Since releasing their debut album Just Watch Your Friends Don’t Get You in 2003, Leicestershire’s The Wave Pictures have had an extraordinarily prolific career; Brushes With Happiness is their 17th studio album if the mathematics are correct here. Collaborating with artists such as Darren Hayman (Hefner), The Mountain Goats and the legendary Daniel Johnston, the band have built up a loyal fanbase across these releases.
Last year, as The Surfing Magazines, (bonus point there if named after the song by The Go-Betweens), they recorded an album of surf-garage-rock tunes with Slow Club‘s Charles Watson. It’s exhausting just thinking about their career path.
This new record, then, takes a step back and is introspective, thoughtful and, let’s face it, quite downbeat throughout. The album, like 2016’s A Season In Hull, was recorded live in one room in a single day. Frontman Dave Tattersall had prepared his words in advance, without attempting to put them to music, or revealing them to long-time band mates Jonny Helm or Franic Rozycki before the day of recording – none of the music actually existed before it was put to tape.
Tattersall’s fragile vocals punctuate the album with a yearning, intrinsic sadness; never is this more evident than on opener ‘The Red Suitcase’, minimal guitar and bass sit upon stark, dry drums that conjure up Red House Painters early work. At seven minutes, it’s a pretty bleak introduction to the record and the following track ‘Rise Up’ (which clocks in at a mere six minutes) continues in a similar vein, but is lifted by the uncredited (on the review copy at least) additional female vocal and lonesome strings. Never has a song with a title with a title such as ‘Rise Up’ sounded so bereft of hope. It’s obviously the feel that the band are going for and this approach can work miracles (such as on the totally hope-free 1998 gloomfest More You Becomes You by Plush, which is just addictively doomed).
‘Jim’ is similarly sparse, with a bluesy guitar line and harmonica and a fabulous 360 degree video, and was fair warning to long-time fans of what to expect from the album.
Elsewhere ‘The Little Window’ is a stream of consciousness, spoken word number with some neat guitar and banjo (it could be a ukulele). “The little window that I look out of has a pleasing view / Electricity pylons seem to be friendly with the trees”, speaks Tattersall, adding the heartwarming observation that “Sometimes when you reach out your arms / The city hugs you back”. A beautiful line.
The lyrics are always interesting and never cliched, although sometimes they can be almost comically bleak, especially when married to the mournful backing. ‘Crow Jane’ for example, begins “I saw my friend the crow / Tiptoe across the frozen tram track”. There are some incredibly well-written words here though, nonetheless, each song a self-contained drama but very much in keeping with a common aesthetic across the record.
Lead single ‘The Burnt Match’ has an almost trad-folk feel with the call and response backing vocals in the chorus. In isolation, it would be hard to place it chronologically anywhere in the last 60 years. The album’s title track is a delicate tune that is not really an obvious match to its title, while closer ‘Volcano’ features some beautiful guitar, the minimal approach again serves it very nicely.
Brushes With Happiness does, to be quite frank, sometimes sound like it was conceived on the spot, but largely, the spontaneity is refreshing and works well to bring about a record unlike anything else this year.
Brushes With Happiness is released by Moshi Moshi on 22nd June 2018.