TV Priest‘s second album, My Other People, pushes sonic boundaries while still sounding post-punk. The breadth of styles here is impressive, as is the musicianship. However, what a listener gets out of the record may depend on their level of affection for the group’s rough-edged vocalist, Charlie Drinkwater. Drinkwater is a charismatic voice with interesting lyrics, but his almost monotone, not particularly tuneful delivery falls into a no man’s land between melodic singing and hardcore shouting.
How the rest of TV Priest interact with Drinkwater’s style often determines whether a song succeeds or fails. The opener, “One Easy Thing”, begins with a simple, low register acoustic guitar riff. When Drinkwater enters and declares in his deep baritone, “I need to sleep / So very, very deeply”, the song could almost pass as a pastiche emulating the National. The guitar quickly gets covered in distortion, though, and when the pounding drumbeat and bassline come in, the song gets a lot scuzzier. Drinkwater opens into a fuller voice, and it’s fascinating to hear how he drifts in and out of tune while effectively conveying emotion. Guitarist Alex Sprogis has a recurring melodic riff once the beat kicks in, and the rhythm section of drummer Ed Kelland and bassist/producer Nic Bueth keep the song lively. It’s a very effective start to the album.
That’s not the case with every track. The muted “Limehouse Cut” is sonically fascinating, with an insistent bassline and unconventional guitar that sounds like it was partially played on the headstock above the neck. Drums are absent, although synth strings swell in the background in several spots. Drinkwater’s delivery here is more of a spoken word style, but there’s little melody of which to speak. Without that melodic anchor, it isn’t easy to concentrate on Drinkwater’s lyrics, despite the effort to make it musically interesting. The acoustic ballad “The Happiest Place on Earth” suffers similarly. Simple guitar strumming and quiet synths are the only instruments, allowing the focus to sit right on Drinkwater. Drinkwater isn’t doing all that much vocally, though, so good luck remembering anything he says here beyond sarcastically repeating the song’s title.
In other spots, Drinkwater functions as a clear asset to the group. “I Have Learnt Nothing” marches along like U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” while Sprogis jaggedly strums staccato guitar chords. The energetically shouted refrain “‘Cause I have learned nothing!” is sticky, as are other lines. Drinkwater declaring, “I’ve been running the tabs / I’ve been DOING the maths,” may not be a clever line, but his passionate delivery makes it one of the album’s most memorable bits. “I Am Safe Here” rides on a steady drumbeat and another jagged guitar line. Drinkwater declares, “I am safe here,” as a sort of mantra, sometimes shouting, sometimes just speaking it. The rest of his vocals drift between speaking and sort of singing, but that personality sells the track.
In other spots, TV Priest are doing interesting musical things that effectively make up for Drinkwater’s lack of melody. “Bury Me in My Shoes” has a robust, catchy bassline and a pair of very different guitar parts that drop in during the verse and the chorus. Drinkwater’s dogged repetition of the vocal refrain, “Life only comes in flashes of greatness”, makes it one of the record’s most memorable lines. “The Breakers” begins like another lackluster acoustic ballad, but it steadily develops as it goes along. First, a catchy drumbeat adds to the guitar strumming, then a quiet arpeggiated synth figure appears, a steady bassline begins, and finally, a squalling melodic electric guitar riff joins in. While Drinkwater mumbles his way through the track, the arrangement and construction of the rest of the song make it possibly My Other People‘s most compelling.
TV Priest are willing to try many different things, and the rock-solid rhythm section of Kelland and Bueth keeps most of the songs from being a drag. Sprogis uses a lot of different guitar sounds while often staying near a traditional post-punk style. Drinkwater is a unique vocalist, though, and TV Priest don’t always seem to know what to do around him. He’s such a wild card. Sometimes he carries a track based mainly on his energetic, emotional delivery. Other times, though, his lack of centered pitch leaves a melodic hole in the center of their songs. Ultimately, My Other People feels like the work of a band in progress that hasn’t entirely figured out how they operate as an ensemble.