Drawing members from London, Brighton and Canterbury, the Bookhouse Boys line-up features Paul Van Oestren (vocals/guitar), Catherine Turner (vocals), Chris Pollard (guitar), Pete Emms (drums), William Emms (bass), JP Fellows (keyboards), Heddy Korachi-Alaoui (drums), Natty Defriend (trumpet), and Charlie Beringer (trumpet). It seems churlish not to mention all the band members, as The Bookhouse Boys’ swirling, full-bodied sound relies very much on the dynamic musical interplay of these nine extremely accomplished musicians.
Lead vocalist and de facto band leader Paul Van Oestren has talked in interviews about his love of film and soundtrack albums, even naming his band after the secret society in David Lynch’s cult horror/mystery television drama Twin Peaks. The cinematic influences are immediately apparent on the introductory instrumental that opens The Bookhouse Boys.
The Ennio Morricone flourishes of this brief track segue naturally into the terrific surf pop single Dead, which received a glowing review on these pages earlier in the year. With a guitar break lifted straight out of the Dick Dale textbook and a declamatory vocal reminiscent of Nick Cave in his younger, wilder years, this is music of the highest quality.
Another previously released track, Tonight slows the pace down and reveals a more subtle influence, that of the late David McComb of The Triffids. The album’s best track Shoot You Down, which introduces the dulcet vocals of Catherine Turner, provides an eerie echo of The Triffids’ occasional use of Jill Birt as a female counterpoint to McComb. Turner is a markedly better singer than Birt and her vocals provide a welcome bite to The Valley and Yer Blue, lending the middle section of the album an added gravitas.
Indeed, the pacing of The Bookhouse Boys is impressive for a debut album. The thrilling rush of the opening tracks moves gracefully into an atmospheric middle section, with the punkish clatter of I Can’t Help Myself and the blazing horns of Mariachi La providing a brief respite before the emotional dramatics of the final two tracks, Baby I Gotta Go and I Believe.
For all the attention that will be paid to their music, Van Oestren and The Bookhouse Boys also shine in the lyrical department, creating unsettling psychological melodramas of a timeless nature. Indeed, David McComb would have been proud of the opening lines of Shoot You Down: “I give up the world for you/Now I open my doors to you/I’ll take off your skirt for you/And bury my dirt in you.”
This superb album more than holds its own. Music this intense, passionate and sensual demands to be heard by a wider audience.