Temples - Sun Structures
Posted on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 | No Comments
Get your psych out for the lads?
In the narrative of Oasis - the band that ruled over a generation of British guitar music, that became the sound of luddite conservatism - it's now largely forgotten that there was a point when many people genuinely believed that they might have been on the verge of spearheading something speecial. After two heavily nostalgic (and at times downright plagaristic) releases that saw them shoot to a all-conquering stardom, in 1996 it seemed entirely possible that their next move could have been something genuinely exciting: that year, Noel Gallagher had lent his vocals to The Chemical Brothers' surprising, Tomorrow Never Knows-apeing number one single Setting Sun, a loud and dense slab of psychedelic big-beat. If he really did fancy himself as the next Lennon, then maybe this was him embracing the more experimental, inquisitive side of that man's work. Maybe it was just the cocaine of Britpop's pomp doing the thinking, but maybe, just maybe, instead of just covering I Am The Walrus, he was about to write his own. Your writer is very far from an Oasis fan, but can you blame people for hoping, expecting more from their rockstars?
Of course, any of you readng this know how that turned out. Be Here Now was an over-produced, under-written waste of a record that laid any such hope to rest and served noticed that it was indeed to be gruel and gruel alone from here on in. Their records would sell perfectly well wihout offering a shred of innovation, spark or genuine creative involvement, they would continue to ruin any festival they headlined by attracting an influx of un-engaged lager lads with total disdain for anything that it's them. More harmful that this though was the impact of this dashed hope on guitar music to follow. The ongoing success of Oasis seemed to vindicate an industry desire to push through bands that promised safety and continuance rather than innovation or risk. The journalists might be sniffy, but when they're still shifting units and filling arenas, the lowest common denominator path that Oasis took proved irresistable. Hence the biggest British success stories to have emerged in their wake - The Libertines, Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines - have stuck rigidly to tried ideas and proven formulas. The Libertines offered Clash cast-offs with dodgy jackets and dodgier personal lives, Kasabian offered a version of Primal Scream with any difficult references or political implications removed, while Arctic Monkeys have been applauded for going from sounding like late '70s guitar rock to sounding like... early '70s guitar rock (And has anyone even worked out what The Vaccines, the world's most generic rock band, even want to be?). In a world of lowered expectations, he who offers the least but delivers on that lack-of-promise is king.
2014 then, and we have the latest Great White Hope to contend with. For once though, it's a band that at offers something not totally soaked in off Carling. Even though the pumps have been primed for a full-scale mainstream psych revival for some time - the success of Tame Impala proved that the genre could be given a twenty-first century makeover, and find a wide audience at that - that so much money and faith has been invested in an act like Temples is heartening. There's no trace of post-punk, or Noel rock or lighters-aloft acoustics or any of these other worn out tropes on Sun Structures. The influences are all obvious, late '60s psychedelic pop, levened with a dash of Marc Bolan glam, but it is still a sound that hasn't found its way into the mainstream much of late, let alone been promoted in the way the likes of the NME have been backing them. If not The New Sound, the thrusting of Temples into the spotlight is at least a welcome diversion and change from the script.
All of which is to say that Sun Structures is an enjoyable but also deeply frustrating listen. Give the Kettering boys their due, because they've clearly been putting the work in to getting their psych-pop just so. Opening track Shelter Song boasts a grand chiming guitar introduction that's equal parts The Byrds and Love, while James Bagshaw shows his early mastery of the Marc Bolan whispered come-on, before a chiming bit of auto-harp let's you know that it's time for the big pop chorus. In other words, it's a sound that marries the different transatlantic strands of psychedelic and post-psychedelic pop with a crisp, neat touch. As with their immaculate wardrobe, the Temples sound (if such a thing can be said to exist) is one that is very much curated rather than made - the effect is like hearing a Mojo compilation through a fever and having the different tracks all blur into one. Their approach is very much respectful and reverential, carefully avoiding any direct lifts (unlike certain other poor excuses for a rock band that I could mention), and in the band's favour they know when to let the melodies speak for themselves rather than bluntly forcing the point. But it's fan fiction all the same, and the feeling of deja vu that Shelter Song leaves is one that stays for the rest of the record.
Going through the rest of Sun Structures is like going through their records: The Golden Throne (probably the best and most convincing track on here) adds a certain hazy Odessey and Oracle melancholy to the picture, A Question Isn't Answered is fuelled a slowed-down glam beat, Sand Dance is the obligatory climactic, vaguely eastern wig-out and so on and so on. It's all fine, and it's a decent way to spend fifty minutes it you're into the bands these guys are cribbing off as I am, but after just a couple of spins, the question that comes up is: yeah, this is alright, but why should I keep listening? Even amongst the other psych-pop acts their label Heavenly are busy hoovering up at present, there's a sense of distinct character and purpose amongst them - the scouse surrealism of Stealing Sheep, the we're-terribly-sorry-about-that-first-band, please-forgive-us krautrock penitence of Toy - that as yet Temples are lacking. Worryingly enough, it's perhaps this exact formless malleability that the industry sees as their strong point.
Much of the modern day psych scene is, in fairness, built upon a degree of pastiche. The best modern day bands though have been ones that, in one way or another, have found their own voice amidst the rubble of the past. So modern-day flamekeepers like Clinic, Hookworms, The Horrors, Thee Oh Sees and, yes, Tame Impala, have forged their own distinct vocabulary and managed to push the sound forward, keeping true to the ambition of their originators. So while Sun Structures might be a fair bit above the usual dross the NME likes to throw its weight behind, it still comes off as distinctly second-rate and lightweight. It's a shame, as Temples clearly know how to string along a good melody, and are still blisteringly young: a review's cliche, true, but never the less it's hard not to think of the debut that might have been made if they'd been left to their own devices for another couple of years, unaffected by hype or expectation and just slowly playing around and figuring out their sound. They'll be an enjoyable afternoon fixture on the festival circuit this year, and much rather them on the radio than Kasabian any day, but beneath those vintage as an Instagram filter riffs and delicate chord progressions, it's hard not to feel that Sun Structures represents something of a wasted opportunity. Finally, a chink appears in the lad rock armour - is this really the best that we have to throw at it?