When I wrote my last piece on Parker Lee (which you can find here), I was slightly skeptical about whether the beautifully sparse instrumentation from their acoustic session would translate into something even better with their transition into a full band. While the music was certain to be just as lyrically compelling and the instrumentation just as tight, I wondered simply if it would add anything more to the music. After getting an early look at Parker Lee’s first full band EP No Good Mornings, all my doubts were instantly quashed.
The most apt musical comparison I can make for the style of this acoustic to full band transition is the change from Modern Baseball’s debut LP Sports into You’re Gonna Miss It All. Much like Brendan and Jake, lead singer Jowan Mead’s distinctive vocals were always there, the precise lyricism was there and the barebones of tracks were already very strong, but the addition of a backing band makes for a much fuller, richer sound that complements the lyrics in the same way that the sparsity of the acoustic instrumentation highlighted them. I can’t help but feel the presence of Jake from Modern Baseball mixing and mastering this EP has allowed him to imbue some of that MoBo spirit into this release, helping to craft the sound of full band Parker Lee.
The sound is certainly an interesting one, and I can honestly say I haven’t heard anything vaguely similar out of the UK before. Parker Lee have a lot more musically in common with the Philly DIY scene sound than a lot of the local music coming out of the many cities in the UK, which tends to swing from generic indie bands to more niche hardcore bands. Parker Lee are proponents of a sound that often gets lumped under the ’emo’ moniker despite containing a lot of folk, alternative and sometimes pop punky elements, but Parker Lee pull off that confessional, accessible, singalong sound unlike any upcoming bands I can name. Guitar lines rise and dip through the album, taking us through the highs and lows along with the lyrics, the hi hats and cymbals accent the guitar nicely whilst the rest of the drumming provides good rhythm, and the bass is subtle and disciplined, never really coming to the forefront but always present to fill out the sound.
Much like the acoustic sessions, the lyrics are what shine through most on No Good Mornings, even with the full sound offered by the accompaniment of guitars and drums. Jowan seems to take a lot of lyrical and structural inspiration from Slaughter Beach, Dog, being equally precise with lyrics whether crafting vignettes of small moments, or sprawling songs that lay out a story taking place in multiple places, with the writing vaguely reminding me of Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years. While I spoke about the lyricism of the tracks Michigan and Office Hours in my previous article, the two new tracks Station Hotel and Waterworks offer some even more powerful lines than before. On Waterworks, where Jowan weaves an extended metaphor relating to water throughout the song and sings “Drip into something more comfortable, just be sure to keep those well-worn pages dry” as the instrumentation kicks up a gear, you can’t help but feel that these lyrics are immensely personal. Likewise, on Station Hotel when Jowan opens up about his own faults, telling us “I’m a disaster, a broken fuse” whilst referencing walking past a hotel in his home town, the lyrics put us in a specific moment at a specific place, making it nearly impossible to feel anything but empathy.
Parker Lee are one of a few bands from the Yorkshire area that are really pushing the envelope when it comes to breakthrough British music, and I can only hope that other people see in them the same potential I can, and that they get more and more exposure. A lot is said about guitar music being dead in the UK and there are quite a few false prophets in the indie scene claiming that they’re bringing it back, but it’s upcoming bands like Parker Lee that are shirking definitive genres and writing songs like no one else currently in the UK and have the potential to bring a new, original style to the UK, as long as people sit up and take notice. No Good Mornings, the debut full band EP from Parker Lee comes out May 19th, but until then you can find them on Twitter @parkerleeuk and check out the single Office Hours on their Bandcamp here:
Words by Josef Smith
Photo credit to Jowan Mead and Ilana Zsigmond