vice’s opener, “Sun,” is a levitating meditation that sounds like an avant-garde Beach Boys outtake (“We’re gonna go where it is warm, leaving with everything you took,” they sing). The song that follows it, “I Can’t Save You,” is a lo-fi lament with sharp edges that settles into an upbeat declaration about the blurry line between desire and neediness. And first single “Only Friend,” is a swelling, spacious emotional purging of isolation and pressure he felt while making the album. “All of the vocals you hear are the original ones, from my bedroom as I was writing it,” he says. “It truly captured that moment.”
If “Only Friend” is the album’s most untouched track, then “I’m on Fire” is perhaps its boldest. What sounds like a boast is actually based on a true story about a spurned lover who set herself on fire in retaliation for being dumped. (“You’re convinced that I’m not strong, but I am here to show you that’s not right,” he sings. “’Cause I’m not lit, but I’m alight.” The ex-girlfriend made it out okay, thus the lilting chorus…because everyone loves a happy ending? Concedes Nelson, “It’s pretty fucked up.”
Like any game-changing record, This Is Our Vice is sprawling and complicated—and thus will challenge the band’s live performance. The members of Cub Sport realize this, and they have a plan. “We’re all going to have to push ourselves a bit more,” Nelson says. “I sing and have started playing guitar on some songs. Zoe is going to be pretty busy, with a lot more pedals to re-create the sounds. Sam’s playing bass with one hand, all the synth parts with another hand, and does percussion and sings all at the same time somehow.”
Cub Sport will be musically multitasking for months on end in 2016, with plans to bring their live show from their native Australia to North America, the UK and beyond. Says Nelson, “We can’t wait to show people what we’ve been working on.”