“We Were Children” – Tribes
As DIY- and/or electronics-focused as rock’n’roll has become in the 21st century, sometimes it does an ear good (my ear, anyway) to hear a band that aims for a big, brash, well-produced sound. Yes, “We Were Children” brings to mind music from a bygone era—either the ’70s or the ’90s, depending on your frame of reference—but this is only because of how thin and/or muddy and/or manipulated is the characteristic sound of the here and now. A smartly-crafted song with lots of melody and guitars may sound like a relic or—maybe?—it could be a clarion call for a change of musical/cultural course. This is a young band; as the lyrics clearly state, “We were children in the mid-’90s.” If it also brings to mind Mott the Hoople covering early Radiohead, well, let’s see, we can either take it as a sign that pop culture has run out of steam or is yet again reinventing itself via the past.
The title phrase by the way is nearly all that’s clear about the lyrics, which employ ordinary nouns like magazine and suitcase and clothes in the opening verse to spin a quickly mysterious story in bashy, quasi-glam-rock-y style. The chorus withdraws into an introspective, semi-whispered refrain full of simple, one-syllable words. We are both attracted and bewildered. Who is the “stranger”? “These things happen”—what things? The words acquire an anthemic cadence, even as the music holds back. Meanwhile, guitars are everywhere, lead and rhythm and solo, with effective bits of squonk and drone. Front man Johnny Lloyd emotes with a natural swagger, his voice operating at both high and low volume without losing character or presence. By the time (2:27) we hear the chorus sung in all-out mode, with elusive sing-along backing vocals, it’s as if that’s what we’d been hearing all along. Nicely done.
Founded in Camden in 2009, Tribes released its debut full-length album, Baby, in the UK in January, after releasing two EPs in 2011. The album is getting a US release on Universal Republic next week.
photo credit: Martin Zähringer