[2014.08.17] Tom Hollingworth, for NE:MM Online Magazine.
Our Imaginary Friends have been quietly accumulating a great number of exquisite pop songs to their portfolio over the years, but until now, we have only been able to enjoy them performed live. From the 15th September, this will no longer be the case, as our band, recently renamed Slow Decades, release their debut album - The Frost & The Concrete.
Confetti starts the record as if it were the closing track to the end of a movie; a brave final scene where all conflict is resolving in embers. This piano-lead ballad, with its aching minor-sixth chords, stoically resists defeat as our troubadour charts betrayal. The final lyric exposes a previous conjecture that our narrator’s situation “won’t get [him] down,” and as this moment reveals fallibility and vulnerability, cushioned in the tenderness of the music, as listeners, we are offered up an open heart, and asked for our empathy.
Pulling the curtains back and setting the record in full flight is The Chaos, a track previously unveiled, with a surreal video courtesy of Sean Gaw, in anticipation of The Frost & The Concrete’s release. Its driven pace and unrelenting full-band orchestration underscores descriptions of social awkwardness and barroom frolics. This uncertain course is braved by our singer for beauty.
Ben Lowes-Smith’s voice cuts richly through the mix across this record, whether softly singing in the depths of his natural baritone or weeping a falsetto melody amongst flocking arpeggio accompaniment. Through subtle changes in delivery, Lowes-Smith draws further complexity to lyrics already filled with poetic humour and symbolic description. The lyrics are often sympathetic to the trepidatious steps of the youthful and romantic, in particular illuminating some of the struggles that face young men. In A Boy Your Age (one of the stand-out tracks from the album) the lyrics come as advice from an older friend; a girl or woman who is sensitively managing our narrator’s clumsy development into adulthood. By hearing about his behaviour from her perspective, a more acute criticism of our subject is shown. By the care and consideration taken to observe such detail and express it within the lyrics, the listener is invited to try to understand the characters motivations and the humanity that they display.
As the record moves swiftly from each three-minute song to the next, it is understandable, upon a first listen, that you might interpret these songs as musically simplistic because they are instantly engaging and leave strong vocal melodies repeating in your mind. However, many unique countermelodies are modestly entwined within the textures of these tracks, often courtesy of Paul Gardner and Gary Cameron on various instruments. This sensitive layering and supporting characterisation shows the dedication to fully interpret the song and that no instrument is superfluous. Upon various repeat listenings, new parts draw the ears attention.
The momentum of the playlist is excellently judged, interspersing bounding tracks like The Chaos, Real Men and the intriguingly titled Margaret Bad Boy alongside more somber tracks. The album adventures through a great deal of scenarios at a fast pace, but reaches its emotional apex with the song Hesitation. This heartbreaking track shows a character, stripped of confidence, rationalising their rejection against their own self worth. The electric guitar is strummed timidly, whilst a sorrowful clarinet melody wanders lonely between a wilting voice and a weary rhythm section. Our End follows and offers a gentle pause after the devastation. This instrumental is the morning light leading us home away from the confusion. Whilst the penultimate track Television shows our singer’s concerns with his solitary habits and supermarket wine, Home For The Weekend, with its perfectly-judged loose beat, stumbles our weary traveller home and to the safety of his bed.
This album has been a long time coming and has been constructed over many months, but this time has not been wasted, and the resulting recordings are those of fully-honed pop gems. Some of these songs have been loved and given life at gigs for many years and time has now granted them a place on this very special debut. It is the organic result and generous gift of musicians living and breathing the music that they love.
Slow Decades will be performing at The Mining Institute on 6th September 2014 in celebration of this debut release. They will be supported by Blackflower and Ettrick Scott. Be there to listen to these beautiful songs reverberate with the spirits of this beautiful hall.