When Goldheart Assembly emerged at the tail end of the last decade, their beards, straw hats, long hair and fondness for West Coast harmonies invited comparisons to Fleet Foxes and Mumford And Sons. Long Distance Song Effects is the follow-up to the London five-piece’s debut Wolves And Thieves. The product of two years’ worth of sporadic sessions with Swiss producer Tobi Gmur, it’s an album that’s simultaneously lusher and rockier than Wolves And Thieves.
It’s also an album that’s structured like an album, and not just a collection of 11 tracks. The record’s sequencing feels like it’s been pored over, the ebbing and flowing stage-managed carefully to maximise each song’s impact. The abrasive moments provide necessary contrast to the softer ones, while codas act as clever little segues between the most jolting mood shifts.
The opening, title track consists of 90 seconds of crackling ambience and spoken voices. It could be dismissed as a piece of inconsequential padding but, without it, the track which follows – the distorted, dire Billy In The Lowground – wouldn’t burst out of the speakers with such bracing force.
That introductory one-two punch suggests that Long Distance Song Effects might be the self-consciously ‘dark’ successor to the generally summery Wolves And Thieves. But then comes Harvest In The Snow, a limpid ballad full of bucolic imagery. It closes with an extended, piano-led coda which sets up perfectly the intro to Transit, whose nervy, churning guitars recall the beginning of Coldplay’s Politik. But then the turbulence recedes and a sweet, yearning chorus appears like a shaft of sunlight piercing through clouds.
The remainder of Long Distance Song Effects isn’t quite as dramatic as its opening third, but the standard of songwriting is unfailingly strong. The Idiot is the kind of polished, drive-time rock song that demands to be heard on a car radio with the windows open on a sunny day. Stephanie And The Ferris Wheel – with that title and its references to “Magna Carta fields” – comes perilously close to ye olde England-style tweeness, but fortunately its luminous harmonies provide ample distraction. Best of all is Sad Sad Stage, in which James Dale tethers a borderline-corny theatrical analogy (“I’ll be the back row, you can be the stage”) to the album’s biggest, most affecting chorus.
These are songs that deserve to be sung back to the band at outdoor festivals. Yet Goldheart Assembly seem unlikely to achieve the level of success of, say, Of Monsters And Men (let alone Mumford And Sons). This isn’t just because of the absence of major label backing. As strong as most of these songs are, they occasionally feel hamstrung by the somewhat poky-sounding production and Dale’s thin, characterless vocals. One is left to wonder what a risk-taking ‘auteur’ producer such as Dave Fridmann would have made of Long Distance Song Effects.
But perhaps this is unnecessarily harsh. If one yearns for bigger and better things from Goldheart Assembly, it’s only because Long Distance Song Effects suggests they really do have the potential for greatness.