If you like a bit of Editors-flavoured Joy Division worship (and let’s be honest there are many middle-aged indie fans who do) then The Slow Readers Club are the clean young men for you. They’ve been plugging away as the “English indie Interpol you can see for a tenner” for years now. I got turned on to them a couple of years back by a colleague (we’ll call him Health and Safety). Health and Safety has a knack for finding bands who still put out new music that can go on a trendy office stereo without ruffling the extremists in the room’s feathers.
I’m the guitar guy, then there’s the van driver goth to consider (nicknamed Vincent for obvious reasons), the hipster non couple who flirt by naming bands neither have heard of while knitting their own muesli, the admin lass who just likes the radio to play pop and Judy. Judy doesn’t give a fuck as long as you don’t touch her stuff in the fridge. None of us campaigned for The Slow Readers Club to be turned off when they released their last album. It got a fair bit of airplay by virtue or not pissing anyone off too much.
How times change. Health and Safety emailed me the link to The Joy Of The Return yesterday as we’re all in self isolation due to reality not functioning the way it should outside. We had a video conference call mid morning and I noticed the icon swirling in the corner of H&S’s screen while we talked. Then Vincent (the van goth) chimed in he’d been playing it on his phone through the bluetooth while doing his rounds.
The Slow Readers Club have evolved past the ‘they sound like’ stage. Their mix of post-punk and anthemic indie has carved a soft spot where they’re the austere echo drenched Bunnymen we need while we’re only seeing life through flat screens and pop up windows.
Album opener All I Hear was a lead single I’d heard the BBC spin a couple of times. The chiming guitar and urgency matched with some roomy slow vocals feel lived in enough to carry the heft of a band with their ‘thing’ down pat.
Something Missing and Problem Child are both muscular flexes placing a new order for some austere lite-gloom. Other lead single Jericho comes down the wire with such a big spacious drum sound and Gang of Four-style guitars you can almost hear John Peel talking over the outro. And I mean that as a compliment.
The chorus on No Surprise arrives like an inevitable high of searing sustained guitar notes that can only be played in a plain black t-shirt. Things peak on this mistitled belter. It’s full of surprises. For a bit at least Slow Readers Club reach a high water mark of genre tropes and perfection. The stuttering echo on the guitar, the varied melodies and a chorus like a gasp of air. No Surprise is luxury indie.
After such a peak, comes the mid-album lull of Paris, starts to feel a little too formulaic. It’s been a strong show until this point but six tracks in the inoffensiveness of the endeavour starts to sound a little beige. Killing Me and All The Idols do start to sound a tad interchangeable. There’s nothing wrong with them and yet I start to get mental images of the band doing their best Curtis, Hooky moves in the bedroom mirror rather than really pushing things forward.
As if they’ve anticipated this criticism the final triptych of songs all have something impressive to recommend them. There’s some showboat drumming on Every Word that builds a wide open space of urgent rhythms. Zero Hour has atmospheric vocals and long synthy organ notes that stir a longing feeling even if you’re not paying full attention.
Album closer The Wait could be the self isolation anthem we all need to get through this period of ‘whatever the hell is going on’. It’s mournful, hopeful, optimistic and monochrome beautiful. It’s painful to acknowledge this track is probably best experienced live, somewhere packed with already sweaty bodies and pulsing blue lights. The past really is a foreign country. It’s a massive closer that showcases the brilliance of a band ready to step out of the shadow of their influences and lead from the front.
Here’s hoping there is Joy in the Return for all of us some time soon. This might become the soundtrack to my lock down by choice.
best track: Road to Joy