After a string of moderately successful singles, London group Whales In Cubicles bring out a fun time on their debut album, Death In The Evening. The quartet plays upbeat, energetic indie rock with a summery sheen on which their thrill for life is infectious. Even with the hardships of “normal” life, there’s never a reason not to smile.
It’s so easy to rehash the same old song structures, but Whales In Cubicles handily avoid the typecast of indie bands who gain hipster cred by making the same song over and over again. Whales In Cubicles are simply good at playing their instruments, and Death In The Evening has more compositional mix-ups and new takes on old styles than would even be found on a band’s second or third album, much less their debut. This is most clearly seen in the nine-minute closer Find Your Way, which could’ve been released by a more positive Suede.
Death In The Evening is proof that bands with major chord structures aren’t always superficial or concerned merely with idle topics. Within one song the style vacillates from a stripped-down acoustic passage to a full out psychedelic jam, such as in the opener Yesterday’s News and in the lead single All The Pretty Flowers. The rocker Disappear, meanwhile, opens with one of the strongest guitar licks on the album. Alex Pyper, Matt Banham and Fred Fuller use off-kilter rhythms and meandering guitar passages to complement the sometimes-sung sometimes-spoken lyrics of Stef Bernardi. There’s surely an influence from early Britpop and American indie – think Pavement with a little less cognitive dissonance.
Bernardi’s shaky, light voice seems filled with the wonder of youth with a touch of age. He belts out some obscenely impressive notes in Nowhere Flag and Across America. Whales In Cubicles’ lyrics of travelling through the USA will be familiar to those fans of bands with similarly complicated feelings toward the neighbors across the pond, such as Blur and U2.
The first three songs are strong indie power ballads. Yesterday’s News matches Whales In Cubicles’ fun image with poignant self-reflection, akin to Los Campesinos! We Never Win juxtaposes Bernardi’s lyrics of self-deprecation and frustration with a heartwarming guitar melody and driving percussion, turning what would otherwise be a depressing and self-hating number into an uplifting ballad where, although “we never win/we always let them step aside and take over,” the mere act of fighting back is enough reason to be proud of oneself. In All The Pretty Flowers, Whales In Cubicles live in a society where “all the actors in the world are slamming doors behind them/and the rest are going back to sleep,” yet find a few reasons to keep on pushing. Pyper and Bernardi weave a gentle acoustic passage that builds into a soft climax and wraps you up in its warm embrace.
Death In The Evening is nice and refreshingly earnest; Whales In Cubicles is that friend you wish you had during the harder days of college who told you, “Hey man, I know the world sucks right now, but it’s gonna be okay.” That’s one of the biggest themes on Death In The Evening: the band members mash together the harsh, sad realities of millennial living with reasons to go on. Whether that’s through Bernardi’s lyrics or the driving instrumentals, there’s an underlying theme of perseverance; even the album title shows that. Death In The Evening could be the title of a dark ambient or black metal album, but instead there’s a sunny group who tell you that even if you’re going to die anyway, you can and should enjoy the morning and afternoon while you have it.