There is a sad history behind this album which I wasn’t aware of when I started listening to it. I discovered The Lapelles via a new indie playlist on Spotify and immediately stuck it into my music because it’s great. In writing this review I thought I should do a bit of research to find out who The Lapelles are, where they’re from, what their names are. And I discovered that their lead singer Gary Watson died in 2016, falling into the river Clyde whilst out celebrating his twenty second birthday. The record has been put together by his surviving bandmates from existing studio recordings and a few home recordings in tribute to his memory. I suppose that puts a slightly different slant on my review, although I think it’s only fair to try not to let that change anything I wanted to say about it. Because it is truly a great record which deserves to be talked about on its own merit.
To be completely honest, this is not the kind of music that usually attracts me. The foundations of most of the songs here are relatively generic: the rhythms and chiming guitars sound like a ton of other bands. Circa Waves, Blossoms, Catfish and the Bottlemen all spring to mind. But what sets this collection apart from all of them, head and shoulders above them in fact, is the songwriting. Whereas with those bands the vocal melody tends to follow the guitar and results in what sounds to me a little flat and uninspired, The Lapelles do it all differently. The vocals sound like they’re coming from a different place entirely. They overlay the music and compliment it, but add a totally different dimension at the same time. Take the opening track ‘Snakehips’ which starts with a perfectly acceptable riff that would have you dancing to it at a festival but probably wouldn’t stick in your mind afterwards. But then Watson starts singing and it becomes a bit of a belter. The repetition in the opening to each of the verses gives it a real urgency, and yes, there’s a different melody going on there. There’s something infinitely pleasing about singing along to something and following the instrumentation that is running along a different tangent at the same time in your head. On ‘Grab Life By’ his vocal leads the rest of the band, it’s only when he effortlessly changes key with his voice that the rest of the instruments follow. That’s not something you hear very often in this genre of music. It’s actually very clever, it gives me the beginnings of goosebumps.
Another thing that sets them apart from their peers is a distinct 80’s influence to some of their songs. ‘Seventeen’ for example sounds almost like an early Cure song. The synths on ‘She Would’ make it sound like a cross between Arctic Monkeys and Ultravox. And then there’s ‘Toronto’. What a song that is. Probably the best on the album. The closest reference point I have for it is ‘Munich’ by Editors, maybe The Icicle Works, but it’s better than that I think. The synth and vocal on this are quite simply gorgeous. And I say that as a card carrying anti-synth, indie guitar fan boy. If it can convince me, believe me, it’ll convince you too. There are some other reference points evident here and there: ‘Belt and Braces’ reminds me of the Arctic Monkeys, ‘Bright Young Things’ of The Libertines. But not massively, these songs still sound like The Lapelles, they just have elements that steep them in UK indie history.
Upon releasing the album in March (yeah, I know, I’m a little behind the curve on this one) the band stated that they didn’t know if this is the record they would have made had things turned out differently, but they were still incredibly proud of it. And rightly so, it’s a brilliant record. One we’re never going to get a follow up to which is a real shame. But right here and now we have this. And it’s great. So I’m going to listen to it, and enjoy it, and keep telling other people that they might enjoy it too.
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