Did the White Stripes change boy-girl music forever? It seems like everywhere you look that the titanic Detroit rockers are referenced as the consummate duo, the ultimate psychically conjoined musical entity, the balance of a barely restrained bluesman guitarist against a barefoot, daisy-braiding enigma of a drummer in some kind of bizarro candy-swirled symbiosis. No shortage of early-to-mid-2000s music writer ink was spilled over Jack and Meg, perhaps too much of it on the subject of their ever-shifting marital status, but certainly enough describing their ability to swerve between floorboard-shaking blues rock and bouts of grinning retro schoolyard charm.
And so, if you happen to click over to the website of Slow Club, a boy-girl duo from Sheffield, England, consisting of Charles Watson on the guitar and Rebecca Taylor on percussion with plenty of delicious vocal harmonies between them, the first thing you see is this quotation from The Independent on Sunday newspaper: “Could they be the UK’s answer to The White Stripes?”
Short answer? No. This band is not going to be recording “Let’s Build a Home” or “Seven Nation Army” any time soon. But that’s a good thing! Slow Club are certainly no garage revivalists: they trade more in the porch-swinging acoustic stock of “Hotel Yorba”, but do so with a surprising amount of depth and emotion that obliterates the quick-fire “twee” designation reflex. Yeah So, their first full-length, finds them spending time between two very distinct postures: one that mixes waltzy, bright folk pop with aching quarter-life melancholy, and another that’s not afraid to break into raucous, blues-tinged romps and not give a damn about trampling on the flowers.
It only takes two songs for the band to get their point across. Opener “When I Go” pairs a lilting, spare guitar line with lovestruck lyrics; it veers a little too close to summer indie movie soundtrack stock banality, but ends up rescuing itself by dint of Taylor’s sunburnt vocals (which often recall the talents of Anglo-folk contemporary Laura Marling) finding just the right amount of intimacy and space next to Watson’s boyish ramble. The album then jumps straight into overdrive for “Giving Up on Love”, a brash and surfy rocker that feels like it would be right at home backing up John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s retro diner boogie in Pulp Fiction.
That’s when things start to get a bit weird. Fresh off of that bit of sizzling sock hop, Slow Club throws a big curveball in the form of “I Was Unconscious, It Was a Dream”. The song is relatively uninspiring for its first couple of minutes, losing the golden ratio of Taylor’s vocals to Watson’s and lacking the intimacy of “When I Go”. Then, at right around the two minute and 15 second mark, it transforms, throwing up walls of reverberating proggy guitar bombast. It’s certainly impressive, but it’s a head-scratcher of truly amazing proportions that wholly disrupts the flow of the album.
Yeah So continues along a similarly uneven road for much of its length, swapping boisterous singalong folk tailor-made for relationship-addled twentysomethings (“It Doesn’t Have to Be Beautiful” and the hilarious “Because We’re Dead”, among others) with a steadily growing proportion of wistful slow burners like “Dance ‘Til the Morning Light” that often begin as innocent bedroom songs only to spin outward into stirring, emotional ballads. It’s often hard to figure out exactly which persona Slow Club are trying to make an album out of: they’re arguably at their best when playing quirky, fast, and loose, but Yeah So tends to lavish more attention on slower songs that all too often risk ending up in a skid.
Intrepid buyers might come across the limited edition CD release of the album, which contains a nine-track bonus disc split between B-sides and live versions of a number of tracks recorded at Union Chapel, Islington. Most of the B-sides are UK-only singles, all of which are good enough to stand up against the rest of the album content. In fact, “Me and You” is easily one of the best tracks in the whole package. Slow Club’s live renditions take on an echoing lo-fi jangle that fits their style like a glove: the chemistry between Watson and Taylor really seems to shine through even better in a wide open hall. The live version of “Because We’re Dead” even manages to outdo its A-side for sheer unbridled energy. If they can find it, those craving an even more down-to-earth take on the band’s sound will get a good shot in the arm from the extra disc.
Slow Club tread a fine line on Yeah So. The record falls flat if the needle happens to stray over to the heavy side of the dial for too long, but for the most part they tiptoe effectively between dark, atmospheric Damien Rice/Lisa Hannigan pathos and Bright Eye-d “First Day of My Life” innocence. Throw in a couple of sharp and witty countrified rock numbers, and what do you get? An album that, despite its sometimes jarring inconsistencies, will likely have listeners remarking “So… yeah!” more often than “Yeah, so?”
// Notes from the Road
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