“This is the city we live in. Thе city living in my skin. It’s a wounded, wounding thing.” It’s been seven years since, Kevin Lee Kharas, Tom Watson and Pat King, collectively as Real Lies, documented London’s youth culture and impromptu dance parties in a heady wave of music that simultaneously sounded like The Streets, Friendly Fires and a nod further up north to the music of the early 1990s Madchester scene (Real Life). Laddish but with a reflective and emotional depth; it was also evocative, relatable and touching. Since then their country’s capital has undergone changes brought upon by Brexit and Covid that include the termination of many of their beloved nightclubs, while the Holloway-formed trio has had a change themselves by become a duo, with the departure of Tom Watson. Real Lies’s second album Lad Ash, is therefore a record that has various narratives that express goodbyes, the ashes of the past. Nonetheless the 30-somethings also attempt to stay optimistic in welcoming something new. As Kharas sings on single ‘Since I’, “One door shuts, another opens.” From its ambient form of alternative dance music to its descriptions of endless city lights, its setting is nocturnal, but taking place just before the dawn of a new day.
‘An Oral History Of My First Kiss’ is saying adieu to sexual innocence. Soothing electronica swirls behind Kevin Lee Kharas’ spoken word monologues as he details not only the realistically-awkward feeling of saliva-swapping for the first time but also paints a whole picture of the adult curiosity of a male that’s “between childhood and being properly teenage”. Making it easy for listeners to imagine the whole context of his environment. Lines such as “staying up late with talk radio and strange Channel 5 sex comedies,” and “I tape the chart rundown. I’ll change the order later” will bring upon a sudden sweet nostalgia in many. Furthermore, with Kharas being joined by vocalist Zoee, the track also has a female perspective on a coming of age experience.
‘Boss Trick’ is a farewell to former band mate Tom Watson who left to pursue University studies. The song’s sampled hook is borrowed from relatively unknown 1996 record called ‘Embrace’ by Lenni Gait’s Melody Band, while Real Lies also sample their own track Deeper from their first LP. The duplicated reference also occurs when they repeat “firework falling back to earth” on two successive tracks giving Real Lies discography a greater cohesiveness. On ‘Boss Trick’, Kharas reminisces about the time when the trio shared a house in Woodberry Town and the partying antics they’d get up to. Expressing the significance of those moments to himself: “I felt like I was part of something. And for that, I’ll say this, I’ve never been part of something.”
The buzzing, mystical and Delphic-redolent ‘Dolphin Junction’ is one of the tracks, that along with the experimental The Knife-esque ‘The Carousel’, gives Real Lies’ a more modern take on electronica on this record, even though it’s still drenched in past thoughts. It’s a sayōnara to a childhood friend called Richard Spencer, who mysteriously disappeared. “There was a pact we made that we’d stay friends for life and then you left town because your mum kept breaking down / I still wander if you’re dead or alive.” This and the other songs on Lad Ash are so easy to submerge into due to their lengthiness, engaging poetry and waves of euphoric tempo. Another strong example is ‘Your Guiding Hand’ which will pull you strongly into a rave climate with its pulsating techno and unrestrained tribal beat.
There’s no denying that Lad Ash exists in the realm of night time.’ Thameslink Tryst’ is beautiful instrumental relaxation, ‘DiCaprio’ sounds like night romance composed by M83 as the protagonist recalls “long hairs curl on the bed sheets like living signatures” and rescuing the lover from “banging drums, bad drugs and insufficient funds“. However the best ode to the moon-appearing period is perhaps ‘Since I’, as it seems to describe a partygoer wandering the streets for a hedonistic perhaps sinful fix but becomes desperate in his search with clubs being in short supply. “It’s a city changing. A shadow play of what it was / Rave echoes are the currency in shutdown town.“ A sadlad reminiscence with the SoundCloud out.” While the song also suggests that people use the opaque quality of night as an ignorant escapism for the problems that need to dealt with during the day, with the lines; “Promises made in a cab, they fade”, “Least till tomorrow when the spell is broken” and Daylight deceit makes you feel complete”.
Although Real Lies’ vocalist Kevin Lee Kharas sings: “They say all things have to end. Like the dreams we had back then” on ‘Boss Trick’, this is not a band that only wallow on times gone by. Instead they are merely celebrating the past as a wonderful precursor and measured comparison to the present day, as suggested by their positive reoccurring message of “Bliss to be alive” on the band’s Facebook feed. So Lad Ash is an expansion of the style and thought process heard on debut Real Life, but with a mature and extended sense of perspective.