Gradually, they’re growing up. Like awkward teenagers, the gawky, slightly nerdy generation of indie-pop bands from the past decade are leaving behind their silly banter and half-sung half-hollered vocals, and graduating to a style of greater restraint. Art Brut grew up when their frontman, Eddie Argos, stopped shouting about records and naked women and learned how to sing, something he credited to Frank Black. The Young Knives grew up when they put away their preppy indie kid jackets and ties, and released their most recent album, Sick Octave, off the back of a Kickstarter campaign, free from label interference. And now it’s the turn of Let’s Wrestle, who are moving away from lo-fi guitars and cartoon album covers and aspiring towards something fuller and richer.
It’s a far cry from their humble beginnings. Their debut single was called Song For Abba Tribute Record, and its first line was “And one day I will find someone who likes reading comic books and drinking red wine”. That was back in 2007, but by the time of their last album, 2011’s Nursing Home, singer Wesley Patrick Gonzalez was still describing how he dreamt about being beaten up by Pokemon (“I punched Pidgeotto right in the face.”) Now, like many bands who have gone before them, they’ve saved their self-titled album for the point when they enter a new phase and start to mature.
From the first 20 seconds alone of opening track Rain Ruins Revolution the change is apparent. The lead guitar part is a line of picking rather than strummed power chords, and the vocals are far more nuanced. It sounds not unlike The Shins. Once the chorus has kicked in it’s easier to tell that you’re listening to Let’s Wrestle, and this is a trend throughout the album.
But to say that there are moments that hark back to their earlier work isn’t a slight on this album: Gonzalez has long been a damn good songwriter and that fact really does shine through here. There’s nothing too clever or fancy going on, but now Let’s Wrestle have got their arrangements truly sussed out, and that makes all the difference. The presence of strings and horns is something of a novelty, but they’re handled very well indeed. Don’t Want To Know Your Name is one of the album’s highlights, and that’s in no small part due to the way the instrumentation is deployed.
The blurb put out by label Fortuna POP! proposes Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Fairport Convention and The Kinks as influences. The comparison with CSNY might be pushing it a bit, if only because this feels a very British album – not only in its references to Queensbridge Road, Wrexham and the Irish Sea, but also in terms of its obvious forebears, amongst whom The Kinks can, by the sounds of it, certainly be counted.
There is a danger that when a band matures, whether consciously and decisively or through a more organic process, something of their innate spirit might be left behind. The aforementioned Art Brut and Young Knives have arguably lost a little of their charm, but Let’s Wrestle seem to have avoided sacrificing the quirks of seemingly eternal adolescence in favour of string arrangements and more sophisticated songwriting.
Irish Sea finds Gonzalez “peering over Danger Mouse sheets” so the comic books and cartoons clearly haven’t been abandoned. But it’s a line in Always A Friend that’s perhaps the most telling: “I act the comedian, but nobody really notices me.” That could be a statement of intent, or even a manifesto, for Let’s Wrestle’s newly enhanced sound. They’ve stopped acting the comedian, and with this album they’re practically demanding that the world at large takes notice.