In these days where ‘indie’ is the new mainstream, it’s refreshing to come across a band like Help She Can’t Swim. The five piece from Southampton hark back to days of noisy guitars, screamy vocals and parents up and down the land shaking their head and asking “what are you listening to?”
Their debut album was a breath of fresh air in 2004 – there weren’t many bands with song titles such as What Would Morrissey Say and lyrics that rhymed Ashton Kutcher with Frank Butcher. It was all set to a soundscape of fearsome energy and noise, and it was no surprise when they toured with fellow masters of chaos The Blood Brothers and Test Icicles.
At first listen, it would seem that the three year break had somewhat mellowed Help She Can’t Swim. Opening track Pass The Hat Around is slow and languid, with droning My Bloody Valentine-esque guitar lines being laid down. There’s still an unmistakable air of menace about, but the overall sound is a bit more – gasp – ‘mature’.
This, as it turns out, is a bit of a red herring, because as soon as Idle Chatter kicks in, we’re back to what makes Help She Can’t Swim great. A frantic keyboard swirl and ferocious drums provide the backdrop to swapped vocals between Tom Deeney and Leesey Francis (who ends the song with the charming line “strangle you with the telephone cord, just because you’re making me feel bored”.
If you can remember as far back as the early ’90s when there was a short lived movement called Riot Grrl, then you’ll have the best indication as to what Help She Can’t Swim sound like. Raw and punky, they’re definitely direct descendents of the likes of Bis and Huggy Bear.
And like their predecessors, while they’re fun and fresh to listen to in short, sharp bursts, it all gets a bit much over the course of an album. While tracks such as Hospital Drama and I Think The Record’s Stopped sound fresh and exciting, the second half of the album, in particular the closing duo of Dragged Under A Wave and Never The Right Time For Us, sounds a bit sluggish and listless.
When they’re good though, they’re on top form. The aforementioned I Think The Record’s Stuck in particular is terrific, a stinging attack on an unnamed rival (“you’re on the hot shit list – fuck you / you’re not a feminist”) while All The Stars is a bile-filled study of a ‘cooler than thou’ indie club which attacks punters who “suck their cheeks in” and “look like crackwhores”. It also manages to namecheck ’80s television series Lovejoy, which takes some degree of genius.
Francis’ vocals are also impressive, coming across sometimes as an angry Kate Jackson from Long Blondes, and she makes the perfect foil to the more screamy tones of Tom Deeney. In fact, on songs such as Just Be Social where Francis takes a backseat and lets Deeney take lead vocals, her absence is notable and the songs aren’t quite as effective.
If you’ve been scratching your head wondering what all the fuss is about Enter Shikari, then this is a good example of how to make an exciting, noise filled album and not alienate everyone over the age of 25. It may not be for everyone, but overall this is a fine second album.