Tag Archives: skying

Hide and psych

People suddenly liked The Horrors circa-Primary Colours because that album was so unexpected, given what had come before it. Once the Southend quintet had settled quietly into their skins, second time round people lost interest. That’s a pity, because a year on Skying has lost none of its weather-drenched majesty. Songs unfurl opulently from quasi-baggy rhythms, like “Dive In” and the opener “Changing The Rain”. They luxuriate in reverb and then snap, in an instant, into thrashy garage rock, as on “Endless Blue”.

At the end of last year, I said it was “an album best enjoyed when you close your eyes to The Horrors’ record collection”; the studious epic “Moving Further Away” is a case in point. Anything, from the chugging rhythm to the soaring-heavenwards synths, might remind you of a different band, a different record, a different era. But that’s not the point. Rather, I think you’re meant to semiconsciously appreciate how these elements of the past have been carefully sculpted into a sleek beast of the future.

The same could be said, and even more easily accepted, on Tame Impala‘s sophomore effort, Lonerism. In 2012, it’s easier to hold up someone like Kevin Parker as a voice of a generation—see how quickly Lena Dunham was given the same tag, despite her representing, in truth, only a tiny fragment of American society. But look past the song-titles and lyrics which speak, yes, of isolation and doubt and guilt (because we’ve already had plenty of that from the PBR&B crowd, and their lyrics are easier to decipher than Parker’s), and much of Lonerism is really a very sunny slice of psych rock, at home at the poolside, with Ray Bans on, accompanied by a crisp Brooklyn lager.

There’s the poppy psychedelia of The Beatles or primetime Flaming Lips; there’s the nod to labelmates Cut Copy in the blissed-out vocals and guitars and the studio trickery. Halfway through the album comes a woozy three-minute slow jam, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, which rolls around an effortless groove and bounces vocal harmonies into the upper reaches of consciousness before vanishing like a burst bubble. That’s representative of the levity this album brings to the fore on several occasions. Same goes for the unexpected way in which “Mind Mischief” transforms from a pretty canonical scuzzy (there’s a word to describe the guitar tones throughout the album) rock song into a spacey love song reminiscent of The Flaming Lips’s “Silver Trembling Hands”.

Only on a few occasions does the music rumble a little more heavily, as on the stomping “Elephant”, which is the kind of perfect pastiche (à la “Drunk Girls” on This Is Happening) so cheerily observant you can instantly forgive it. And even there, there are some magically futuristic moments, which I’d rather not ruin for anyone unlucky enough not to have heard the song. No, for the most part, this album is like a mildly hallucinogenic take on the simple suburban grandeur of Real Estate. And that’s great. On the penultimate song, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” starts out like “Tomorrow Never Knows” but soon shifts into a more triumphalist mood: less twilight zone, more breaking dawn. In the closing two minutes, swirly sound effects threaten to swallow up the song, but wind up just spitting it out into a candyfloss confection. There’s a coda, of course, fleeting and victorious.

So here we have two albums that superficially look backwards but, treated with a little more respect, reveal themselves to be pacing stridently into the future. One is the product of a misunderstood British band whose back-story many are bored of (NME poster-boys with closeted sophisticated tastes); the other, a bedroom genius whose background gets repeated as much as that of Justin Vernon (rooted in Perth, Australia’s most out-of-the-way outpost). But both are worthy of your time and reverence. They take risks; they travel along unconventional arcs; they are the works of iconoclasts.

The Horrors — “Still Life”

It’s dead easy to write off bands that come draped in NME hype (the worst kind) and release a debut album that is unapologetic in extremis. Then, sometimes, said band returns with a radically different second album, much humble pie is eaten, the album is lauded, its predecessor is given a second chance, and the axis of normality is reverted to.

But what comes next?

If your name is Faris Badwan, and you head up The Horrors, you go and make an album of dreamy girl group pop, with an opera singer called Rachel Zeffira who may or may not be your lover, which recalls Phil Spector records and the Shangri-Las.

Then, having done this, to stuffy critical acclaim, you go back to your day job, and ooze a song like “Still Life” out into the wild, in advance of releasing a third album, entitled Skying. The song exudes the casual, Sunday morning beauty of A Northern Soul-era Verve. Cautiously romantic synths are fired across a pool of backwards guitar. Badwan’s lyrics are all about patience, and biding one’s time; fittingly, the song takes time to unravel before we are treated to a gently euphoric chorus about “waking up and finding it”.

As a lot of people have noticed, elements of the instrumentation, and maybe even Badwan’s voice, are reminiscent of Simple Minds. I think that’s unkind: you wouldn’t catch the Scottish New Wavers teasing out their orchestral interests like The Horrors do in the second verse, wherein there are three brief flourishes of strings. They vanish immediately, to be replaced by lush but synthetic counterparts, which are later backed up by a faint trumpet fanfare. The song’s eventual fadeout is triumphant and at ease with itself—not something you could say about previous Horrors releases, which were foreboding and chilly even at their most blissed out.