When you’ve been in love with music, buying records, attending gigs etc. for well over half your life, the big surprises become harder to harder to find, and the gaps between them become more apparent until you finally start believing that you’re never going to come across an artist who sends shivers down your spine in the way that several new artists a month once could.
Which is why the appearance of Young Romance on the smallest of all of Indietracks’ stages last week utterly floored me. There were two of them; a boy, Paolo Ruiu who played the guitar, and a girl, Claire Heywood, who played drums and sang. You might suspect a singing drummer’s actual drumming skills to be a bit Meg White-ish, but it is far, far more than that. Even if she were just a random drummer in a random band, you would say “The drummer’s good”. But then there’s her amazing voice. But more of that in a moment.
Some history. They have a couple of singles available in various forms and with various teeny labels;
‘Bedroom Demos’ (She, Me, Him and You / Six Sides), released by Paws Music, April 2011
‘Swollen Hearts and Bitten Tongues’ (one track only), released on Bandcamp, September 2011
‘Follow On Your Own’ (Follow On Your Own / Break My Heart By Morning / Rose Tint), released on Eardrums Pop, June 2012
‘Indietracks EP’ (Swollen Hearts and Bitten Tongues / Follow On Your Own / I Lie), self released, July 2012
And I thought it made sense to review the last two.
‘Follow On Your Own’ begins with a similar vibe to Arcade Fire, all sweeping keys, driven along by a pounding, simplistic beat. And then the voice comes in.
I always think that, in the same way one should applaud a stunning drummer or a godlike guitarist for adjusting their playing for the benefit of the song rather than constantly showing off their own skills, the same should also be true for vocalists. It is more than clear that Claire Heywood has an outstanding range and a skilled vibrato, but she reigns both of these in for the benefit of the song, to quite devastating effect. I think the only way of describing her voice and style is that of a guitar-pop version of Kate Bush. As stated, the range is there, the occasional higher-pitched moments that catch the ear’s attention, but there is also that gorgeous vibrato at the end of many of the lines. Yet despite the power, there’s also a real frailty to the voice, which is probably aided by so many of the songs being about heart break, or watching a lover destroy themselves. Yet despite that frailty and the aching melancholy in the voice (“The tired night / It rattles through your bones”), there’s a slight sense of hope in the vocal which keeps the song sounding pop rather than too melancholic for its own good.
‘Follow On Your Own’ also features some delicious power chords and a creeping chorus. It uses the old cliche of dipping down in volume towards the end, before ending in a climatic style. And why not use a cliche? It’s a cliche because it works. And this song works almost perfectly.
The production on the whole track is generally wonderful, too. The large amount of layers are held in place by some skilful mixing and the only gripe about the whole thing is that, despite Claire being a pretty fine drummer live, it sounds like the drums on all of Young Romance’s recordings are electronic or MIDI’d in some way which is a real shame. Having the ability to capture just that extra bit of rawness from the live performance would go hand in hand perfectly with the passionate vocal. That said, for bedroom recordings, these really are absolutely exceptional.
Suffice to say, this isn’t just a great indiepop record, this is a great pop record. It would be on Xfm if the presenters looked outside of the list of what they’re told to play, and would certainly take the place of anything by Florence and the Machine on Radio 1 if the world was just. But it ain’t. Yet.
B-Sides ‘Break My Heart By Morning’ and ‘Rose Tint’ are only slightly less good, with both being a little more upbeat, at least in speed, than the A-Side.
‘Follow On Your Own’ also features as one of the B-Sides to the single they were offering for sale at last week’s Indietracks festival. And in this case, the A-Side does deserve to become the B-Side, because the main track here, ‘Swollen Hearts and Bitten Tongues’ is absolutely epic and makes ‘Follow…’ pale in comparison.
The song begins with a melancholic, minor-key riff when continues throughout, and then the lyrics begin; “And now your back’s against the floor / with your broken body aching from the night before / and you bit your fingers raw long ago…” begins this paean to a lover who is destroying themselves. Again, Claire’s voice soars supremely, drawing us into the tragic pathos of the song with its intonation as well as its beautiful, heart-meltingly painful lyrics.
Following the verse, the choruses soar high, despite the tragic subject matter. “I struggle to keep my hands clean” is repeated more as a hopeful mantra than anything, and the real tragic nature….“You were all I ever lost / for you were all I ever wanted when I turned to dust” comes close to drawing a tear from even this jaded listener.
Again, the song drops low – first with a low-key keyboard part, secondly with a subdued chorus, and then it uses every trick in the book to come, again, to a climatic finale. Again, why not? The song is damn near perfect, not just the best indiepop record of the last few years, but also one of the finest, most emotive pop songs I’ve ever heard. Sod the comparison to Arcade Fire above, Win and Regine would sacrifice limbs to write and record a song this perfect and tragic.
The third B-Side, ‘I Lie’ is more of the same style as brilliance, its quality only slightly marred by some difficulties in making out the lyrics this time. Whether this is due to Claire’s intonation or to a bit of excessive noise-reduction on behalf of the mix/production I’m unsure, but this song would soar even higher with lyrical clarity and, again, less gated sounding drumming.
Young Romance are the most exciting new band I’ve heard in, I think, seven years. They are also the best new band I’ve heard in at least ten years. These two singles are absolute pop perfection and I hope they produce much more material over the coming months and years. I do hope they get to record Claire’s own drumming at some point though, and I really hope they don’t lose their charm if they begin working in the sort of studios that are worthy of them.
Download ‘Swollen Hearts, Bitten Tongues’ here.. http://youngromance.bandcamp.com/
Download a free e.p here.. http://www.eardrumspop.com/2012/06/20/epop022-young-romance-2/