There was some surprise at the quality of Big Deal’s 2011 debut album, Lights Out, with the boy-girl dynamic producing doubts before any music was even released. However, Kacey Underwood (guitar, vocals) and Alice Costelloe (vocals, guitar) quickly demonstrated that they were much more than a gimmick, providing an album full of intimate and lo-fi offerings that left a lasting impact.
The make-up of the pair’s relationship certainly added intrigue to their lovelorn lyrics about broken relationships, with many mistaking Underwood and Costelloe as a couple, despite a vast age difference. Yet what was most impressive about Big Deal’s debut was just how refreshing it was at a time where similar acts – including Tennis and Summer Camp – were also making headway.
Two years on from that unexpected success, they are back with their much-anticipated second album, June Gloom. As the title suggests, Big Deal’s return is no more uplifting than their debut, but that’s not to say there has not been a clear and bold progression. Opener Golden Lights lulls the listener into a false sense of security at first, with a solitary guitar riff eventually giving way to a rousing and powerful climax.
While Lights Out concentrated on the London-based duo’s fragile vocal harmonies over an arresting combination of acoustic and electric guitars, June Gloom sees the addition of drums and bass guitar to their expansive soundscape. The first single from the album, In Your Car, continues the more rock-orientated approach, with swarming guitars building towards an infectious and enchanting chorus.
It’s clear that Big Deal have come a long way since Lights Out, with a confidence and maturity about June Gloom that bursts through their brooding compositions. Yet, the home-made quality of their debut is still present, especially on tracks such as Teradactol. The scuzzy guitars and galloping drum beat explode on the thrilling verse, before Underwood and Costelloe’s vocals intertwine so effortlessly on an understated chorus.
Lyrically, June Gloom is very much a continuation of the themes that previously dominated its predecessor, with the sense of romantic nostalgia the order of the day again. “What if no one else compares/ what if no one else cares,” sings Costelloe, over the crashing guitars on Call And I’ll Come. Then there’s the haunting Pillow, where the pair’s vocal harmonies become almost sinister when combined with their angsty lyricism.
The muscular guitars and grunge-esque sounds of tracks such as Swapping Spit at the start of the album eventually give way around the halfway mark to a softer and more delicate approach. While it’s more like what we’re used to hearing from Big Deal, the stripped back efforts remain very much tied to the overarching atmosphere of the record. In fact, the beautifully simple and quaint Little Dipper is an album highlight.
Pristine is another stand out track, with the bare bones of an acoustic guitar and the engrossing vocals of Underwood and Costelloe enough to leave you emotionally wrought. “Darkness wash over me, I let it in, it let me be,” the duo sing in unison, over the song’s strummed acoustic guitar. Closing track Close Your Eyes initially sounds like its heading along a similar path, until a storming conclusion confirms Big Deal’s evolution.
Underwood and Costelloe have not broken any boundaries or drastically reinvented themselves on June Gloom, but their second album is undoubtedly a positive step forward. The pair have successfully managed to retain the qualities that made them so engrossing first time round, despite putting more meat on the bones. Overall, June Gloom is an accomplished return from Big Deal, one that shows they are more than worthy of their name.