In an era when The Vaccines can capture the collective imagination with the release of an MP3 and a faux snarling press shot, bands like The Wave Pictures stand-out as bastions of the old way of doing it. Self-releasing six albums and gigging relentlessly for the best part of a decade before being picked-up by a label, The Wave Pictures are a band that saw the climb to getting signed, sniffed at the lift and took the stairs.
Eventually joining Moshi Moshi in 2008, the band’s creative output has remained unquenchable. Since their last album, If You Leave It Alone, the Wave Pictures spent the two years in-between releasing a European-only album, Susan Rode The Cyclone, as well as the Sweetheart EP in the UK. And, don’t forget the solo EPs with vocalist and guitarist David Tattersall releasing Happy For A While and drummer Jonny Helm reimagining Wave Pictures songs for the hell of it on Jonny Helm Sings. Bassist Franic Rozycki was probably just catching up on re-runs of Coach Trip.
With such a nose bleedingly high output The Wave Pictures have surprisingly always kept the quality control high. So, with their ninth album Beer In The Breakers recorded in one day at producer Darren Hayman of Hefner’s house in Walthamstow, is it time to worry that their meticulous back catalogue is about to be dented?
At first the record keeps the pace of past Wave Pictures albums as the frantically strummed riffs and chasing drum beats sketch a familial backdrop to Tattersall’s sardonic observations. Opener ‘Blue Harbour’, a song about the start of bassist’s Franic’s love of a clothing label, comfortingly revisits Tattersall’s lyrical stomping, ground marrying the mundane and making it sublime. ‘A Little Surprise’ follows with Tattershall sneering a familiar rhyming couplet "who are you to say that I’m depressed when you haven’t seen me at my best" to a creeping Velvets bassline.
But, as the minor key blues of ‘Blink Back A Tear’ shuffle in and an unfamiliar tension detonates into a completely unbridled guitar solo it’s clear that the record isn’t a repetition of the same formula. Hayman’s production has resulted in a noticeable evolution in the band’s sound. Unlike the off-roading experience of their previous albums, Beer In The Brakers is an often much smoother ride.
‘Walk The Back Stairs Quiet’ sees Tattersall’s vocals unfamiliarly rich, warm and soulful and accompanied by unusually mournful rhythms that perfectly reverberate the songs message of a girl urging her boyfriend to flee her arguing parents. Stand-out track ‘Epping Forest’, a follow-up to Tattersall’s solo album track ‘I Saw Your Hair Between The Trees’, drips in glossy maudlin melodies and fuzzy feet-dragging beats. Both songs stand in stark contrast to the whimsical tongue in cheek tales and scratchy acoustics of ‘Bye, Bye Bubble Belly’ and ‘My Kiss’ from their last album.
Tattersall’s lyrics have also become more sincere. Title track, ‘Beer In The Breakers’ is about Tattersall coming across a small camp on a deserted part of a beach and imagining if it had been one person alone there, summing it up in the beautiful observation of: “a small pile of grey and white ashes, one limb’s missing from a pair of sunglasses”. ‘Two Lemons, One Kitchen’ evokes a flurry of mental images in the one line: “she said she wanted a white wine in red wine weather”.
But, it’s not all overblown stories soundtracked to a rhythm and blues haze and over extended guitar solos. Old track ‘China Wale Brand’, goes back to tales of carving initials into trees in Northampton to chunky chugging chords before ending in a shouty sing-along outro. And ‘In Her Kitchen’, a song originally written by Tattersall when he was 17, is teenage frustration vented to a driving beat and the band’s much loved Lou Reed riffs.
However, at times the mix of tracks in the Pictures' former style jutting out between the new darker blues songs can make Beer in the Breakers a slightly incoherent listen, the band wrestling with the transition in their sound.
7Marie Wood's Score