Latimer House - All the Rage
Release Date: February 10, 2014
Record Label: Honk Records
From the first moments of All the Rage, the promising new debut album from jangly indie pop band Latimer House, it’s clear that these guys are wearing their influences on their sleeves. While the press release for the new record says that Latimer House are based in prague, their new neon-drenched album shows an unapologetic obsession with British music. From the Smiths to Pulp to the Dire Straits, the first moments of All the Rage – which play out on a boppy number called “This is Pop” – seem like a encyclopedic catalog of everything that went on in British music between the 1960s and the 1990s. Thank vocalist Joe Cook, who has the same kind of cynical drawl as Pulp’s Jarvis Crocker. Add some French new wave (Phoenix is a close parallel) and some New York garage rock (it’s easy to hear the Strokes somewhere in this mix), and you have the cocktail that makes up Latimer House’s sound.
Despite the comparison to Jarvis Crocker above, I actually think Cook is rather dull as a vocalist in a way that Crocker never was. Where the Pulp frontman imbued songs like “Common People” with propulsive, emotive drive, Cook just sounds a bit bored and unconcerned throughout All the Rage, which leaves other factors with the job of rescuing the sound. In fact, it’s with the instrumental arrangements that Latimer House really shine and separate themselves from the slew of other faceless Brit-pop bands out there. “Eye Can See” redeems things after the relatively boring first two tracks, largely thanks to the scratchy, fuzzy guitar solo that provides the song’s infectious centerpiece. “Open Your Heart” adds horn hits, while “Birdcage Walk” sees the band tossing a bit of mandolin into the mix, as well as splashes of color from a B3 organ that recalls the 1990s alt-folk movement.
And that’s not even the extend of the dynamic sound that Latimer House adopt on every single track. To be honest, none of these songs really stand out that much on their own. Part of the problem is relatively flat and quiet production, while another issue is Cook’s unconvincing vocal delivery. However, even despite these two fairly sizable handicaps, Latimer House manage to cultivate a wholly enjoyable record on All the Rage by consistently changing things up. Even on first listen, with no previous knowledge of this band, All the Rage had this form of sharp immediacy that I don’t find on many records, and it’s because each track sounds like a very different version of the same band. The core elements always remain the same – Cook’s British drawl, the band’s jangly pop sensibilities, etc. – but it’s like Latimer House are consistently rewriting the perameters of who they are as a band from one song to the next. They keep the house the same, but move around the furnishings, so to speak.
Case in point is “Red Heart Sequin Blues,” a raucous Stones-esque rocker that is drenched in boozy bar band piano and even boozier harmonica solos. That track is probably the album’s rowdiest, so of course it’s positioned right next to Latimer House at their softest. “Your Love” is a dreamy pop soundscape, filled with background vocal “ooh-ahhs” and delayed guitar chimes that make it sound like something you might have heard on a 1970s jukebox playlist (probably right next to the Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love”). After that though, it’s right back to foot-tapping rhythms, first with the southern rock grooves of “Love’s Undermined,” then on the bass-heavy Beach Boys bop of “Splash!” (complete with harmonies that might actually have been directly borrowed from Brian Wilson and company), and then finally on the classic rock R.E.M. jangle of album closer, “Bubblegum.”
By the time we get to the end of All the Rage, we’ve heard a lot of different musical styles, most of them tributes to established greats, but we still have no idea who Latimer House actually is as a band. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe a band like this, with such a versatile range of musical talents and influences, is better off trying to be the most dynamic musical chameleon possible. After all, similar British bands with similarly scattershot musical ambitions have come and gone in the indie music landscape in the past decade or so (the Zutons and the Futureheads both come to mind) likely because they wanted to come into their own a bit instead of consistently borrowing from others. In a sense, Latimer House remind me a lot of the Men, a band that just recently released their fourth album in as many years, a band with a vast array of influences, and a band that has made huge shifts in its sound with each of those records. Latimer House uses similar sonic shifts, but distills them down even further, changing on a song-to-song basis rather than on the album-to-album schedule that the Men have been keeping. It’s a cool hook, and it almost single-handedly makes All the Rage an exciting and intriguing listen. I have no idea if that kind of genre hopping is sustainable, of course, but I’ll certainly be interested to see where Latimer House go from here.