With their new EP, Seatbelts (formerly of Hooton Tennis Club) offer a short but ambitious record with a quirky mood, some rather distinct and challenging ideas, and a sound that manages to call back to the greatest glories of past British rock without falling into the trap of easy nostalgia.
The recently released Please Slow Down embraces suggestions coming from a variety of places in its four tracks while experimenting in its own ways; the work done on vocals is particularly striking, with vocalists Abigail Woods and James Madden displaying a very good chemistry and using the interplay between their voices for contrast and harmony in turn. It’s especially pleasant to hear a female vocalist display such a wide range of expression, sounding equally at ease with the more throaty parts and the soothing, drawn-out ones, in comparison with the constant barrage of sugary high notes that mainstream pop music has us used to. The rhythm section is also solid; bass lines emerge as dominant in some of the tracks, and there are little musical surprises, all of them pleasant, dotted around here and there. If one was to write down all the influences echoing through the four tracks of the EP, they would come up with an illustrious list of names, ranging from Mott the Hoople to early Rolling Stones, from Nico and Velvet Underground to Blur, including even what may or may not be a little nod to The Clash. The result is varied but organic, the only occasional disrupting note coming from a production that sounds at times a bit too clean, but without subtracting too much from the end result (and, in some tracks, the slightly detached effect this obtains might be absolutely deliberate).
‘Spanish Songs,’ which is loyal to its title in its use of bilingual lyrics, has perhaps the most retro vibe of the lot, but there is something darker under the surface that makes it intriguing and very much enjoyable; the boppy rhythm, the backing vocals, and the guitar tracks make it feel like an intriguing spin on a classic theme. Of the four tracks it is probably the less challenging, a good mellow opener to draw the listener in. It’s hard to listen to this song and not think of early-70s David Bowie, especially in the way the vocals are used.
In direct contrast, ‘This is How We Do Things‘ has a bold, almost aggressive mood, a much slower and less regular pace, and almost-spoken vocals. I love a good sax line in a song and this definitely has it, gradually devolving into dissonant, jazzy experimentation towards the end. This is where the EP goes into full swing, revealing its more personal voice, and the momentum continues with ‘Content Crush,’ which starts slow and a bit woozy and plays with distortion to increase the sense of detachment and displacement that the lyrics are trying to portray. Here it is, perhaps, that the urges underlying the whole record come out most clearly: the song has a subtly sarcastic voice, drawing from the frustration of a generation constantly misrepresented and put down, when it states “well, we missed the best century/ being busy for busy’s sake/ or at least that’s what they say.” This pinch of sarcasm might well be the glue holding the record together, at the thematic level – the urgency and relevance of it creating an interesting interaction with a sound that recovers some bold things from the past.
‘Capitalist Confession,’ which closes the EP, does so on a deliberately challenging note. The song is unmistakably political, and it makes good use of parody and contrast between music and lyrics, sounding in places almost like a piece of cabaret performance (this is absolutely a compliment). It is the most experimental and cutting of the lot, playing around with changes in pace and incorporating a guitar solo that ties it back to the early-70s feeling occurring elsewhere in the record. It’s most definitely a song with a clear opinion – and “Sell it to me and it shall be” is a lyric with a punch, not easily forgotten.
The independent music scene is becoming more and more populated with loud, clear voices that are not scared of addressing controversial themes and calling out the many things going wrong in society, and doing so with a clear eye on the past and a daring hunger for the future. This new EP from Seatbelts is certainly another tile in this mosaic, and its contribution to the picture is rather hard to ignore.
Seatbelts’ new EP Please Slow Down is out now – available to Stream/Purchase here.