South London's Little Cub craft a debut album that elegantly addresses modern-era woes via a blanket of warm, familiar influences.
Judging solely on the smartly arranged production, Little Cub’s debut album Still Life could have been created in a lab. One listen to “Breathing Space” instantly brings to mind some of Hot Chip’s most spirited tracks. “My Nature” has the self-lacerating lyricism of Miguel or Gary Lightbody, and on opening track “Too Much Love", even Dominic Gore’s vocals recall Ben Gibbard.
But like the best lab creations, there is an unmistakable element of humanity pulsating throughout Still Life. And while Little Cub are fairly unabashed when it comes to paying homage to their influences, their lyrics reflect an altogether original portrait of a young lad in south London who revels in late-night excesses but occasionally steps away into a poorly-lit bathroom to splash water on his face and look into the reflection of a deeply unhappy, deeply lonely person.
Still Life came to be as a result of Dominic Gore and Duncan Tootill’s collaboration after the two met in London. When Tootill returned to New York, Gore worked with Ady Acolatse on crafting the songs that would eventually become Still Life.
The band’s bio states that the kickoff track “Too Much Love” (and much of Still Life) was loosely based on the Oscar Wilde quote, “I represent all the sins that you will never have the courage to commit.” Inspiration-wise, that may be true, but most of Still Life's debauchery essentially comes from the tried and true themes of fears of intimacy, the apathy that comes with one too many familiar nights at the club, and the “Brilliant Disguise”-like paranoia of distrust in a relationship.
Still Life’s most obvious look at a world outside of its own characters is in “Death of a Football Manager”. Written about former Wales manager Gary Speed, who hanged himself in 2011, the track is propelled by a simple percussive beat and a minimal keyboard riff. “Was it for love that you crossed the wall? / Or was it grief at your own sense of failure?” Gore sings without any sign of judgment in his voice.
Still Life concludes with a remarkably steller trio of songs. “Loveless” has the most memorable chorus of the album with the ear-worm utterance of “Did we really lose our hearts?” The song is a great setup to the emotional gut-punch of “Snow”. The soft, delicate beats beautifully compliment Gore’s echoey delivery. It’s a strong enough finish to merit a repeat listen for the entire album, which is exactly what a good album should do.
Most memorable debut albums fall into two camps: instant classics or great indicators of things to come. There are times when it’s hard to distinguish Little Cub from their influences, and it’s that affliction that keeps Still Life from becoming an instant classic. But there is enough warmth to their sound and sharpness to their lyrics to indicate that -- given their talent -- a sophomore slump is not in the cards.