On their 2014 debut Pink Fur, Post War Glamour Girls drew on the theatrical nature of post punk to deliver one of the most fresh and promising introductory offers of the year. It was an exciting moment for the Leeds quartet, who proved they have no trouble marrying political sentiment and poetic craftsmanship with fierce confidence. Follow-up, 2015’s Feeling Strange was another rambunctious, yet thoughtful ramble through the annals of hearty indie rock of the heavier persuasion, capitalizing on rich guitar textures and singer/guitarist James Smith’s thoughtful lyrics.
Their latest offering is Swan Songs, ten tracks of meandering, yet brutish alt rock. Opener, ‘Guiding Light’ piles straight in with huge guitar riffs and shouts of “I’ll be your guiding light”. It’s a big opening statement, pummeling drums acting as the driving force and guitar riffs that sound like bagpipes. The band wrote and recorded the album in the remote Scottish village of Skerray, something which seems to have certainly influenced and informed the album’s elegiac tone.
Smith’s scatterbrain vocals are always at the forefront of PWGG’s sound and takes no prisoners here, snarling like Mark E Smith, but a lot more direct. In the sullen ‘Gull Rips A Worm To Rags’ his relentless semi-spoken word utterances sound like especially like Nick Cave, laid across a bed of plucked guitar, ragged bass and staggered rhythms. “Its primitive but it does the trick it makes me hard and makes me sick” he declares with a coarse growl, reeling off couplets like a rapper, “Couldn’t give a fuck locking horns in the bread line”. Guitaris James Thorpe is on top form throughout, capturing the mood with Spaghetti-Western-meets-folk leads.
Without the intense power of Smith’s unique croon, you feel the band could be a lot more susceptible to pigeonholing. That’s not to discredit the other members at all, PWGG are a very tight outfit, playing off each others strengths and finishing off each others’ musical sentences. Swan Songs isn’t exactly billed as a political album, but There’s a noisy urgency in what they do and it’s more than enough to get you into a rallying mood. Like a lot of PWGG material, the record contains Smith’s often blunt, realist political sentiment. It’s made even more apt by the album’s timing, after the announcement of a snap general election, which could see the Conservatives bugger the country further into oblivion. This only helps to elevate tracks like ‘Welfare By Prozac’, which openly attack the government’s destructive motives in the vocal exchanges between Smith and bassist Alice Scott.
Inspired by the band’s journey up to the Scottish coast, ‘Big Trip’ is one of the most ambitious songs on the record and shows a real progression in PWGG compositions. It begins with a grainy recording where a man asks, “Have you ever been abroad” and a woman replies bluntly “No”. What ensues is an alternative rock behemoth recalling the likes of Humbug era Arctic Monkeys (but better). The track builds with a chunky opening guitar riff and ends with Smith shouting, “Sail away on my ship, big trip!”, his voice steeped in delay and loop, sailing toward a brilliantly chaotic climax. ‘Sea Of Rains’ sees another big leap forward for the band, a melancholic ballad that sounds as much like the Bad Seeds and Radiohead as it does post rock band’s such as Explosions In The Sky. “Goodbye to planet earth, fly me to the moon” Sings Smith as if he were floating through the vacuumed bliss of space.
After hints of socio-political critiques throughout (‘Golden Time’, ‘Pollyanna Cowgirl’) Smith eventually goes for a full-on monologue on closer ‘Divine Decline’. “Those who need help, will be given help, while those who help themselves, will be shelved”, he says, mapping out manifesto for a an empathetic understanding society.“All I wanted was to be a better person and I’m working on it, constantly working like a dog!” he spits, wrought with anguish, as the guitars chug, culminating in a climax that doesn’t quite feel triumphant. Smith’s voice is commanding in a way that makes you listen up and this final track defines Swan Songs as an album that represents struggle. Whether that’s personal, political, social, financial – Smith doesn’t claim to have the answers, but he certainly has the questions.
Swan Songs is released on 21st April 2017 through Hide & Seek Records.
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