Sheffield’s High Hazels have been a favorite here at TGTF since we first featured them in this Bands to Watch back in July. They played four shows at this summer’s Tramlines Festival as part of a growing number of up-and-coming Sheffield bands whose sound hinges on catchy guitar melodies and heart-wrenchingly romantic lyrics.
Going back to the end of 2012, High Hazels have had a productive year, winning the attention of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and the BBC’s Steve Lamacq. They were featured in Sheffield’s Exposed magazine in February 2013 as part of that publication’s In Session series. (Check out the band’s YouTube page to see videos from that session.) Then, in July, just around the time of Tramlines, High Hazels signed with indie record label Heist or Hit Records, who coordinated the release of debut single ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ (reviewed by Mary here). In September, ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ won a coveted spot on Lamacq’s BBC 6Music Rebel Playlist, ahead of its official release on the 7th of October.
According to an interview Mary did with High Hazels frontman James Leesley, the band have been working together for a number of years, perfecting their craft before presenting their work to an already growing legion of fans. While the similarities with local contemporaries such as Arctic Monkeys and The Crookes are readily apparent, High Hazels reveal the softer side of Sheffield. Songs ‘Five Weirs’ and ‘Loose Stitches’ in particular call to mind the sound of Simon & Garfunkel, which Leesley cites as a major influence in the band’s songwriting. ‘French Rue’, the track initially heralded on Lamacq’s radio show, is a nostalgic, slow-burning rumination on heartache, which carries over into the poignantly wintery ‘Hearts Are Breaking’. Leesley’s smooth, evenly measured singing voice is perfectly suited for the subtle yet palpable sentimentality of the lyrics, but it’s the shimmering guitar riffs that will echo in your ears to begin 2014.