Like many musical artists, Flyte had their plans for 2020 put through the wringer by COVID, but they managed to finish recording This Is Really Going to Hurt just before the lockdowns began. The London trio were in Los Angeles wrapping up the process in February of 2020 and managed to get back home just in time not to do anything. They did eventually start doing impromptu outdoor shows around London to keep playing. Now, after several months of delay, the record has arrived, and it’s certainly an interesting one.
Their second album begins as gentle indie-pop but swerves hard into ’60s pop pastiche about halfway through. These two genres of music are not all that far removed from each other, so this transition isn’t jarring, but it’s noticeable. The album begins with a folky acoustic guitar line and a hushed vocal from singer-guitarist Will Taylor. “Easy Tiger” maintains its quiet feel throughout, with simple percussion and strings adding to the acoustic guitar but never overwhelming the vocal melody. Taylor’s chorus, “Go easy, tiger / This is only going to get worse”, is memorable. Lyrically, Taylor is obliquely telling an ex that their breakup is going to be rough for both of them, but the calming tone of the song keeps it from sounding angry and bitter.
The album’s second track, “Losing You”, is also very folky, but hints of bitterness start to creep in on this one. This arrangement is a little more full-bodied, with drums, bass, and an electric guitar complementing Taylor’s acoustic guitar and vocals. Taylor tells the story of a one-night fling that he gets very invested in while the woman is clearly not of the same mind. The song’s highlight is a striking hollow-bodied electric guitar solo, which returns a second time to close the song.
The dark, driving third song, “I’ve Got a Girl”, is where Flyte really let the frustration flow. Over insistent, pounding piano notes and a slightly funky drumbeat, Taylor sings, “I’ve got a girl / I’m breaking up the band.” In the second verse, he changes perspectives to talk about a great concert where a different guy and girl had an amazing time but have since given up on the band because they dislike their latest material. “I’ve Got a Girl” manages to be catchy while feeling dark and oppressive, and it’s very effective.
It’s after the fourth track, the similarly piano-pounding but less interesting “Under the Skin”, that This Is Really Going to Hurt makes its shift. “Everyone’s a Winner” combines chiming acoustic guitars and tightly layered harmonies to capture a vibe similar to Crosby, Stills, and Nash, or the Band. The lyrics are cynical and sarcastic, but the song feels relaxed and easygoing. “Trying to Break Your Heart” adds some psychedelic slide guitar, giving the track a feel somewhere between classic hippies and The Zombies. The grimy fuzz guitar and active bassline of “There’s a Woman” bring to mind the Guess Who. Closer “Never Get to Heaven” brings back the three-part harmonies and forgoes all instruments except for a simple guitar part, hitting those CSN vibes again.
While these back half songs are all quite listenable, the only true standout was “Mistress America”, which, while admittedly another ’60s pastiche (Don McLean feels like the touchstone here), manages to stand on its own. The harmonies are great, and the guitar riff and bassline sparkle. The lyrics, which combine a fond remembrance of a rocker who was apparently shunned by the industry with the promise that “I’m gonna get a gun / And learn the words to all of your songs”, are pretty great, too, because they cast a sheen of disturbing obsession over the top of this nostalgia.
I found each half of This Is Really Going to Hurt to be quite solid, but I couldn’t quite get over how it sounds like the band are trying two separate things. It almost feels like two EPs, each with a different musical focus, shoved together. Between “I’ve Got a Girl” and “Mistress America”, each chunk of the album has a standout song. So this ends up being a likable record with kind of a weird disconnect to it. Maybe next time around, Flyte will figure out how to synthesize their ’60s influences with 21st-century indie-pop a little more effectively.