The Trouble With Templeton’s founder and lead singer Thomas Calder certainly has plenty of ideas in terms of songwriting, and he’s clearly needed a lot of help to successfully mould his vision. Originally a solo artist in 2011, his first album was independently released. Since then, Calder has expanded the project to a qunitet and, after much critical acclaim in their native Australia, UK audiences are finally being introduced to them via Bella Union. In many ways, this is their ‘proper’ debut (at least as a five-piece).
Calder has described it thus: “A whole kaleidoscope of sounds and genres, but there’s something holding it together, and that’s us as a band.” The variety is rather staggering. Affecting ballads that aren’t afraid to soar skywards mingle with punchy numbers that are more than willing to rock out. It’s a difficult balance to perfect at all, let alone for a bunch of new kids on the block, but the pleasant surprise is that they manage to do it very well.
Even though there really isn’t a set formula to their aesthetic, The Trouble With Templeton achieve the best results when they work at their most direct, combining sharp lyrics with a vibrant energy. Glue has the brightness and jauntiness of some of the earliest The Smiths singles whilst Like A Kid treads the waters of grungey pop, all bratty and snarling. But the true showstopper is Six Months In A Cast, which gallops away at a furious pace. Even the opener Whimpering Child, which seems to combine two or three different songs into one that is both urgent and unrelenting, forces you to keep up as it progresses. There’s even time for a brief and slightly bizarre interlude called Climate that drunkenly shambles its way towards side 2.
Their tender side takes a bit more time to strike, but repeat listens provide plenty of rewards. You Are New rises and falls with an elegance and grace that belies the band’s newcomer status whilst I Recorded You has a bluesy swagger that fits its lyrical bleakness. The closer, Lint, starts tenderly enough before growing into a ferocious beast with Calder bellowing the name Sebastian with an ever-increasing intensity. As the feedback dies down, a short little acoustic ditty properly finishes off Rookie in a similar manner to Abbey Road’s Her Majesty. Only Soldiers fails to hit the mark; it’s the only track where its ever-changing dynamics do more harm than good.
All of these different elements make for a very expansive LP that refuses to settle on a certain style but, after a few listens, it becomes a little easier to define what it is that makes it so impressively cohesive. It’s their knack for conjuring up melodies that seem effortless across nearly all 12 songs that really show how accomplished they are. Heavy Lifting, for example, doesn’t seem too dissimilar to the tunes that Death Cab For Cutie were coming up with around the time of The Photo Album or Plans.
Aside from one or two sub-par moments, this is a highly impressive and commanding debut. This album might be called Rookie, but it’s far removed from that in terms of musicianship, songwriting and adventurousness. It’s pretty tantalising to think how much experimenting they could do on further records. The Trouble With Templeton? Well, it’s less troubling and more terrific.