Increasingly, there are two kinds of emerging British rock ’n’ roll band: those, like Sleaford Mods, Slaves or Fat White Family, who burn with incandescent rage and volume; and those, like Peace, Swim Deep or Temples, who seem committed to restoring indie through the power of positive thinking. These are the bands who hark back to the glory days of Boy Indie, of waifish white males singing insouciant lust-songs full of celestial metaphors, squandering their per diems on charity-shop furs and teashade sunglasses. Peace’s exuberant 2013 debut ‘In Love’ (even their album titles radiate optimism) may have worn its early-90s influences a little obviously, but a certain rose-tinted nostalgia for The Way Things Used To Be was part of its appeal.
In many ways its follow-up, ‘Happy People’, is an archetypal second album. Everything is a little bigger, broader and more immediate – refinement, not reinvention, is the watchword here. The twist is that ‘Happy People’ is, for the most part, about unhappy ones, maybe not in an ‘our two years of hell in a moderately-successful indie band’ sort of way, but cast a glance over the lyrics – to which frontman Harry Koisser apparently placed greater emphasis on this time around – and you’ll uncover all manner of needling anxieties. “I’m a bad computer, slow to load”, he sings on the title track, before lamenting that “sometimes I feel like we’re made out of stone”. On ‘Perfect Skin’, whose Placebo-lite chorus equates happiness with pristine epidermis and is one of the record’s few misfires, he mewls that “I need less of me in me and more of you in me”. Where ‘In Love’ was full of rascally charm and self-confidence, ‘Happy People’ seems angst-ridden and uncertain by comparison.
Peace being Peace, they do their best to mask it beneath a veneer of buoyancy, bookending the album with a pair of songs – ‘O You’, on which Koisser humbly pleads that he’s “just trying to change the world that you live in” and ‘World Pleasure’, whose sprawling instrumental coda recalls Primal Scream in their lame-shirted pomp – that open and close proceedings on a misleadingly cocksure note. Yet that nagging sense of insecurity is never far from the surface: ‘I’m A Girl’ is built around brattish, Coxon-esque guitar histrionics, but the lyrics find the frontman fretting over his own masculinity (“The creators of man were calm, kind and nice/ But nature demands that we fuck, eat and fight”).
If the contrast between the music and the words coming out of Koisser’s mouth lends the record an occasional schizophrenic quality, it also adds to the sense that Peace remain a work in progress, still at odds with themselves, still trying to figure out what sort of band they are. There’s no shortage of exciting raw materials for them to work with: Koisser has a good ear for what works in a pop song, even when it arguably shouldn’t (his lackadaisical rapping on ‘World Pleasure’ makes John Barnes sound like Death Grips’ MC Ride, but it’s oddly effective), while Douglas Castle is quietly developing into one of the most distinctive guitarists in the current indie-rock climate. Yet while their choices might sometimes seem a little safe – as starry-eyed torch songs go, for example, ‘Someday’ is certainly no ‘California Daze’, its excellent counterpart on ‘In Love’ – for the most part, Peace have made their ‘difficult’ second album look surprisingly straightforward.