[17 March 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
British band Post War Years are all over the map on their sophomore release, Galapagos. You’ll listen to this album and find glimmers of cool keyboard sounds of years recent and years yore, some of which may seem readily apparent—the poppy indie rock slow rhythms of first song “All Eyes” may have you reaching for Surfer Blood a little bit, not to mention the Genesis-like proggy break in the middle of the same song—and some that will have you struggling to come up with the soundalike on the tip of your tongue. Does “Glass House” sound a little OMD-ish? Does “Nova” sound a little like Bryan Ferry, at least vocally? Does “Be Someone” come across as a glitchy electronica version of Vampire Weekend? And “Volcano” sounds reasonably indie rock—is that Vampire Weekend again, or something else that you can’t quite fathom? For a band that seemingly quotes krautrock and the Warp Records catalogue as influences, in addition to everything else, it’s hard to peg what this group is actually trying to do by assimilating so many sounds into their, well, sound. And this is also a band that is trying to bridge the gap between audiences: they’ve toured with Mumford and Sons, which would seem to be, on the surface, a rather unlikely choice for tour mates.
So, yes, there’s a lot going on with this band, which will either endear you or lead to dismissing them completely. Already, some reviews of Galapagos have veered on either side of the fence. On one hand, you have a four out of five star review of the LP from Time Out London that goes so far to compare Post War Years to Radiohead (!), while The Skinny gives the record a two out of five stars, and calls it “overblown”. Although there are a few reviews straddling the fence, you get the sense that Galapagos is very much a love it or hate it proposition. Well, I have to admit that I’m probably one of these fence straddlers: the album does have its lovely moments, but it starts to feel a little samey, particularly in its second half, and it just doesn’t make too much of an overall impact other than to leave you with the impression that it’s…nice. This is a bit of a shame, but you do get the overall impression that Post War Years are simply overreaching here: trying on an array of different sounds to the point where they haven’t constructed their own identity. Galapagos, then, can be said to be a record that’s in a perpetual state of flux, unsure of what it is that makes it truly special.
However, there is a fairly consistent first half to talk about, and, boy, is it good. The record opens up with the aforementioned “All Eyes” which takes a number of sonic twists and turns, making it an unlikely choice for a single (but it is, indeed, a single from the album). Once you get used to the roadblocks, it comes out of the wringer being undeniably catchy. “The Bell” sounds suitably spacey, and I can detect a slight Madchester sound to the proceedings, before the ‘80s-style keyboards kick in and the whole thing turns on a dime. Still, it’s affecting. But the best thing on the album is “Glass House”. This is just an astoundingly great pop track with Moog-esque keyboards that feel lifted from Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”. You’ll wind up humming this song in your sleep, with its rousing chorus and menacing verses. And “Be Someone” has a sort of afrobeat rhythm to it that marries that sound with the unlikely paring of Pantha du Prince. “Growl” even feels a little like a Local Natives song—something off that band’s debut album—with vocals that at one point come across as a little Bowie-esque.
However, from there, you’re pretty much sludging through retreads of the same thing. Only final track “God”, with its music box stylings and false endings, feels in any way remotely original and different from what came before. That’s not to say that the songs in the remainder of this disc are bad, they just don’t strike one in the same way that the opening gamut of tracks do. And, lyrically, there’s nothing here that will smack you upside the head and command you to pay attention—it’s pretty much your standard pop fluff, which is not meant to be a commendation, but it is what it is.
Overall, Galapagos comes off as being a little on the rote side. There’s elegant stuff to be had here, for sure, but there’s not overly much—aside from “Glass House”—that comes across as sheer brilliance. Galapagos represents a band still feeling out its sound to varying results. Your mileage may naturally vary, but this band is neither the new Radiohead nor “overblown”. The group exists in that murky middle ground of being something that isn’t terrible but isn’t terribly innovative and groundbreaking, either. In short, Post War Years is a pop band with arty aspirations. That the group doesn’t quite get there on Galapagos is a bit of a shame, but, you know what? It’s sort of fun hearing the band try, especially in the front half of the record. Post War Years is simply an outfit that still needs to figure out what it is, and get past its seeming identity crisis and attempts at broad audience appeal. In short, guys: pick a style and stick with it.