Monday, August 11, 2014

I've Waited More Than Two Years To Post This: My Review Of The Debut Album From Childhood

I've been waiting so long to write this post. It's not that I heard the debut album from Childhood so long ago -- I got my promo copy in July -- but that I knew how great it was going to be from the first time I ever heard this band. I've been blogging about this Nottingham-formed group for more than 2-and-a-half years -- as confirmed by this blog post from February 2012 -- and in that time the wait for the debut album was comparable to that long waits for the debuts from The Stone Roses and The Sundays in 1989 and 1990, respectively.

And while Childhood sound nothing like Reading's The Sundays, they do, at a few key moments, recall those Manc legends The Stone Roses. For that reason I feel safe in saying that they, like John Squire and Ian Brown and crew, have indeed delivered one of the great debut records in British rock.

Now on to the glorious bliss of Lacuna by Childhood.

The album opens, as it musts, with "Blue Velvet", all blissed out A.R. Kane hooks and Bernie Sumner guitar licks. The track has been apparently re-recorded but fear not: it's still a rapturous ride. Ben Romans-Hopcraft's vocals are clearer here and a bit forward in the mix. What was shoegazing before is now precise and anthemic.

I envy people hearing this song for the first time. I envy those who hear this pumping through earphones for the first time and feel themselves transported by this fantastic single.

"You Could Be Different" is hooky and catchy -- a natural follow-up single with it's fuzzed out guitar washes.

"As I Am" is the soft waves lapping the shore where the other cuts are the roar of the surf. Again, there's a hint of A.R. Kane and bands from the heyday of 4AD. That hint grows more obvious on "Right Beneath Me" where Romans-Hopcraft's voice nearly reaches Liz Fraser heights and Leo Dobsen strums and plucks his axe like Robin Guthrie trying out a new crate of fx pedals. But, to paraphrase an A.R. Kane song title, this is indeed a "A Love Song From Outer Space" and it's pure audio delight.

"Falls Away" is more direct, this century's "Waterfall" but with a sinister undercurrent. "Sweeter Preacher" is crashing cymbals courtesy of Jonny Williams and more splashes of guitar color each time Romans-Hopcraft sings/snarls "...wonderful..."

"Tides" is futuristic funk, all slowed down after hours glide with Daniel Salamons' bass popping under the vocals and percolating keyboard.

And then come the big hooks.

"Solemn Skies" opens with the same sort of martial strut that anchored "Blue Velvet" but it positively soars on that chorus. Think early U2 turning Echo and the Bunnymen's Heaven Up Here cuts into hopeful anthems. The rhythm section -- Daniel Salamons and Jonny Williams -- gets to shine a bit here as they ground the track while Dobsen's guitar and Romans-Hopcraft's voice do the sky-high bits. Love that final Cure-esque freakout.

Next comes the jazzy "Chiliad". The guys pull back the effects and overdubs and relax a bit. Williams uses a light touch on the kit while Dobsen gently plucks. A hint of Durutti Column here but louder.

"Pay for Cool" ups the angst and provides the album's one moment of near-punky tension. Opening like early Cure -- "Primary" or "Killing an Arab" maybe -- the song turns into a race between Romans-Hopcraft's vocals and the rhythm section, Dobsen either channeling Buzzcocks' Diggle on the hook or Robert Smith on the unfurling solo.

Album closer "When You Rise" is rough like "Spellbound"-era Siouxsie and the Banshees mixed with My Bloody Valentine circa "Soon". The song, a near-duel between guitars and a shuffling, almost dance-y, melody line, roars a bit to finish Lacuna. The album opened in bliss. It ends in a whirlpool of trippy anxiety.

Lacuna is the hands-down winner for best debut album of 2014. There was really no competition, was there?

It's also supremely self-assured. While reviewers such as myself may stress the trippy bits on Lacuna, or mention the guitars' echoes of Cocteau Twins or John Squire, the record is focused. There's not a lot wasted. Other bands would have taken these cuts and let them expand unnecessarily. Childhood masterfully keep things in control while indulging themselves only in spots.

The real test for music like this is to ask yourself what it would sound like if stripped down and played on acoustic instruments. Well, Childhood have the hooks, the melodies, and chops to make these tunes work even without the excellent production and amazing guitar effects. I admire that, really.

It takes remarkable skill and restraint to make music this blissful while keeping things grounded. Lacuna is a near-flawless album and if I have any criticism it's only this:

"Guys, where the heck is Haltija!?!"

Buy Lacuna and become a fan of Childhood. One spin of "Solemn Skies" and "Blue Velvet" ought to do the trick.

Follow Childhood on their Facebook page.

More details on Childhood via Marathon Artists.

Lacuna is available in the U.S. via iTunes.

Elsewhere, you can get the album via multiple outlets including Rough Trade.