Fear Of Men - Fall Forever (Kanine Records)

Fear Of Men – Fall Forever (Kanine Records)

Fear Of Men make music reminiscent of a lot of indie’s great traditions, but they’ve never sounded like anyone but themselves. Their 2014 album Loom fused the starkness of Young Marble Giants with the warmth of Camera Obscura, resulting in a debut that sounded both familiar and innovative, yet without any sense of overpowering formalist ambitions – a band whose surface-level twee disguised a depth of anguish and vitriol. Follow-up Fall Forever sees the band push their experimental tendencies forward, exploring their roots in an elliptical way while never sacrificing any sense of craft or obstructing their introverted lyrics.

The most striking part of Fall Forever is the uniquely curious production choices. At its core, it’s a dream-pop album with post-punk influences, but where reverb-soaked guitars would normally be, there’s buzzing synth textures and droning bass. It’s an electronic-heavy take on shoegaze, where enveloping feedback is replaced with cold tones and brittle surfaces. The closest comparison would be These New Puritans, but with their bombast substituted for a sense of austere melancholy. In sonic terms alone, Fall Forever is a fascinating listen, its economical take on sound and depth evading expectation.

The change in style is radical, but underneath the production it’s still the same band: there’s always been a natural melodic ease to their material, and Fall Forever is no exception. Lead single ‘Island’ is an obvious stand-out with its solitude themes undercut with an irresistible hook, but even on sparser moments like the stately ‘Sane’, Fear Of Men use dynamics to develop minimalist ideas. Singer Jess Weiss is an adept performer – her wide vowels and calm delivery recall both Broadcast’s Trish Keenan and The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler, with a sort of everyday plainness that’s nonetheless beguiling – and her presence lends the album a sense of focus at its most challenging.

Weiss’s star quality is amplified by the weakness of the rhythm section, particularly the drums. It’s not that there’s any technical lacking – in fact, the slide between digital manipulation and live playing seems impossible to detect – but they seem an uncomfortable fit with the otherworldly mix of synth chords and manipulated guitars. The album’s best moments are where the drums sound least authentic – ‘Until You’ features an instrumental coda that reimagines Portishead’s ‘Machine Gun’ as slightly less bleak, and ‘Ruins’ mostly eschews percussion aside from a heavily-treated military snare. But there’s a few too many moments where the powerhouse anthemic playing resembles Editors or Bloc Party at their most stadium – it’s like an entire theatre performing an internal soliloquy. Those drums are the last remaining link between Fear Of Men and the established concept of what contemporary indie sounds like – and on an album that’s so strong otherwise, it feels like a distraction.

But it’s a minor quibble on an album that otherwise stands alone as a new template for rock and indie. On ‘Undine’ Weiss sings ‘I’ve done things to mark me out,’ and it rings true – Fear Of Men stand as one of Britain’s best acts because of their refusal to adhere to genre conventions. Fall Forever is a great leap forward for a band whose competency was never in doubt, and what’s really thrilling is that with a few more changes, they could grow into a truly great band.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.