Brixton boys' soaring debut stands out from the south London crowd
Though they’re far from sonically similar, South London has consistently produced some of the UK’s most exciting new artists over the last couple of years. Whether in the hedonistic gang mentality of Palma Violets, the prickly urban disaffection of King Krule or the delightfully disgusting filth of Fat White Family, its bands are united in ragged creative spirit, if not in sound.
It’s this that makes Childhood – former tourmates of Palma Violets and South London natives save for a brief stint at Nottingham University – such a beguiling prospect. Though just as indebted to its birthplace as any of the bands above (“Most of the record is about growing up in South London,” revealed singer Ben Romans-Hopcraft to NME earlier this year), debut ‘Lacuna’ couldn’t emerge any more different. “It’s about me thinking that everything’s dandy [here], but [realising] it’s actually not and coming to terms with that,” he continued.
It’s this hint of melancholy, underpinning a record otherwise slathered in warm and pillowy melodies, which really makes ‘Lacuna’ sing. Debut single ‘Blue Velvet’ – given an iridescent makeover here from the more bumbling, lo-fi original recording that first alerted us to their shambling talent in 2011 – is an immediate case in point. “I feel for you, son/ That place, it’s not your home,” sings Romans-Hopcraft, before surging guitars take a stranglehold and the song explodes into a soaring and blissful chorus. With a voice so velvety he could sing the Tory manifesto and still make it sound palatable, the singer’s vocals drift atop Childhood’s pretty instrumentation (which was augmented by recent addition of permanent bassist and drummer Danny Salamons and Jonny Williams) creating a sense of winsome nostalgia.
Elsewhere, the lovelorn ‘You Could Be Different’ pinches guitar lines as gorgeous as anything by modern masters of undulating melody Real Estate and perches them on a chorus that owes as much to the baggy tones of Primal Scream or The Stone Roses as it does the New Jersey dreamers. Later, ‘Right Beneath Me’ slows down the tempo, adds a wash of reverb and comes out engulfed in an Ariel Pink fug, whereas the rush of album highlight ‘Falls Away’ adds some subtler dance beats to proceedings. Juxtaposing powerful rhythms that are impossible not to move to with the repeated niggling sense of loss, it finally bows out with a mumbled sigh: “Fading, it all falls/ Feelings and all…”
‘Sweeter Preacher’ continues this musical and lyrical contrast, disguising its self-deprecation (“It’s just like me to be running away”) with some of guitarist Leo Dobsen’s hookiest melodies on the album. Last year’s breakthrough single ‘Solemn Skies’, meanwhile, is every bit as giddily magnificent as it was on first listen, while ‘Pay For Cool’ and ‘When You Rise’ draw parallels with the krautrock chug of Heavenly psych group TOY – whose debut album was also produced by south Londoner Dan Carey – throwing relentless, motorik basslines under effervescent, 60s-style riffing and squalling, effects-laden guitars in turn. While bravely exploring the full remit of the band’s musical spectrum, ‘Lacuna’ retains a strong sense of the sentiments of romance, sadness and nostalgia that hold it together.
Taking common inspiration and twisting it into their own shape, Childhood have concocted a debut that’s more than capable of standing up to the rougher approach of their geographical peers. In doing so, they’ve uncovered a diamond.