TV Priest – Uppers (Sub Pop)

TV Priest – Uppers (Sub Pop)

I don’t think anyone would disagree if I were to say that 2020 was a shit year. So much disruption, so much put on hold and the arts having the heart ripped out of all they stood for. Venues forced to close due to Covid-19 restrictions and, with this, audiences parking themselves on sofas instead, in front of bigger-and-bigger TV sets. Then the thought has occurred to me, what if the same had happened 30 or 40 years ago? Barely worth thinking about. I guess be thankful for small mercies, for big TV sets and the invention of the streaming service. TV Priest are one band who had shows scheduled for the end of 2020, but have since rescheduled, pressing the pause button on this aspect of their career. We hope that this pause won’t last too long, although none of us can say for certain.

The release of their debut album, Uppers was rescheduled from the 13th of November 2020 to the 5th of February this year and with no live shows to promote this, there isn’t a precedent for launching a band during a global pandemic. So having delved into this uplifting recording, my assessment is that it will act as a beneficial distraction from a current sense of global anxiety. Having just spent 15 minutes in the company track 6 – ‘Decoration‘ on repeat, rather than being a struck record, I am now of the mind that, with their wry wit and infectious hooks, this band might just be the future of music.

Musicians whose mouthpiece has been likened to the late Mark E. Smith, it might be asked are these just another clone of an original band, or do they have something fresh to offer? Well tearing myself away from ‘Decoration’ and returning to the beginning of the album, this is a question I hope to have answered as I begin this tour. Uppers opens with the track ‘The Big Curve’ and although not a facsimile of the aforementioned, certainly possesses the spirit of The Fall, but that’s all it is, this is fresh and original. Charlie Drinkwater, the band’s vocalist, mouthpiece, wordsmith, or any number of adjectives you might use to describe the enormity of what this man does, might be at the front of their sound, but put together with a back three, this might be like pushing the curtains back on the brightest Christmas morning. From the opening bass run on this first number, it sets a pace and tone for the album that is going to be hard to beat.

Drinkwater begins “Well this could be the first day of the rest of your life…” and never a truer phrase has been spoken. I have the widest grin on my face, all those awkward issues I may have had on my mind before sitting down to work on this, have been blown away with just this opening line and all is well again. He continues “…I was mystified by the images on the screen…” and a childlike quality is realised, as he continues to affirm “…well this could be the first day of the rest of your life…”, the guitar strikes up and you believe that it really could. TV Priest have hit the nail on the head and are ignoring headlines, ushering us all toward a new dawn, a better tomorrow. As the following track ‘Press Gang’ is brought in, Charlie continues, “The sound you can’t unhear…” a simple backbeat accompanies these words, having the effect of adding to their impact. What sound? And why can’t I unhear it? With these thoughts buzzing through my brain, “What’s the colour, what’s the colour… (his vocal is not always the easiest to decipher)… Like listening to the sea in a shell…” the song continues with the quality of a drunk uncle entering the room, let’s say after Christmas dinner, the excitement of the day ahead played in the barres that are offered. The continual thud-thud-thud that accompanies the track making sure that the headache you might’ve thought of having, is going to be beaten into submission.

I can’t believe that I’ve only dipped my toes into this album and yet it has already made quite an impression. If Steve Lamacq has this band on his playlist, who am I to disagree? ‘Leg Room’ is next up and being a healthy 6’3″ myself, I’ve always been up for some of that. As Charlie opens “Down on Leicester Square, in the rain, where the rubbish comes in piles and the art comes in spades…” further imagery is brought to the fore as the music continues like a wound clock. The bass-line would show Elastica’s Connection just how it is done, serving as a lesson to all those who came before them. Listen to the words “…Hollywood is no longer a place, Hollywood rains acid in your face…”, as this take on the modern-day entertainment industry creates a bigger splash, than even James Bond is doing at the moment, as Drinkwater proceeds “…My public needs it’s images, my public needs its confidences and I’m in love, and I’m in love with a British film star, you demand and I supply it…” Had Charlie been crystal ball gazing when he wrote this number? Then as the song concludes, you realise maybe it wasn’t quite so profound, as we’re told “…I’m in love with a picture of myself.” To my ears, just perfect. This album is telling the world not to ignore it and setting a pace that has continued to expand, to wrap its arms around you, as band and listener become one. 

‘Journal of a Plague Year’ is just that, although I suspect this is 14th century, rather than 21st. “Bad news comes like buses in twos… Hey buddy, normalise this, you better dig that pit…”. As this nervous tension is stubbed out like a cigarette, track five comes in like a lesson from the school of Brian Eno, 123 seconds of highbrow instrumental, before it finds its way back to TVP normality and with a pounding pace Drinkwater exclaims “I’ve never seen a dog do what that dog does and you’re through to the next round, yeah you’re through to the next round…” and the familiar setting of a number I know well comes into sight. ‘Decoration’ could be described as embellishing your feature wall in the style of Jackson Pollock, or maybe John Squire these days. The irregular splashes of paint adorning both the walls and carpet alike. The song, with its rhythm, is like walking on a bouncy castle in a pair of comfortable shoes, the difficulty in moving forward sending you into fits of laughter, as you try, try so hard, but you keep coming back to the same spot. As your thoughts return to the painting you started at the beginning of the day, the pace of the number slows and comes to a close more abruptly than the paint settles on its surface, but still you’re wearing a wide smile on your face.

I’ve travelled just over half of this album and it has left me void of the negative thoughts that had been affecting my mind just recently. Those being that the world and its people are suffering, along with ones of a more selfish nature (I’m not a saint)! It may not have made the troubles go away, but it has allowed me the escapism, reducing the stress – have this band ever thought about becoming accredited as counsellors? ‘Slideshow’ comes and goes, giving me the space to formulate a plan on how this album might help all of us out of the present situation. I’m thinking you could pay upward of £295 for a course in Anxiety and Stress treatment, or you could pay around £10 for this album, stick it on repeat and experience the same karma that I have discovered. From the depth of audio found in ‘Fathers and Sons’, to the industrial backdrop of ‘the ref’, a segue between the latter and ‘Powers of Ten’, a track in which the author can be heard repeating “…climb the ladder, reach the top, I’m just a priest in search of a god, build a ladder, reach the top, I’m just a priest in search of a god…” . Fitting words in today’s chaotic world and a glorious close to the album.

But not wishing for the audience to go, a further 2 numbers are yet to be served. ‘This Island’ is the first of these to be sampled and I sense a very personal story is being told. “…Come live on an island and in its day, in its day there were seats on the train. You’d like to build a new island, push it out, float along singing all your useless songs…”. The musical backdrop illustrates this mayhem, because “…in her day, she knew the postman by name…” and I’m hearing feelings conveyed, that have been echoed in society of late. Saintless’ follows, although at a different pace and tone as it emerges that this priest’s dog collar has slipped. As this number comes into view, it’s not long before I realise that we have left shades of Mark E. Smith behind. This time tones of the Mark Lanegan Band, or maybe Greg Dulli‘sAfghan Whigs, that come at me like steel knives, searching for a soul to penetrate.

These are mighty inspirations to hang in your wardrobe, so perhaps it’s an American influence I am hearing. Something that growing up today, we would all find it difficult to ignore and perhaps that’s what Charlie is trying to tell the listener when the lines hit me, “… and then, it’s there and it begins, and it’s bigger than my life…”, crunching guitars play over its rhythm, that does its best to keep the listener from drowning. Well it has been said that “…television is the drug of a nation…”, if this is the pastor who will stand before his flock, then sign me up. 

Uppers is released on 5th February through Sub Pop.

9/10

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God Is In The TV