Oh to be The National! Labouring away for years in obscurity, honing their downtrodden literary bent sweet booze-tunes until the mainstream stumbles across you and adopts you like a wayward cousin, even gaining endorsements from the President himself. Now the world waits for the next album to see what direction it takes from downward introspection, something stadium-pleasing or delving back into more experimental territory…
Oh Manchester! So much to answer for… Postcards From Jeff, while not being a) American b) or a million-selling indie rock five-piece do share a proclivity for documenting the same hinterland characters existing on the fringes of society set in a melodically-inclined world of the under-achiever and over-dreamer.
Replete with chiming guitar melody, downbeat lyrics, bright production and insistent rhythm of opener Suburban Girl and you could easily be mistaken for thinking you’d stumbled over late-period New Order having a tea break. Celebrating the ‘rough diamonds’ that fill small towns dreaming of escaping their lives and themselves when their real beauty comes from within. It’s a gentle but unprepossessing introduction to what lies ahead, which overstays its welcome with the chorus repeated ad infinitum.
Hailing from Manchester, and with this being their debut album – coming a year after their self-titled debut EP – they share the same deadpan knack for celebrating the beautiful losers set to melancholic melody that yearn for a life lived in the movies and the pages of books.
Shimmering reverb echoes in Samaritans, a track that bears an uncanny resemblance to Echo & The Bunnymen’s (ask your parents) Bring On The Dancing Horses with its strident beat and reverb-drenched guitar. Sadly, Joss Worthington’s voice doesn’t have a tremendous range to it and here it is highlighted warts, off-key and all weak with it – words trail off as if distracted by something more compelling. Japanese Man O’ War suffers from the same fate of being altogether insipid and unmemorable; plodding chord changes, predictable peaks and troughs. Gripping it is not.
The pace changes on the gentle Americana of Wide Eyed Wonder with the most predictable lyrical clichés of “devils on shoulders” rhymed with “getting older” – it’s the sound of a band clutching at straws, one that’s barely engaged, and it reeks of album filler. There’s the guitar figure to loop through the song, here’s the gentle verse with the upbeat chorus… can we finish now?
It’s not all bad when it works, with Worthington’s lyrics connecting with imagery at once unique and relatable, as on A House where “We dance in the parking lot and forget about the friends that pissed you off”. The music bubbles along while Worthington lures you in with a tale of world-weary redemption.
Awake closes the album on an upbeat chiming guitar and glockenspiel melody that permeates to a fully climactic and ultimately redemptive duality; “People like us fight their own type” resolves into “Don’t give life away”. It’s quite possibly the best thing on here, but it closes a very average album.
There lurks in here another quality EP (indeed two tracks do make it over from their EP Awake and A House) but at album length it feels overstretched and uninspired. This particular ‘postcard’ should be returned to sender due to insufficient tunes.