Horse Guards Parade have been garnering quite a following on the indie circuit, rising from their humble Hull beginnings in 2008 to supporting the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Pavement. They released a well-received EP in 2009 and have spent the time since carefully crafting their debut album, Ten Songs. It’s so named because, according to the band, “The song is always the most important thing.”
The album begins with “Everybody’s Going Back To Your House”, a curious song that evokes seventies folk combined with modern indie sensibilities. The melancholic chorus of meandering vocals and story-like lyrics contrasts with the tone of the music it’s laid upon. It’s sad, yet somehow lively.
This theme continues as the album progresses, although the music itself is constantly changing and often bewildering. With the second track, “The Plane Lifted Its Wheels”, the yearning, mournful motif of the opening track is immediately followed by drums and a bass line straight out of the theme from Rawhide, but plastered with the same wistful, emotional vocals and whining guitars. It’s a strange mix.
The emphasis of the album is on vocals, and specifically lyrics. Lead singer James Waudby doesn’t have a particularly talented voice or inspired style, but the lyrics are excellently stuffed, fitting as many syllables as possible into lines written to tell stories. It makes you realise that the lyrical content of most modern songs is a secondary concern, merely added out of convention and with little thought. That’s not to say the lyrics here are particularly meaningful or even make sense, but they are different and exciting.
Psychedelic is a word I hear whenever Horse Guards Parade are mentioned, but that’s not really the case. It seeps through sometimes, in quirky sound effects and synthesizers or particularly strange guitars, but the bulk of the music is acoustic, traditional and raw. Odd key changes and discordant notes are rampant and, for the most part, used well in creating tortured crescendos of building guitars – particularly evident in the most psychedelic song on offer, and one of the album’s highlight’s, “The Treble Clef”.
The album’s main issue is that many of the songs bleed together – they all sound a bit too similar – and few have a real identity. Most of them feel like half-baked ideas, glints of excellence that could be mined into gold.
The issue is most evident when you hear, in my opinion, the album’s best song – “How Can You Take Me Dancing?”
Here the band sound unleashed and powerful; it’s a much more guitar-heavy track, but still filled with what, by this stage of the album, have become the band’s signature style and wandering, storybook lyrics.
It’s a fantastic track, but leaves you asking why the rest of the album couldn’t be as refined and intense. Waudby wailing, “If it looks like I’m not laughing, it’s probably because I’m not. If you don’t like the way that I’m smiling, well it’s the only smile I’ve got”, over a crescendo of accomplished, busy guitar leaves you with goose bumps. It’s just a shame the rest of the album does not.
All round Ten Songs is a good debut album with flashes of greatness. Horse Guards Parade are definitely a band to look out for in the future.
Ten Songs is released through Morten Industries on April 11th.