Oxford quintet Spring Offensive emerged on to the local live circuit donning matching t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘I was killed by the Spring Offensive’. Despite Young Animal Hearts being hailed as their debut, they did in fact release mini-album Pull Us Apart in 2010. But this period is generally seen as a false start, presumably parental pressure resulting in the boarding school boys trotting off to various UK universities for a lengthy hiatus.
They’re certainly confident in their own abilities, self-describing themselves as having “guitars, driving rhythms and vocal harmonies”, and endorsements from assorted respected institutions indicate that the boys could be something special. Much of their inspiration comes from intellectual quarters, poems being one such source, with the band’s name itself taken from a poem by poet and soldier Wilfred Owen, posthumously famous for his often graphic firsthand accounts of World War I.
Fully funded through Pledge, Young Animal Hearts reached its financial target after just one week, with media exposure throwing the spotlight on one of the most unusual pledges – your own kidnapping at the hands of the band for the princely sum of £5,000.
More intriguing still are the unconventional song structures, displaying as they do considerable potential for longevity. Album opener and now rather old (2012) single Not Drowning But Waving kicks things off at a serene pace before building into something quite unique, its quiet, minimalist passages combining with reverb guitar, group singing and dramatic backdrops to produce something rather outstanding. Bodylifting then represents a more danceable number in the Bombay Bicycle Club mould, and is another highly enjoyable effort.
“I was in Berlin, I was on my own,” sings lead vocalist Lucas Whitworth on the excellent Hengelo, a tale of a man running away from debt as the boys tackle serious subject matter beneath pummelling drums and soaring melodies. The stop/start structure of Cut The Root enters territory occupied by another Oxford band – Foals – perhaps addressing overbearing parental expectations with lyrics like “so much time left, not gonna waste it following blueprints laid out for me” amidst telling of being “consumed by the branches of a family tree”.
The softer sounds of album preceding stream The River transform into something bigger again, as the melodies draw comparisons with Bastille, the band this time taking inspiration from murder ballads favoured by Nick Cave. Carrier is another slow effort, utilising Lightning Seeds-like melodies conveyed via harmonious vocals with minimal instrumental accompaniment before handclapping leads the song to a conclusion.
The catchy, repetitively simple chorus of “I will speak now I will speak now, or forever hold my tongue” adorns the anthemic Speak whilst the broken, stuttering No Assets gleams with shimmering guitars amongst more Foals-like minimal sections. Something Unkind opens to strummed guitar and pounding drum before leading to more harmonious guitaring, and 52 Miles then represents the quietest moment on offer before building to a crescendo of guitar and percussive noise, repeating the process but failing to go anywhere noteworthy. The title track closes the LP in more familiar style, jaunty sections again interspersed with quieter parts as the song leads to a rousing cymbal clashing finale.
It’s taken a long time since the band first emerged in 2009 for this full length proper to surface, but on this evidence it’s been a worthwhile wait. And, as we head into March, this would appear to be perfect timing for Spring Offensive to launch this fine debut.