“5 years of our lives condensed into 59 minutes of yours”. This is just how frontman Ben Gregory presented Blaenavon’s longingly anticipated debut album ‘That’s Your Lot’ to the scornful post-indie world of lad-rock monotony. If these fifty-nine minutes are anything to stand by, this brave remark couldn’t be any closer to the truth. It’s a release that marks the end of a lengthy writing and recording process for the Hampshire trio, seeing through the inception of three acclaimed EPs and a string of hugely publicised singles. It’s taken them the best part of four years, but no one’s going to stand in their way now, Blaenavon truly is the word on everybody’s lips. The work of three once spritely sixteen-year-olds (now all into their twenties), ‘That’s Your Lot’ is stunning in both its vision and depth. Hearts and souls are laid bare for all to see as the trio immaculately detail these last five years of their lives, twelve swooning tales of youth, love, grief and fate that could well set them on a trajectory towards ‘indie’ immortality.
Behind ‘That’s Your Lot’s floral facade lies a wealth of emotionally-laden variety, resounding with a penchant for delicately spun guitars and playful melancholy. Thumping opening track ‘Take Care’ is as atmospheric as it is haunting, Ben Gregory’s skilfully constructed chord structures disguising a beautiful yet bitter sadness that infiltrates the entire record. This very same happy-sad dynamic plays out in full across ‘That’s Your Lot’, pairing gleeful indie-pop mentality with a pensive thoughtfulness characteristic of the most seasoned songwriters . ““Let’s pray, let’s pray, let’s pray for death!” exclaims Gregory with Morrissey-like conviction on ‘Let’s Pray’, as surges of Marr-esque guitar jangle feverishly, rich pop hooks weighted out by an almost sadistic lyrical wit. It might not be the most conventional chorus line, but it’s twisted beauty is hard to match.
Debuting just days before ‘That’s Your Lot’s release, ‘Lonely Side’ boasts a scampering indie-funk beat, hung upon bassist Frank Wright’s disco-like twang and flourishes of sophisticated synth. “In a land of parasites, I feel a host” groans the luscious-locked frontman, in this hopelessly (and hilariously?) romantic hymn to falling in and out of love. It’s harmless to say that some tracks are a little less memorable than others, however when positioned between a procession of hard-hitting singles in an album almost an hour in length, it hardly seems significant. Between ‘Ode To Joe’s ghostly acoustics, jarring keys and subtle electronics are broken by what sounds like drips of icy water, whilst ‘Let Me See What Happens Next’ features as a lonesome piano-led ballad, sickly sweet in its nature and a mere two minutes in length.
“It’s probably about time that I admitted I am a young, ridiculous, romantic buffoon. I am in love with everyone at the same time: but in and out of love constantly – disillusioned like a juvenile James Dean. This is incredibly unhealthy, but also very fucking funny. I will continue to get absolutely everything wrong until I grow old, settle down and die. Until then, I walk the Lonely Side.”
– Ben Gregory
For all of its woeful moments, ‘That’s Your Lot’ is hardly short on indie floor fillers, far from it. Lead single ‘Orthodox Man’ flashes the youthful cheek of The Maccabees and Bombay Bicycle Club, reflected by its sharpened melodies and enticing Bowie-esque chorus riff, evenly apposed by its typically downcast verse, whilst gothic synths and razor sharp guitars permeate the anxiety-charged ‘My Bark Is Your Bite’. Bristling with a frustrated energy that will inevitably excite comparisons to Transgressive Records contemporaries Foals and Gengahr, its bittersweet pop cries create some of the most compelling moments on the entire record. Trembling with a near frenetic urgency, ‘Alice Come Home’ assumes the loud-quiet song structure of the Pixies, Gregory’s tentative croon hinged upon expansive prog-rock swells. It’s a devastatingly beautiful six-minute trip, undergoing several unexpected turns as it reaches it’s explosive crescendo.
“We’ve got all the sides to it, though. We’ve got the stuff that will hopefully get people excited about the band, like the singles, and once they’re excited hopefully, they’ll be willing to be attentive and give the tracks that require attention a lot of time. If you listen to ‘Ode To Joe’ and ‘Swans’ you get much more of an immersive experience than just with the catchier tracks.”
Almost a band of two sides, ‘I Will Be The World’ reflects Blaenavon at their most explosive. Ben Gregory’s quick-witted lyricism is almost at odds to the track’s frenzied instrumentals, searing, distorted guitars eye-to-eye with crashing percussion, rearing its head as a tumultuous wall of sound. Its live accompaniment is not to be missed. A song that predates almost any other on the record, the eight-minute epic that is ‘Swans’, written when Ben was just sixteen is undeniably ‘That’s Your Lot’s shining jewel. Percussion-heavy and mesmerising in its complexity, the track’s recurring riff is almost cinematic in its proportions. Revealing a songwriting maturity well beyond the frontman’s own age (even then), to hear ‘Swans’ finally make it’s way to record feels like a coming of age. Even ‘Prague ’99’, a re-shuffle of the standout track from the band’s 2013 ‘Koso’ EP, and a seminal set closer can hardly falter in delivering musical brilliance, even if it does lack that certain oomph of its predecessor.
Clocking in at just seconds under the hour mark, ‘That’s Your Lot’ is LONG, especially so for a debut album, but it somehow feels like barely a single second of this monumental debut is wasted. Resolute in their efforts to evade being pinned to the genre, ‘That’s Your Lot’ is a breath of fresh air amongst the decrepit graveyard of modern indie-rock, a daring demonstration of what can be achieved as a three-piece. Any worries of it being a debut album flop are torn aside at first listen, this is a timeless record that should rightfully be upheld in the halls of ‘indie’ immortality. “It’s only been three years” Ben sings at the album’s crushing finale, but ‘That’s Your Lot’ is an album that should be treasured for far longer. And That’s Your Lot…
‘That’s Your Lot’ track listing:
My Bark Is Your Bite
Let Me See What Happens Next
Alice Come Home
Ode To Joe
I Will Be The World
That’s Your Lot
Words by Joe Bulger
Featured image courtesy of Emma Swann for DIY Magazine