Subtle is not the word for anything on the debut album from HMLTD. In fact, it’s not something you could accuse the London five-piece of in any respect.
The 15 tracks here are expansive in scope. Their influences are rooted in the great English tradition of eccentricity and art-pop. It’s not so much shades, but vibrantly slapped-on colours of Bowie, The Cure, and even Muse that can be felt on the offerings here.
Scuzzy opener The West is Dead previews where we’re going: “When I looked inside of myself I dreamed of a lonely glass desert… this is the west.” A recurring motif of humanity’s self-destruction provides the band with their lyrical arsenal.
Henry Spychalski’s vocals wail and at times either struggle or take up too much space. On the heavier songs, such as LOADED and Death Drive, where the guitars crunch and the bass shakes your brain, the vocals are part of a beautifully disturbing collective. On the former, he sings, “I sold my soul to the devil tonight… cos I’m pretty fuckin’ poor” before noting how “God is fuckin’ loaded.” It’s gloriously in your face and a club anthem in the making.
However, it’s on the art-pop side of the record where the angular, Art Brut-a-like guitars jar with Spychalski’s yelping lyrics. The dreamier Mikey’s Song taps into lush 90s synth-pop, while on the nefarious Joanna and its macabre sequel Where’s Joanna? the band ramp up the stomping Franz-esque camp stomp.
The album is unfortunately bloated with filler. When you’ve had five years to think about your debut, a wee bit of self-discipline is perhaps lost in the excitement of releasing the record.
Tracks such as Why, 149, MMXX A.D. and album closer War is Looming add nothing. It’s hard to figure out the reasoning for their inclusion. Similarly, the third track, The Ballad of Calamity James is fun (no doubt a live crowd-pleaser) but on the record adds to the bloat.
Still, it’s a solid first effort from HMLTD on what they are trying to do. At it’s best, it’s a vaudevillian rallying cry to stand up against the greed of capitalism and our material culture. On penultimate track Blank Slate, the song’s crescendo calls to action: “Throw away your books, rally in the squares, the world is our and the world is a blank slate.”
Too often, however, the quality control filter is ignored. Genres clash and the only real substance is in the obvious motifs of consumerism and ecological failure. If they can focus on a defined sound on their next one, we could be in for a hell of a ride.