Album Review: Viola Beach – Viola Beach

By on Tuesday, 26th July 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Viola Beach album coverEarly evening the day before Valentine’s Day 2016, I started receiving frantic Facebook messages from people asking me if it was true about Viola Beach. What was true? I was confused. I hadn’t heard anything. I soon confirmed from multiple sources on social media that the unthinkable had happened. The band had left Norrköping, Sweden, following a well-received set at Where’s the Music Festival, their first appearance outside of Britain, and their car inexplicably went off a bridge, plunging into the water below. As a music editor planning just a month off from SXSW, I’d already pencilled in the band on my schedule in Austin, as had many of my professional contacts. It was unfathomable that young lives such as theirs were gone.

It was especially a terrible loss to the North West town of Warrington that Viola Beach called home, as early indicators suggested success would soon be in their future. Already having their brand of peppy pop receiving the support of BBC Introducing in England, they’d also been anointed with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase as part of the BBC Introducing bill at SXSW 2016, which they sadly never made it to. In their memory, the families of the band have decided to release their debut album this Friday on the band’s own Fuller Beans Records:

We are tremendously proud of everything the boys achieved in such a short space of time. Craig, Jack, Kris, River and Tom shared a huge passion, talent and dedication to music. We believe the best way to celebrate our sons’ lives is to release an album of their songs. This is their legacy and we know deep in our hearts that the boys would want the world to listen to the music they poured everything into. This was only the beginning for them and these nine songs were written with every intention to be shared, heard and, most of all, enjoyed. We hope that it brings you as much happiness listening to it as we know it did to them making it.

The music made by four wide-eyed lads is, as one might expect, innocent and sweet, or at least honest about that period of life (see ‘Drunk’). Self-released in autumn 2015, debut single ‘Slides and Waterslides’ is the perfect example of this. The song quickly made the rounds in the blogosphere not only in Britain, but also in America. American music blog Pigeons and Planes commented that the single had “a swagger that is not often found on indie pop records”. Let’s just say that this kind of swagger is more TGTF’s speed than Cher Lloyd’s. Despite its title, ‘Swings and Waterslides’ is actually a snapshot of puppy love. Lead singer Kris Leonard croons, “you’re not with me tonight / and only you could make it right”, before the chorus kicks in, with youthful shouts from his bandmates. Overall, the effect is, while greatly helped with a bright guitar melody (think early Two Door Cinema Club) and accompanying bouncy percussion, one of pure pop. The more I listen to this song, the more I hear the promise in Leonard’s voice. You can picture its potential of having as much mainstream influence as Liam Gallagher’s, as a new representation of young (and Northern) England. Now we’ll never know.

Many of the songs on ‘Viola Beach’ read as tropical pop numbers, with dashes of pop, hip hop and rock. While there’s an obvious reliance on upbeat guitar notes and drum beats, a nod to what’s popular with the kids these day, there’s also a smartness at play. They liked playing with the tempos, changing them from tune to tune to allow for different feels. The jittery ‘Like a Fool’ and ‘Get to Dancing’ (watch it live from their BBC Introducing session from Maida Vale recorded in late 2015 below) have moments when Leonard and his bandmates are shouting at the top of their lungs. They must have had a whale of a time recording those. In contrast, the echoey, chill vibe of ‘Really Wanna Call’ makes it sounds like it was recorded in the Caribbean.

Another previously released track ‘Cherry Vimto’ is relatively simple, but it showcases Viola Beach’s ability to slow things down and write a ballad. ‘Call You Up’ is another slower one, puts Leonard’s voice through its paces. It’s particularly interesting, as drummer Jack Dakin’s cymbal and other effects inexplicably crash in the background, as if to mimic the emotional tension within the song. One could reasonably hypothesise that this was their one experimental number on the album, and perhaps an indicator that they didn’t plan to stay in the tropical pop genre forever.

‘Boys That Sing’ closes the album and following Coldplay’s tribute to them during their headline set at Glastonbury this year. As Leonard sings it, it’s clear it’s about a girl he’s fallen for and yet, everyone thinks their union is crazy. The chorus goes, “and she said that together we could do anything / and she told me that she loves a boy who knows how to sing / so I learnt how to sing”, what comes across as the sweetest reason a young boy would ever use to decide to become musical. For one night, this song had its time on the world’s biggest stage, and it was beautiful.

I know that not everyone believes in heaven or the existence of an afterlife. I do. And I choose to believe that those who leave us, especially those who leave us before their time, they are with us in spirit and can see what we’re up to every day of our lives. Even though we didn’t have Viola Beach with us for very long, they reminded us that there is inherent joy in the making of music and it is a gift that is best shared and has no boundaries. Their families have had a terrible loss, but I hope that through sharing this album, this gift that they have kindly bestowed on us, they can see that even beyond their physical time on this earth, their boys will continue to bring joy to many.

The eponymous debut album from Viola Beach will be released posthumously this Friday, the 29th of July, on the band’s own Fuller Beans Records. Our thoughts on and coverage of the tribute to them at SXSW 2016 can be found through here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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