Hull based Medium 21 release the first album on Temptation Records, which is a new partnership between Fierce Panda and Island Records. They released a single on Fierce Panda last year and created a buzz by touring with Ed Hardcourt and are now the lucky debutees on this label, with all the clout and money behind them from Island.
They might deserve this heavyweight backing though, as this debut album appears to be a fitting entrance to launch a new label, with front person John Clough not afraid of the grand gesture and quintessential Englishness that makes British indie sometimes worth the hype.
The first track The Plight of Loosing Out yells single and hit single at that. It starts morose and languid, heavy with twang guitar and tempts you with a pop rise to pull you into the verse, and then vocals begin, Clough’s unusual voice, low and slow, reminiscent of Ian Curtis, morphed with Edwin Collins and Kevin Ayres dragging you into Medium 21’s world immediately.
Junctions in our Sleep oozes in gently and then, heavy with 80’s bass sound whooshes you out of slumber, into another kind of slumber, a pop sleep, lazy but exciting, catchy. Daybreak vs. Pride twitches in, early Echo and the Bunnymen, onto a hook, and you’re there on the line with them.
Nearly half of the songs on this LP are under three minutes long and they’re structured in a way to jumpstart your toes into tapping. It’s the essence of good songwriting, it’s not particularly unusual, but a good tune catches and keeps you. Poisoned Postcards however doesn’t have that immediacy.
The Wrong Road offers another direction. Folky acoustic guitars start and simple melody catches you with lyrical lovelies such as ‘the wrong road is the beautiful road’. But it’s a false catch, as Clough seems tempted to veer off into Jarvis Cocker largesse, but he resists and it’s delectable, teasing but never delivering the full-blown roar.
The Cable and the Cars is a harder tune, rockier, with punk interspersed with Boomtown Rats reminiscences. Catalyst disappoints, it plods, as does By my Side, but Black and White Summer is the beauty of the LP, lush with strings, romantic and longing. The Best Part lushes it up even more with harmonies not heard on the rest of the album, but it’s a good sound, and could be utilized more, especially with the strings bolstering the wall of sound.
Medium 21 are an fine amalgamation, essences of Mercury Rev and Dinosaur Jr and a harking back to 1982 is not unwelcome as the sounds feel better this time around. Punk and new wave held supreme in the early 80’s, but bands like Orange Juice and the Bunnymen were seminal and its nice to hear they live on. But it’s the voice in Medium 21 that grabs and holds, Clough’s deep trawl vocal relishes its English theatrical confusion and we will certainly hear more of Medium 21.