For digital music listeners and Spotify devotees, Friday is the most important day of the week. Many musicians and bands have begun releasing their projects in sync with the update schedule used by most streaming services.
This Friday, I was rewarded with two albums, the second LP from The Smile and Courting’s (one of my favourite English rock bands) second studio album.
New Last Name by Courting
Must listens: ‘America’, ‘Throw’, ‘Flex’
Liverpool-based four-piece post-punk revival band Courting is known for their songs on pub culture, David Byrne, and carpark oblivion.
In New Last Name, Courting seems to have dropped their signature combination of post-punk and Blur-like talk-singing—trading their Belle Delphine and Kanye West references and art-rock drum schemes for The Killers disses and electronic-tinged vocals.
The initial track, ‘Throw’, enters as a poppy tune featuring a chorus filled with gnarly (in a good way!) autotune twangs. ‘Throw’ and ‘Emily G’, released as singles in November and December 2023 respectively, feature glitchy vocals tinged with their signature dancey bass riffs.
‘We Look Good Together (Big Words)’, the second track on NLN, channels A. G. Cook and even Charli XCX in its club-like backbeat, utilizing both handclaps and drum machines. Thankfully, they maintain their prominent pop culture references: ‘Flex’, track four, includes the lyrics “I’ve been wearing Ricks and he said that it’s fine / So if you need a bad bitch, I can try.”
However, upon reaching track five of the nine-track LP, their newly concocted method begins to feel monotonous. Some songs add a unique twist, such as the saxophone backing and muted yet soulful lyrics on ‘Babys’, but their newfound hyperpop additions cling onto every track without fail.
In this album, Courting begins to shed their Britpop roots and arguable comparison to fellow British indie rockers like shame or Sports Team, opting for a new multi-genre sound, showing they’re unafraid to experiment. Rather than a new last name, Courting is moving towards a new transformational sound. As they note in ‘Flex’, “I just wanna ball out with my friends!”
Wall of Eyes by The Smile
Must listens: ‘Friend of a Friend’, ‘Bending Hectic’, ‘Teleharmonic’
Comprised of Radiohead’s lead singer Thom Yorke and lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood with Tom Skinner on drums, The Smile was formed out of boredom during the COVID-19 lockdowns, taking their name from a Ted Hughes poem (apologies to any Sylvia Plath stans).
The Smile’s second album is a dreamy and drum-filled project, with Yorke’s fussy, pining vocals acting as the cherry on top of strobing instrumentals.
The titular track ‘Wall of Eyes’ is first on the album. It opens with a light Joaõ Gilberto-esque bossa nova underlying Yorke’s lyrics, then with delicately warped bomb-like blasts, blossoms into the deep, earthy tones of a characteristic The Smile song. In the background, Yorke counts to five in time with glockenspiel keystrokes. It is a truly beautiful first track.
As track one fades to track two, the band takes a similar soothing and noise-filled backdrop in ‘Teleharmonic’. This song, complete with flute accompaniment, features more rambunctious and unpolished vocals, with Yorke begging “Bury me / In the way out / In the past / Oh Lord, how should I forget? / Hung up, pinned up / By hammer and nails”.
Track three, ‘Read the Room’, is a standout for Skinner. His cymbal crushes align with Yorke’s whining delivery. My apologies for comparing one Thom Yorke band to another, but this song echoes Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ from their 2007 In Rainbows.
‘Bending Hectic’, track seven, is a slow ballad of an Italian road trip gone wrong. Here, Yorke’s lyricism holds centre stage (during a Rolling Stoneinterview, Yorke reveals that he only finalized the words 30 minutes before they performed the track for the first time). “The ground is coming for me now / We’ve gone over the edge / If you’ve got something to say, say it now”, he croons. The loving grain shifts towards a more painful yet powerful downturn as Greenwood’s guitar shrieks, escalating as Yorke’s “car” crashes, and his repetitive request to “Turn / Turn / Turn” fades into silence.
For their second LP, The Smile has perfected their straying guitar and eased falsetto. With orchestral backing and fidgety bass riffs, this album easily outshines their debut A Light for Attracting Attention due to its dynamic depth and unrestrained melodic score.
While Courting’s new release was not the dance-punk direction that I expected them to take, I quite enjoyed New Last Name. Their lyricism and storytelling capability have evolved, and I’m honestly eager to see how their sound develops further in the future.
Wall of Eyes, however, is probably my standout album so far in January. The composition exudes talent on all sides: instrumentals, production, lyricism, and vocal play. Dare I say that this album competes with Kid A and The Bends…?