Essential New Music: Partner Look’s “By The Book”

When people quip, “There must be a German word for that,” they’re asking for a multi-syllabic tongue-twister that’ll do the definitional work of a compound sentence. Ambrin and Anila Hasnain, the sisters who comprise half of Australian quartet Partner Look, not only have a response that’ll freeze that chortle in your throat, they have put it to good use. Growing up in Germany, they learned the word “partnerlook,” which applies to couples who wear matching outfits, and went on to use the term freely in conversations with complimentarily garbed Melbourne dyads who had no idea they were being spoken to in German. Of course, when the sisters formed a band with their own respective partners, they had a ready-made name. All they needed were the color-coordinated outfits. 

Partner Look is a COVID combo. By The Book was recorded in a garage studio during a brief relaxation in Melbourne’s stringent lockdown regulations. They wrote their first song as a wedding gift for a friend whose nuptials they couldn’t attend. And “Deutschland,” one of this debut’s strongest songs, bursts with yearning for a trip that can’t be taken.

You suspect that these songs represent a form of musical comfort food, since the band’s sound is a compendium of strummable pop conventions from decades gone by. Partner Look kicks off the album with a manifesto declaring its identity, Monkees-style. The swooping chorus and politely twangy guitar hooks on the aforementioned “Deutschland” would enable the song to hold its own on some 35-year-old mix tape, jostling in between Let’s Active and Lloyd Cole. And By The Book’s tunefully rueful closer, “Endless Plains,” hits the same slightly sad but ultimately overcoming vibe as fellow Antipodean, Grant McLennan.

By The Book isn’t a perfect album; it falls on the far side of twee too often for that. But its modest charms are a welcome break from a time that bears forgetting.

—Bill Meyer