(SXSW 2014 flavoured!) Album Review: Temples – Sun Structures

By on Tuesday, 11th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Temples Sun Structures coverIn a small part of Kettering, it is forever 1969. Specifically, James Bagshaw’s home studio in the box-room of his parents’ end terrace house. Whether or not the strictures of this home-brewed recording facility have contributed to the distinctive sound of ‘Sun Structures’, there’s no doubt that the work stands as testament to the potential of a brave new world of self-production: a few microphones, a cheap computer, lots of patience and the odd spoonful of talent, and you too could create a work worthy of release on Heavenly Recordings. There’s no limit but your imagination.

Bagshaw has worked out how to recreate the sound of what are no doubt some of his favourite records from the very climax of the 1960s, when psychedelia bumped into hard rock in a beat-pop nightclub and they all decided to head home for several glasses of rough red wine, to inhale some heady incense, and pull off a through-the-night recording session. Pink Floyd’s ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’ set the bar for far-out experimentalism, combining an ear for Lear’s absurd mind-pictures with The Kinks’ pastoral songwriting. Their sound is familiar, but searching for the archives for a band that Temples have actually plagiarised proves fruitless: even though there are several stylistic touchstones, Temples are their own band.

All four of 2013’s singles are collected here. In chronological order: début ‘Shelter Song’ is as good an introduction to Temples as any: massive 12-string guitar riff, classic analogue(-sounding) ’70s-style drum production, dreamily overlaid vocal parts with cavernous reverb… and is that a tape-reverse interlude? ‘Colours to Life’ is a wider, smoother production, akin to floating gently in a giant lava lamp’s convective drift. The chorus is a veritable choir of retro fantasy. ‘Keep in the Dark’ (video below) stomps along merrily, whilst ‘Mesmerise’ builds its whole around an evocative descending riff and even manages some twinkly harp. Throughout, there’s so much 12-string guitar, one suspects Bagshaw has bought shares in a guitar string manufacturer.

Of course with so much production one often can’t really hear what’s being sung, which encapsulates the biggest flaw of ‘Sun Structures’: the album is defined by its distinctive production. The wall-of-sound is the main course: in the manner of a catwalk model, the underlying bone structure of chord, melody and lyric are demeaned into subservience as garnish, a vector for glamourous frippery. And whilst it is clear that Bagshaw has created something distinctive and powerful in his band’s voice, the all-encompassing sameness of the sound means that there is too much album to eat in one sitting – there will be a vinyl release, and there’s little doubt that it deserves to be a proper gatefold, four-side affair. Thought of as two discs, as a brace of mini-albums, the whole becomes much more manageable – playing both discs back-to-back will be strictly a connoisseur’s treat.

For almost a year now, Noel Gallagher has been telling everyone within earshot that the future of human civilisation rests on the success of the Jagwar Ma and Temples albums. Whilst it’s open to debate as to whether the endorsement of a man whose defining musical characteristic being his magpie tendencies towards the Beatles is particularly useful to a band who take so much influence from the past themselves – the approval of a true visionary would carry far more weight – in a way Gallagher does have a point. Temples are a fine live band and they are creating complex, cerebral recorded music in a classic style that clearly deserves longevity, and in the process exposing a new generation to the sounds of the heady, optimistic days in which their parents (or indeed grandparents) grew up. In contrast to the cynical, manufactured side of the modern music business, Temples are a reminder of more innocent days, where people made music for love rather than money, and an album was a thing of beauty, to be savoured over time, rather than a quick, sugary fix. ‘Sun Structures’ is proof that music can still be made and consumed in the same way today, and for that it should be applauded.

7/10

The debut album from Temples ‘Sun Structures’ is out now on Heavenly Recordings. The band will be heading out to their first SXSW in March.

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