South London band Tiña have the honour of being the first act to release an album on Speedy Wunderground, the label whose series of rapidly produced singles has kickstarted the careers of Black Midi, Squid and Black Country, New Road and augured in what might be a new golden age of indie. That Tiña are first to release a full length LP on the label might just be a quirk of fate, but the fact that they caught the attention of Speedy Wunderground supremo Dan Carey, a producer whose illustrious CV also includes work with Kae Tempest, Nick Mulvey, TOY and Fontaines DC, suggests they might be worth a listen.
In a sense, Positive Mental Health Music is an album that does what it says on the tin. It’s packed with positive-sounding songs about mental health. Moreover, their origins are therapeutic: frontman Joshua Loftin used the songwriting process as way of working through a mental breakdown. That might forebode a bleak collection of songs that serve a noble purpose for their writer but which have little to offer to listeners, but instead Loftin and his colleagues have succeeded in creating a mood of joy and togetherness.
His frankness is an important factor in this. In Golden Rope, he suggests, “Let’s talk about mental health more,” a straightforward statement that doesn’t attempt to sugar-coat the issue. In Buddha he repeatedly reassures himself, “This is fine,” then ends the song with a couplet that’s both self-deprecating and self-affirming: “I hope that this song does something for someone / And if not at least I wrote a song.” The opening to I Feel Fine, meanwhile, offers a bittersweet insight into his creative process: “The only time I feel fine is when I’m writing it down.”
Loftin articulates his feelings with such honesty that it’s nearly impossible for his lyrics not to forge an almost instant rapport with the listener. He describes himself as “desperate for some sex” in Dip, but not before he’s seemingly illustrated his point with the surreal chorus of I Feel Fine: “Dicks in the sky, vaginas in my mind.” It’s more like listening to a friend than being performed to by a songwriter.
All of these confessional lyrics clash somewhat with the knowledge that Loftin’s standard uniform when playing gigs includes a pair of pink short and matching pink cowboy hat – undeniably performative garb, which help him retain some ambiguity about exactly how seriously he’s taking himself with these songs. Tiña’s music also treads a line between light and dark. The psychedelic organ sounds that permeate almost all of these songs lend an ominous touch, perhaps expressing an immovable anxiety deep within Loftin’s head. But the rhythms, guitars and quickfire chord changes bring levity.
If there are conflicting tensions at play in Positive Mental Health Music, then perhaps some resolution can be found in the sound of Loftin’s voice. For much of the album he sings with a compressed, fraught-sounding tone, his words coming from the tight chest of man on edge. This is exaggerated further by the falsetto he adopts at numerous points, not least at the start of Dip. But midway through that song he changes his register to lead the call and response of: “You; (Who, me?); yes you, it’s time to dance!” It’s an authentically joyful moment; a cloud has been lifted and Tiña are ready to lead us in revelry. We may not have left our problems behind, but we might have learned a little more about how to live with them.