While the Scottish alt-rock scene has become known for its unashamed pivots towards big, broad emotionality, few have seen their efforts met with more skepticism than Fatherson; something about the trio leaning further towards indie than most of their peers has seemed to rub so many listeners the wrong way. And it’s not impossible to see where those judgements come from either, given Ross Lieghton’s willingness to fall back on bleeding-heart vulnerability that can lack a lot of deeper nuance at times. And while that’s undoubtedly part of their appeal that took 2016’s Open Book to the biggest audience they’ve ever had, the generally washed-out and hyper-earnest qualities have proven to be a bit too unpalatable for some.
As for Sum Of All Your Parts, it won’t be the Fatherson album to change minds to any huge degree given that it’s essentially more of the same; it’s extremely lightweight and twee at points, but is able to remain pretty solid throughout. For as much as describing this album as “nice” sounds like the faintest of praise, it’s honestly the most suitable term that pervades all the way through, not being attention-grabbing in any way but perfectly listenable in almost every way. And that’s perhaps this biggest issue, in that, three albums in, Fatherson haven’t really made much progression as a band, no matter how workable and likable the results may be. They’re notions that take effect more here than previously before, especially in light of the criticisms others have made in the past. The onus is still on huge, sweeping anthems replete with those unavoidable heart-on-sleeve moments, and on songs like Nothing To No One and Reflection which play to more overtly expansive, wistful tones and see Leighton fully dip into his misty-eyed bleats, they really show. Coupled with how the production takes the tried-and-true route of reverb-soaked vocals and omnipresent clouds of mist to make it sound as huge as possible, especially on a track like Oh Yes, Fatherson’s incredibly widescreen approach can feel a bit stagnant.
On the other side of the coin though, this clearly isn’t meant to be some deep dissection into emotional turmoil, and for the sort of songs that would feel right at home soundtracking the emotional scenes of BBC3 sitcoms, you really are spoiled for choice here. At least with Making Waves and Charm School, the instrumentation feels a bit more robust and indebted to modern indie in a more encouraging way, and there’s no denying that Fatherson can knock out one hell of a chorus when they want to; put The Landscape in an arena setting and it would go down an absolute treat. But really, it’s that sense of atmosphere and building up sound that Fatherson have always excelled at that continues to impress here, particularly when tracks like The Rain and Building A Wall feel so effortless in their ability to swell and breathe. That’s all pretty much a prerequisite for a Scottish alt-rock band as it is, but in Fatherson’s emotional focus comes a payoff that’s definitely noticeable.
That’s why, regardless of whether this is a great album or not, and regardless of the gripes that some people have with them, Fatherson remain a good band to have around. They aren’t pushing boundaries or revolutionising the scene (and it really shows), but their size and fluidity always feels so natural. Even it it’s easier to predict than ever on Sum Of All Your Parts, it’s the emotional alt-rock equivalent of comfort food – easy to digest and serves to fill a hole before something more satisfying in the long term comes around.
For fans of: Biffy Clyro, The Xcerts, Death Cab For Cutie
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Sum Of All Your Parts’ by Fatherson is out now on Easy Life Records.