It might seem like a speck in the rear view mirror now, but the impact the pandemic had on a sudden rise of northern British guitar bands can’t be overlooked. The likes of English Teacher (Leeds), The Lounge Society (Calder Valley) and Courting (Liverpool) were all offered the space to carve their frustrations into brilliantly incisive anthems during that first weird summer of 2020, storming airwaves before they’d even played a full festival season.
Courting used their platform as a chance to take aim at the tropes of Little England, and began dispatching rampant bangers that were eventually destined to wreak havoc within huge festival tents – and that’s exactly what they’ve done since. NME declared their recent Reading Festival set as one to remember for all the right reasons, saying: “the show skilfully balanced both humour and heart, powered by four best friends yelling their lyrics at each other, grinning all the while.”
That same humour and integrity bleeds onto their daring debut album ‘Guitar Music’. In a press release, frontman Sean Murphy-O’Neill laid out his band’s mission statement: “A lot of bands are playing it safe… We’ve made something on the edge, a little bit weirder.” It’s clear from the opener ‘Twin Cities’ that his money is where his mouth is, as a tranquil backdrop of white noise is almost instantly twisted into ribcage-shaking pop bassline.
‘Famous’ is a playful standout, pinned on a manipulated Battles-like synth as Murphy-O’Neill dispatches glossy lyricism about beauty standards. The album is just as thrilling when the four-piece hit their signature indie groove: ‘Tennis’ pairs a driving bassline with brilliantly mundane metaphors for a weird relationship: “You’re a night in the Holiday Inn / I’m a breakfast bar with an unusual toasting conveyor belt.” They keep the urgency going on ‘Loaded’, a rowdy Britpop-tinged anthem that channels peak ‘Parklife’-era Blur.
Even when the band stick closely to a guitar-driven formula, you can’t second guess where they’re taking it. ‘Jumper’ is a perfectly executed throwback of ’90s alt-rock pool party nostalgia – all that’s missing is the keg of Bud Lite as Murphy-O’Neill reels through lyricism evocative of that golden MTV era. “Spent a fiver on a drink I didn’t like / Just to impress you,” he sings, his vocal distorted and amplified simultaneously by the deliberate use of AutoTune. “Maybe we could get a mortgage someday / I always thought that sounded boring to me / But I don’t mind.”
They also nail the more pensive and patient moments on the rhythmic epic ‘Uncanny Valley’ which showcases a completely different side of the band, by drifting between the melody-soaked fuzz of Smashing Pumpkins and the brooding poetic edge of Black Country, New Road. It would have been easy for Courting to play it safe on ‘Guitar Music’, but by challenging both themselves and their scene, they’ve guaranteed longevity and arrived with one of the year’s greatest debuts.
- Release date: September 23
- Record label: PIAS Recordings