After Arctic Monkeys came scampering out of South Yorkshire in 2006, a whole host of similar bands followed in their wake. Milburn, Little Man Tate, The Harrisons – all guitar-toting skinny boys in jeans and flat vowels who disappeared as quickly as they’d arrived.
There was one band from Sheffield who were a bit different – and fittingly, they’re the one who’ve gone from strength to strength. Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson were an endearingly ramshackle live spectacle, bantering amongst themselves and now and again smacking the back of a chair leg when they needed percussion. They’d start gigs in the middle of the audience, they’d sometimes end them outside in the street or a beer garden, and it was impossible not to see them without a massive smile beaming across your face.
That’s not to even mention the songs – and what songs they were, setting lyrics of heartbreak and loss to some of the most perkily ebullient melodies you’d ever heard. Add some ridiculously inventive videos to the mix, and it was clear that once you became a Slow Club fan, you were in for life.
Paradise follows up 2009’s debut album Yeah So, and it’s immediately clear that Taylor and Watson have raised the bar. The sound here is bigger and more muscular – guaranteed to shoot down the band’s most hated accusation of ‘twee-pop’ down in flames. There are still the quiet, reflective moments, but the overall impression is one of a band who’ve refined and improved their live sound, and then replicated it perfectly in the studio.
There’s the swooning harmonies of Two Cousins which kicks the album off, or the ghostly, finger-clicking doo-wop of Never Look Back which both showcase a new side of Slow Club we’ve not heard before. More startlingly is the darkness of the lyrics – the former imagines a point in the future when “I’ll look into your eyes and you won’t know who I am”, while the latter opens with the macabre image of “baby brother in the next room, trying to bring him back to life”.
Taylor has stepped up a gear as a vocalist too – take the brilliant Where I’m Waking (by some distance, the best thing the band have ever done) as an example – her voice swoops and soars over some pounding drums. It’s a track that’s impossible to sit still to: the same could be said for While We’re Still Alive, which features that most un-Slow Club of things, a manic guitar solo.
The more folky sound with which they made their name is still present – the gorgeous harmonies and irresistible hooks of both Hackney Marshes and Gold Mountain are guaranteed to capture hearts. Meanwhile, the haunting, winsome You, Earth Or Ash is, somewhere in a parallel universe, Christmas Number 1 every year.
The new ambition is perfectly demonstrated by Horses Jumping, a six minute track featuring Charles on vocals which slowly builds from a plucked acoustic number before gradually and gorgeously switching to a lush, string accompanied ballad with the duo sorrowfully singing that “good love is hard to forget when you’re down on your own”. You’d have to have a heart of stone to not be moved.
Paradise is the sound of a more mature and confident Slow Club, but without losing that adorable edge that’s so vital to them. Start clearing some space at the top of those ‘Best of 2011’ lists, for this is sure to figure.