Beating the Yanks at the Americana game - if only the lyrics stayed closer to home
Serious question: when did indie music get so beardy? We’re not talking about indie in the blog-reading, leather-patch sense, either. Beardiness stalks young Britain too. It’s not just our cover stars [a]Mumford And Sons[/a] who play to ecstatic crowds of meowed up teens. [a]Laura Marling[/a] and [a]Noah And The Whale[/a] have a following so devoted it borders on the hysterical. And now here’s [b]Goldheart Assembly[/b], another youthful squadron of Londoners who record in a Norfolk steam-train museum (your quirk siren should be ringing) and sport cardigans, waistcoats and facial hair with impunity.
Since Noah broke big in 2007, indie-folk has gone overground in a way no-one could have predicted. Banks and mobile phone companies use folk in ads to lend their brands a sense of pigeon-toed, warm, fuzzy informality. TV producers are in on the act too: a recent episode of [i]Skins[/i] climaxed with JJ serenading his girlfriend with a ukulele. In 2010, it seems, if you want to convey youth and modernity, you use acoustic music on the soundtrack.
All of which works in [b]Goldheart Assembly[/b]’s favour. If they’d emerged in less auspicious times, there’d be a danger they’d be overlooked, since their speciality – that weird oxymoron, British Americana – calls to mind a slew of underwhelming late ’90s/early ’00s bands: disheveled, twangy-voiced crooners who always seemed to have gold in their name ([b]Lowgold[/b], [b]Goldrush[/b], etc), received rabidly positive reviews and sold about 28 records each. It might seem a subtle distinction, but it matters. Are [b]Goldheart Assembly[/b] to be the British [b]Fleet Foxes[/b]? Or just the new [b]Turin Brakes[/b]?
The answer, it turns out, is neither. There’s nothing insular or heads-down about this album, no stale whiff of the log cabin about it. Opener [b]‘King Of Rome’[/b] is bracingly direct. It functions as a rousing showcase of the band’s astonishingly rich, precise vocal harmonies. Singers to a man, the sextet do a neat line in stately West Coast jangle, all weeping open chords and silvery embellishments. It means their debut album is big on the communally benevolent mood that, when experienced live, transforms a lager-scented tavern like The Dublin Castle into a palm tree-strewn stretch of Laurel Canyon, if only for a brief second.
There are some crafty sonic surprises, too: on [b]‘Jesus Wheel’[/b], which gives way to an unexpected rumble of volcanic distortion , or [b]‘Reminder’[/b], a lopsided interlude that’s threaded through with reverberating lead guitar, before collapsing into eerie, disembodied laughter. [b]Turin Brakes[/b] never did anything like this.
So why are we giving the album a seven, not an eight? It’s because of John Herbert’s and James Dale’s lyrics. There’s a weird resignation, a puzzling lack of passion. On [b]‘Carnival 4 (The Carrying Song)’[/b], he refers to a nameless “load”, repeating the line, [i]“If you weigh me down, you might just wear me down”[/i]. Similarly, on [b]‘Anvil’[/b] he sings, [i]“All new things are a burden to me”[/i].
What is this? Give it a rest! You’re not old enough to be grizzled. Moreover, it doesn’t quite square with the band’s onstage demeanour. Live, Goldheart are an explosion of energy and (unusual, this) actual smiles. So it’s strange to hear them singing in this world-weary, defeated mode. It doesn’t sound authentic. It feels forced.
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Cry-in-your-beer lyrics are what Americana’s all about, but it’s possible to use genre conventions while still singing about your own life. [b]Goldheart Assembly[/b] have crafted an indecently lush-sounding debut, it’s just not about them. When they start writing in their own voice instead of clichés, they’ll be untouchable.
[i]What do you think of the album? Let us know by posting a comment below.[/i]
Click here to get your copy of Goldheart Assembly’s ‘Wolves And Thieves’ from the Rough Trade shop