After more than a decade on the road as Frank Turner’s backing band, The Sleeping Souls are breaking out on their own with this debut album. The four core members are joined by occasional touring member, Cahir O’Doherty, who also takes on the main songwriting duties. Cobbled together during their relentless touring schedule, the album is still nicely polished, though a scattergun approach belies the circumstances of its creation.
Given the group’s longevity and the sheer amount of shows they play, it’s unsurprising that they’re a tight outfit. The searing guitars of Rivals or Caught Up in a Scrape demonstrate a desire to step out of Turner’s shadow, but the more subtle musical choices show their skill as arrangers. Remember Boann has a lovely piano intro that allows the vocals to take on a different tone when they’re not straining against a loud, overstuffed rocker. The same is true of Ceremony and Steal Some Time which are more acoustic, and even introduce some choice string flourishes.
However, the greater emphasis on the vocals also highlights the fact they’re occasionally a bit cloying in their nasally laments. The lyrics are often despairing: “I don’t wanna be soooooo/ scared of living” or self-loathing: “so call me/ as soon as you wake up/soon as you crawl out from under your shell…you’ll find me/ falling to pieces,” and even in the triumphant moment of cutting out someone toxic from your life there’s a weirdly bitter, boastful tone: “the greatest thing I ever did/ was to walk away from this/…and you never listen.”
Underneath an Ocean of Sky is one of the best moments, when the shredding guitars lock into a good melody. The same happens on Rivals and Caught up in a Scrape where the explosive choruses sound like the best cathartic moments of Foo Fighters. There are more ‘ballad’ moments than you might expect, with first single Liar/Lover being the pick of the bunch, but despite the solid production you can’t help feeling that these tonal shifts (from plucked acoustic to wailing electric guitars, declarations of strength to bitter whinges) are the result of not being able to maintain a unified focus on this project.
Just Before The World Starts Burning rarely sounds bad, but it doesn’t quite hit the heights that you might expect from these talented players.