Photo: Courtesy of Lucky Number Music

Priestgate’s ‘Eyes Closed for the Winter’ Is a Promising ’80s-style Debut

From its very first notes, Priestgate’s debut EP maintains enough fresh personality to differentiate the band from their avowed early ’80s mentors.

Eyes Closed for the Winter EP
Lucky Number Music
25 March 2022

Given the archetypal representatives of the era, it isn’t surprising how many bands try to channel the dark gothic strain of mid-’80s British music; what is surprising is how few succeed. From its very first notes, Priestgate’s debut EP Eyes Closed for the Winter and its associated singles will win over a certain ’80s demographic while maintaining enough fresh personality to differentiate the band from their avowed mentors. How unfortunate that the most promising acts sometimes seem cursed to release the shortest records early in their careers.

Priestgate cite Joy Division and the Cure as significant influences in the acknowledgments. Accurate, as far as it goes. But to this aged yet still demanding ear, the closest analogue might be the poppier side of Echo and the Bunnymen, as processed and distilled by Scandinavian disciples, the Mary Onettes. I’ve mentioned the Mary Onettes‘ stunning 2007 self-titled debut before and keep returning to it for a good reason. Priestgate may be the most faithful effort since then to replicate the soaring, velvety vocalization and baroque stylings of “Lips Like Sugar”-era Bunnymen. Always and forever a worthy goal.

Too many modern acts forgo the whole “inspired vocals” thing, despite listeners who might reasonably consider decent singing a non-negotiable prerequisite to a career in music. In three-and-a-half shining minutes, lead singer Rob Schofield disabuses that fear on Eyes Closed opener “Bedtime Story”, whose soaring chorus “All I really wanna do is sleep” could become a post-Covid mantra for half the world. There are some seriously dreamy melodic intervals as well, enlisting both guitar and keyboards in search of that proper ghostly mood.

No protracted epics here: These songs all run three minutes or less. Yet thanks to their chord changes and rich, winding complexity, each seems longer and more fulfilling. The title track “Eyes Closed for the Winter” takes a slower route than “Bedtime Story”, but utilizes a similarly haunting bridge in tandem with irresistible feminine harmonies. Perhaps the finest solo on the record can be found in the midst of “Credits”, which begins with “Dirty Deeds”-style handclaps before segueing to an inventive and meandering guitar arrangement that brings to mind mid-era Alex Lifeson, of all things. Also recommended is the seductive “Close to Me”-style Cure drum shuffle on “By the Door”, especially the sublime yet towering coda that finishes it off.

Lamentably, as Schoolhouse Rock used to say: Darn, that’s the end. Featuring just four satisfying tracks, Eyes Closed clocks in at a mere twelve minutes long. But fear not – two recent singles, “Summ(air)” and “Now”, can be tacked on reel cheep (“Now” is a free download). Each meshes perfectly with the EP’s bundle of tracks. “Summ(air)” is notable for Schofield’s impatient vocal style while belting out his lovelorn lyrics, in which he resembles a toddler throwing a tantrum yet still somehow carries the song. As for their “Now” single, you won’t hear a better recent approximation of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Bomber Bay” high-wire act anywhere.

Following Priestgate at this early stage remains a bit ‘hunter-gatherer’ in spirit, yes. But cull all this ’80s enthusiasm together, and you have a delightful six-song primer for the wonderful band they might someday become.

RATING 6 / 10