They have a name which is slightly tricky to Google (unless, of course, you’re looking for myriad photos of starlets in their underwear or you’re a fan of ’90s films about a talking pig) and a sound which is surprisingly difficult to pigeon-hole. And, as you may expect from a band who are, in effect, a spin-off from Anglo-Franco indie-pop outfit Francois & The Atlas Mountains, Babe sound both refreshingly cosmopolitan and comfortingly familiar.
Led by Gerard Black, of the aforementioned Atlas Mountains and formerly a member of Scottish electro-poppers Findo Gask, Babe could be classed as somewhat of an indie supergroup, consisting of various members of the Scottish music scene. Black is joined by Michael Marshall, who’s worked with Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells, Thomas Ogden (formerly of Popolo) and fellow Atlas Mountain Amaury Ranger. And, if you listen closely, you’ll be able to hear the dulcet tones of one Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches contributing vocals on some tracks.
With names such as this attached, it comes as no surprise to hear that Volery Flighty sounds like a glorious cocktail of influences, distilled into their own unique sound. They’re not comparable to anyone, although they have the same polyrhythmic sensibilities of Everything Everything, while Black’s other-worldly falsetto is more than a touch reminiscent of Wild Beasts‘ Hayden Thorpe.
Dot And Carry On kicks off the album in a beguilingly dramatic way, with some dark piano chords serving as an introduction before buzzes of fuzzy electronica break through and Black’s swooping vocals start to croon. It’s disorientating but oddly soothing. The early single Aerialist Barbette still sounds as brilliantly odd as you’d expect a song about a cross-dressing trapeze artist to sound, with some gorgeously textured guitars and subtle rhythms playing underneath Black and Mayberry’s duelling vocals.
Elsewhere, the sound is more familar. The jaunty Bx Betweenwhiles could well be a Francois & The Atlas Mountains song with its speckles of afrobeat guitar rhythms, while Tilt has a slightly disarming slap-bass introduction before settling down into a off-kilter funky groove. It’s times like this you can see why the likes of Everything Everything have been so voracious in their recommendation of Babe, as you could easily draw a Venn diagram in which both band’s cerebral oddness would interconnect.
It’s true that, at times, Babe still sound like a band in their infancy (appropriately enough, given their name), searching for an identifiable sound. If there’s a fault with Volery Flighty, it’s this lack of focus, but it’s also endearing hearing the quartet explore different styles with such enthusiasm and no little skill. The more melancholy moments are the ones that feel the most half-formed, such as the rather plodding Great Coat or the brief interlude of Purl, and sometimes it can feel like everything but the kitchen sink (or, in this case, the memorable tune) is being thrown in, as in the overtly fiddly Falling In The Apples.
Yet when it all comes together – the marvellous use of Mayberry on the glistening Oft, or on the sunny dub of the closing Bronco (a song that’s only missing some steel drums to become the guaranteed song of the summer) – it works rather beautifully. This particular Babe may still be in the toddler stage, but there’s surely a pretty exciting future ahead of them.