With this debut album, Brighton’s Pope Joan have confidently thrown down the gauntlet to the listener to keep up with their deliberately obnoxious in-your-face avant-pop and not feel overwhelmed. Like a particularly vicious alcoholic shot, it’s short, invariably sugary-sweet but it kicks like a mule.
Opener ‘No TV’ trades in feedback and crunched guitar. The dense, stabbing vocals are breathlessly delivered, becoming almost constrictive. It’s followed by the double-time drums and curiously juvenile 8-bit synth of ‘49 Years Time‘ which descends into a childlike tantrum of bum notes. With the processed, strained and scratched guitar of ‘A Length Of String’ leaving the low-end fully open for the bass to step in, it is the climax of the assault that the band had been threatening.
These three songs introduce the Pope Joan blueprint perfectly well enough. Repetitious stop-start structures, ham-fisted, detuned instrumentation and shouted, stereotyped tales on love and modern life; think Wombats but with a touch of Maximo Park vigour. Then, just when you think you’ve got them pinned down the band throw in two songs that change everything. Quirky complexity becomes composed simplicity as ‘It’s The Same As When You Asked Me The Last Time’ finally grabs hold of an idea and runs with it, allowing a dark motif to dominate. Insistent strings and a raw emotive vocal pound out a hook which is infinitely easier to immerse yourself in. ‘An Alternate Route To The End’ is similar in that it lets one instrument dominate giving room for the vocal to breathe and explore, allowing it’s natural strength to shine.
A mixed bag this one. There’s plenty of bands out there who’ll provide more in the way of inventive wit and instantly gratifying hooks, but not as many who can offer quite the range of tempos that Pope Joan have displayed here. Yes, they’re oddball. Yes, they’re colourful. But when they forget all that and inject a bit of heart into their music they really can shine.
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