Looking back on Spring King in hindsight, you get the impression that they were thrown in at the deep end before they were ready. The status of being the first band ever played on Apple’s Beats 1 radio station is one that follows them to this day, and despite the positive critical reception their debut Tell Me If You Like To received, it’s an album that the band openly admit was rushed. You can’t really blame them either; the fickleness of indie-rock is no secret, and when presented with such an immense opportunity like Spring King were, it only makes sense to get something more substantial out to follow it up as soon as possible. As such, early reports of A Better Life being a more considered album are definitely a good thing, and could potentially serve as the first proper introduction to what Spring King can actually do as a band.
And to a degree, it does. In terms of Spring King fully finding their feet as a band, A Better Life feels like a step in the right direction; in parts, it’s a lot sharper and condensed than much of their debut. But there’s still a distinct feeling throughout that more could be done to really hit a great end goal, and that A Better Life is still a component of the journey rather than the destination. That’s mainly due to sound more than anything, and how obvious it is that Spring King are yet to cultivate their own identity with the extent that they continue to draw from 2016 indie. It’s particularly noticeable in the album’s back half, with tracks like Echo Chamber and Have You Ever Looked Up Into The Sky? feeling particularly dry with how little they’ve advanced, and while some scuzzier production across the board is nice to have, it’s all rather by-the-books in this context, all things considered. As well as with a runtime that could easily be cut down by at least a few tracks, this definitely feels like a case of Spring King covering all their bases to make up for their debut, and often it could really work better than it does.
That said, when Spring King do make a conscious effort to keep things concise and working to full capacity, A Better Life yields some genuinely excellent results, particularly in the first half which, for the most part, refuses to dip and is the the most realised this band have ever felt. There’s a playful lilt to Let’s Drink that’s a incredibly good fit for them, while Ready For War and Us Vs Them take a stab at more overt social commentary and can actually pull off the energy and incisiveness needed to make them work. As for vocalist Tarek Musa, he’s hardly a novel presence within modern indie, but like much of this album, when played to sharp bursts like on Animal, his contributions feel a bit more shrill and sharp to good effect.
It’s not all that different from the rest of modern indie, and while that’s undoubtedly the biggest issue that Spring King are yet to face, they’re currently working at a good pace to at least make the most of what they’ve got. And again, this still feels like a work in progress; for all the positives that have brought in, A Better Life is far from the finished product. At least they’re getting there though, and even if they currently feel like an alternative to the big players than a replacement, Spring King are at least going the right way, and that’s something.
For fans of: The Amazons, VANT, Darlia
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘A Better Life’ by Spring King is out now on Island Records.