Album Reviews

Laurel Collective – Heartbeat Underground

(Tape Club/Believe) UK release date: 28 May 2012

Having a band describe their album as ‘nonsense’ is rarely a good starting point, but Bob Tollast (one of Laurel Collective‘s two frontmen) did just that while talking about the London group’s first proper album, Heartbeat Underground, before going on to clarify his remark: “But nonsense is good.” Lyrically speaking, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense – and neither does their name – but that’s exactly the point. The music comes first, and it’s wonderfully summery pop music that is on the agenda.

Heartbeat Underground’s release is perfectly timed, at least in theory; we all know how fickle British summer weather can be, but this is the kind of album to soundtrack blue skies and long evenings. There seems to have been a resurgence in the British psychedelic-pop movement as of late (with Fixers arguably leading the charge), but Laurel Collective are intent on ploughing their own furrow. They have come on considerably since their inception, and the entire album sounds like the work of a band who have become supremely confident.

While their use of close harmony is automatically going to see them compared, in some way, to The Beach Boys, the title track, which opens the album, is more than enough to dispel any notions that the band sound is a mere pastiche of their influences. Nothing is off limits, and while the band remain focused on making thrilling pop music, they take their cues from a number of different genres and mix everything into a sound that is unmistakeably theirs.

Something else they’re fond of is toying with conventional song structure. Sunshine Buddy takes some unexpected twists and turns along the way; arguably the most arresting of these is the way it finishes, moving from a restrained bridge passage to a harmony-heavy coda whose tempo fluctuates, going all out for the last 20 seconds of the song. After this, the more measured recent single Fax Of Death shows up, and it’s one of the most immediate songs on the album, thanks in no small part to its gargantuan chorus.

Rather impressively, there is no sign of the ‘token ballad’ anywhere on Heartbeat Underground. The inclusion of even one slow-paced song would have seriously impaired the album’s flow. Instead, Laurel Collective continue to display their sense of fun – something which has been developed further since they released a mischievously-titled album in 2008 called Feel Good Hits Of A Nuclear Winter – whilst ensuring their music is nothing less than compelling throughout. They sound like they’re having a great time writing this kind of music, something which is best expressed on particularly infectious songs like Cheap and Alabaster.

The album seems to get better as it goes, and it manages to finish on the highest of high notes with the epic Fizzing Blood, a song which runs the gamut of genres; folk, indie rock, electro and power pop are just a few of the things the band try their hand at wwithin the confines of that one song, and in a way it seems to the the musical expression of them saying “we can do whatever we want if we put our minds to it” – as if the varied approach to songwriting heard in the 10 tracks before it wasn’t enough. Nonsense or not, Heartbeat Underground is an astonishingly ambitious album from a band who are unwilling to rest on their laurels, always trying to better themselves, and succeeding in just about everything that they do.

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