Ever since 98.7 per cent of new bands started sounding like they’d fallen off the back of ‘Unknown Pleasures’ around 2010, indie rock has been playing a three-year game of What Would Joy Division Have Done Next? Now it’s Chapel Club’s turn, and on their second album they’ve decided to play the wild card of Wafty Psychtronica. And they win! Leaving the mist-strewn graveyard for a swing around clubland, they adopt Hurts-ish synth blasts, Everything Everything crackles and blissfully tranquilised ’80s funk. The heady dance bent to ‘Fruit Machine’, ‘Sleep Alone’ and the 10-minute ‘Good Together’ does restrain singer Lewis Bowman’s poetic leanings – for the most part he’s a ghostly, repetitive presence. But he manages to weave a desolate drug-dream romance around the hallucinogenic hypnosis of ‘Force You’, rap wounded wisdoms on the poppy ‘Shy’ and distill a sense of nocturnal urban ennui throughout. Relevance restored.
It will only take an attentive listener a matter of seconds of the funky, textured opener, ‘Sleep Alone,’ to notice just how much Chapel Club have changed (or evolved, if you prefer). Layered samples wash buoyantly over a pulsing back-beat, while Lewis Bowman’s formerly tormented, lovelorn vocals now take on a swinging croon to accompany the track’s relentlessly upbeat churn. While it’s a bit of a shock to hear how significantly the band has shifted direction on their new record, ‘Sleep Alone’ still works, especially when compared to the sonic missteps that soon follow.
‘Sequins’ has a glittery pop polish that finds Chapel Club trying, unsuccessfully, to meld the modern East Coast inventiveness of Animal Collective with the classic California surf sounds of The Beach Boys. But rather than coming off as fresh and stylish, the song is plagued by creative ambivalence and ultimately comes off as wayward. Elsewhere, the keyboard-driven, spoken-word flutter of ‘Shy’ sounds like a Cake B-side that went unheard for a reason.
Things get a bit better on the expansive, percussion-fueled ‘Jenny Baby,’ which finds the band really going beyond their sonic comfort zone – it’s as if they got a jump on things and decided to remix the track themselves while ditching the original version. But the song doesn’t go anywhere interesting over the course of its second half, and the six-minute track loses steam at the midpoint. At this juncture, Chapel Club have made it clear that they could take their sound anywhere, and sadly rather than building on the imaginative risks they took with ‘Jenny,’ they give us the two poppiest and punchless efforts on the album, ‘Wordy’ and ‘Scared,’ which both float by innocuously while not making much of a lasting impression (other than once again borrowing shamelessly from An Co and the Beach Boys).
‘Fruit Machine’ has a jaunty, disco-like rhythm, with a decided nod to Pulp during the chorus, but again isn’t compelling enough to be memorable for anything other than sounding so radically different from what Chapel Club has done in the past. Bowman’s vocals are pushed to the front of the mix for one of the only times on the album during the minimalist, synth-laden swing of ‘Good Together.’ But like the recent Justin Timberlake album, this ten-minute track gets bogged down by the needless weight of its own aimless excess, and drags on for far too long.
By the time ‘Force You’ rolls around, the band seem fresh out of ideas, trotting out a meandering psychedelic jam that strives for the grandeur of Pet Sounds but ends up sounding like a cast-aside Smile outtake. The electro-beat of ‘Just Kids’ perhaps serves as a subtle suggestion that Chapel Club are still a young band, and their mistakes should be forgiven, or at least be attributed to the follies of youth. Fair enough. And without question its refreshing to hear this group taking such chances with their sound and style rather than giving their fans a tepid retread of Palace.
But, as with any creative venture, there is an inherent risk involved, and while sticking to what got them here would have been the safer bet for Chapel Club, it still doesn’t mean that their new songs succeed just because they sound so different from what we’ve grown accustomed to from them. They were clearly influenced by the imaginative sonic direction and boundless experimental creativity of some high profile contemporary and iconic bands while writing and recording Good Together, but they ultimately failed to inject enough of themselves into their modernized sound and subsequently lost their own way in the process.