Math-rock has always been on the fringes of alternative music, be that in wider appeal or more general taste, but the last year has proven the genre to be capable of so much more than its shown in a long time. Between Press To MECO showing a level of mainstream readiness to surpass the vast majority of Britrock bands, itoldyouiwouldeatyou providing one of the most emotionally rich and powerful releases of 2018 and even American Football seemingly doing well from their new singles, there’s really not much to complain about from a genre once characterised by how tentative and awkward its acts could be. But if there’s one band that, above almost all others, have proven that they deserve to be paid attention to, it’s The Yacht Club, a band that already have something of an edge given the members of Employed To Serve and Ducking Punches among their ranks, but have shown an incredible ability to pair math-rock intricacy with lush, beautiful compositions and a pop sensibility that makes how low-key and supple they are all the more palatable. They’ve already made a good start with a couple of solid EPs, but even from this debut album’s early singles, they’ve come on so much further, and thus The Last Words That You Said To Me Have Kept Me Here And Safe looks to hopefully see 2019’s first big breakthrough come through with something great.

And make no mistake, this definitely is a great album, but in the way that slowly continues to unfurl itself like so many of the best math-rock albums of the past year or so have. Similarly, The Yacht Club play the long game here, remaining rather understated and packing in the intricacies that, by design, shift the focus away from strident anthemia for the most part, but make up for it with a delicacy and heartfelt lusciousness that really does worm its way in in a considerable way. Arguably, it’s not quite as strong as itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s similarly layered but brutally reflexive Oh Dearism, but it’s easily a close second, especially when the full extent of The Yacht Club’s emotionality clicks and it really becomes a thing of beauty.

That makes itself clear in the sense of distance and detachment that prevails throughout the entire album, a feature neatly summarised in the opening lines of 21, “If memories are films about ghosts, like we used to sing / Then songs like these could soundtrack a haunting”. It’s a type of pining for the halcyon days of the past that isn’t particularly new, especially in emo, but Marcus Gooda’s delivery and prevalent sense of melancholy is what lends these tracks their blurred, worn-down quality, but also an earnestness that’s so unwavering in its fragility. Crucially though, the awareness that comes through a more mature lens plays a key role in how these tracks are presented, like the measured, emotionally open assessment of relationships on Glue and Get Your Damn Hands Off Her!, or a fond reminiscence on past events but not necessarily the people they were shared with on In Amber. And underscoring all of this is the period of recovery coming after a friend’s suicide, relayed in such plain-spoken yet inherently perfect terms on the opening pair of Be Happy And Love Pt. 2 and Heigham Park, and coming as the catalyst for the important closure of Be Happy And Love Pt. 3. And with the very smooth, impassioned yet unfalteringly damaged vocal performances of both Gooda and guitarist Jack Holland, there’s a diary-like quality throughout the album that allows it resonate so much deeper.

That’s also highlighted by the music itself, draped in a sepia filter for a resoundingly classic feel, but never losing sight of how small-scale and warm it wants to be. It’s perhaps The Yacht Club’s greatest strength here, as they keep the spidery guitars taut and the deliberate percussion and key twinkles prominent on tracks like Heigham Park and Postmarks for a homespun pop sensibility in the tightness of the composition and the generally self-contained nature of it all. Granted, the avoidance of allowing their instrumental flair to really grow and expand (i.e. the one time when math-rock can be truly thrilling) means that, up until the very end, this can be a tad gated in spots and have its impact slightly diminished, but for what The Yacht Club can do in these condensed runtimes means that’s a slight criticism at the very most, particularly when the final products are as rich as they are. The mid-paced flow and gorgeously light production creates a shine that never feels artificial, and on the whole, the earthiness and temperate nature becomes as engrossing as it is meticulously crafted.

Honestly, it’s just shy of being as effective as math-rock gets, taking such simple, unyieldingly humans emotions and crafting a brilliant, occasionally heartbreaking but frequently beautiful gem of an album. Even if The Yacht Club could maybe attempt to push the envelope a bit more, what they’ve got already feels like the finished article, a band channelling an intelligent and balanced assessment of tragedy and coming out of the other side stronger and even more open. It’s the first great album of the year, and for a band who’ve yet to really break out or find the audience they so desperately deserve, that certainly counts as something special.

8/10

For fans of: American Football, itoldyouiwouldeatyou, Mineral
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘The Last Words You Said To Me Have Kept Me Here And Safe’ by The Yacht Club is released on 25th January on Beth Shalom Records.

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