It doesn’t take long to see the cloud lingering ominously over the second full-length from Working Men’s Club. Penned in the long summer after the pandemic first ripped out the plug on normality as we knew it, ‘19’ aptly kicks things off with the unnerving feedback of disconnected aux lead before the pulsating anthem heads straight for the strobe-lit dancefloor.
It’s no surprise the Yorkshire four-piece are again out of the traps with something both profound and assured. Marrying their early post-punk sensibilities with urgent driving synth-pop, the Todmorden gang’s 2020 debut album received lavish praise as one of the pandemic’s breakthrough releases, with NME describing it at the time as an “attention-demanding debut that couldn’t have come at a better time” in a glowing five-star review.
Where the debut full-length thrived by channelling the claustrophobia of frontman Syd Minsky-Sargeant’s teenage upbringing in the rural Calder Valley, their second was born from a time when we all united in a sense of isolation. Again, such feelings have manifested in a brutal starkness that the band offset with bright and brazen electronica. Take the playfully warped single ‘Widow’ with fuzzy bass tones and a haunting choral section as his bruising vocals stab through: “Lust was easy / until you died / now I fuck inside by head but not outside.”
The murkier shades of the synth-pop greats loom large across the listen. New Order are the most immediate touchstone as the bouncy keys of ‘Ploys’ collide with a bleak Bernard Sumner-esque vocal: (“Charisma elates them / when we talk of the times / we talk in the past tense.”) Echoes of New Romantic game-changers prevail as well, from the bass flourishes of Japan on ‘Heart Attack’, to the ever-present striking synths of Depeche Mode or Visage.
They’re also happy for guitars to lead the way through angstier moments. The motoring anthem ‘Cut’ nears seven minutes with punchy rhythmic bass and sparkling synths that hark back to a ‘Skying’-era Horrors, similarly ‘Rapture’ pairs jagged riffs with a lo-fi techno beat. Another highlight comes with the jaunty title track as an air-raid siren wails into the abyss before Sargeant absently snarls: “La la la / ha ha ha / run run run / with your piss-filled guns.”
Sure, it’s a dizzying landscape, but the chaotic palette does justice to the devastation and confusion faced in recent years. Working Men’s Club certainly wear the trauma well, but this riveting exploration truly thrives by seeking the light beyond the gloom.
- Release date: July 15
- Record label: Heavenly