Slow Club - Paradise
Record Label: Moshi Moshi Records
Release Date: September 12th, 2011
There's a memorable moment merely thirty seconds into the lead single of "Two Cousins", the opening track to the release of Slow Club's sophomore effort, Paradise, where as the track prepares to launch into a high-rising chorus, returning fans who learned to embrace the quirky and playful nature of 2009's Yeah, So may just have to unexpectedly re-evaluate any prior expectations they might have had regarding the eleven track effort that is Paradise. That's not to say that the band have completely overhauled their sound; the charming and sweet elements are still present, there remains a mixture of energy and exuberance that made their debut such an enjoyable listen, but the songwriting is now more focused than it was previously, the rhythms are unique and often driven by gorgeous soundscapes of instrumentation, and the light, carefree attitude has been replaced with darker, moodier and more sincere lyrical depth and themes.
However, perhaps the most noticeable transition from Yeah, So to Paradise can be heard in the vocals department. Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson rarely utilize their signature overlapping harmonies, instead it's Taylor who asserts herself as the prominent lead vocalist throughout the duration of the record, leaving Watson to occasionally contribute complementary backing vocals and propel the tracks forward with addictive rhythms. The percussion heavy "Two Cousins" is one such example with the track methodically ushering listeners into a sound that's equally as large as it is luscious. The track utilizes a powerful sing-along chorus, but each and every time it repeats another instrument is spontaneously thrown into the mix until in the final heartfelt rendition, Taylor is forced to rely on numerous soaring vocal overdubs in order for her voice to even be heard amongst the strenuous, chaotic entanglement of waning strings, tip-toeing piano lines and forceful tambourines.
"Never Look Back" marks the record's first foray into relative moodiness, and it fortunately makes the transition in a seamless fashion with tremolo blues influenced guitar tones setting the scene for four minutes of excruciating beauty and heartache. "Baby brother in the next room, trying to bring him back to life / but the diamonds in the morning bribed and opened both of my eyes" Watson sings with delicacy before vocals begin to interchange and it's suddenly Taylor who finishes off the verse with frail fragility, "Gone before you had to worry, gone before you ever had to try / now you're half a memory, another trick played by my mind". Taylor's howling voice rapturously explodes soon after in an outpouring of powerful, haunting and relatable emotion, thus rendering the slow-tempo ballad irreversibly tainted with traces of loss and melancholy. The duo are also at their best during the sassy and seductive duration of "Where I'm Waking", a blisteringly up-tempo track that combines rushed, yet precisely delivered harmonies in the midst of a predominantly distorted, reverb drenched chorus. The redeeming quality surrounding the track is in its ability to change tempos with such elegance - there are tantalizing moments where the song threatens to erupt unceremoniously, yet at the final second it manages to always reclaim a semblance of restraint. Thankfully that restraint finally proves non-existent during the closing minute as vocals are chanted with utmost passion, and to further add to the enormity of the track, a choir of voices swell, rise and soar in harmonious unison before "Where I'm Waking" reaches its inaudible conclusion.
Throughout Paradise, you'll be hard pressed to find a poorly written or structured track. There are a few that may take a certain amount of time to resonate and connect with listeners, but there's something stunning in Slow Club's ability to draw people in and make them want to indulge in repeat listens even when they fail to connect with these tunes initially. For instance, "Hackney Marsh" is arguably the most simplistic and weakest track on the record, and yet if the unexpected saxophone solo doesn't impress you, the final minute undoubtedly will. Backed by nothing more than light acoustic guitar strumming, Taylor finds herself delivering soft, subtle vocal harmonies in your left ear and leaves Watson to sing whimsically in your right with only an occasional sweeping string or soft guitar strum to accompany their fluctuating voices. "Gold Mountain" is another track that may fall victim to the high standards Paradise sets for itself, but yet it manages to etch itself into the subconsciousness of its listeners due to it's sparseness and distinct indie/folk undertones.
Alas, it's "You, Earth or Ash", the four minute stunning ballad of candidness, death, heartbreak and vulnerability that steals the spotlight. There are moments where the only audible instrument that can be heard is the solemn plucking of Watson's acoustic guitar strings, with Taylor singing at the forefront, pouring her heart out whilst often sounding wounded and broken. During the times where she's able to overcome the mental demons that are lurking out of sight, she sounds dignified, composed and startlingly beautiful; but in the moments where the wounds pierce a little too deeply, her vocals invariably begin to cascade with grief and tremble with emotion. Intriguingly, there's also an ever present flickering and faltering within the production that acts as a metaphorical lifeline - and one gets the feeling that Taylor believes that if she keeps singing and conjuring breathtaking melodies, if she keeps reliving painful memories, if she keeps selflessly wounding herself with her own poetic words, then maybe there's a chance that the flickering production becomes whole again and brings whomever she's referring to back inside the comfort of her empty arms.
It's obvious that Slow Club have made a concerted effort to carve out their own unique entity, and they certainly succeed throughout Paradise. There are a few weaker tracks that are less memorable than most, and it would've been nice to hear the pleasant tones of Watson on a more consistent basis, but there's no doubt that the decision to have Taylor assuming lead vocal duties for the majority of Paradise was a masterstroke and it proves to be a constant revelation with every warranted repeat listen thereafter. If you have the patience to wait and persevere until Paradise fully blossoms with you into something spectacular, rest assured, it will be a record that won't stop giving when it finally does.