BEYOND THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
I loved Vehicles And Animals, Athlete’s 2003 album debut. Combining nostalgic, occasionally sarky songs with straight-ahead production, it made for a very strong pop set. Tourist, the second album was a dreamier, drippier effort, though able to use personal touches without moaning or whining like the Coldplay they seemed to be aping. The production was a gentle and more complex affair too. Beyond The Neighbourhood seems to be a combination of the two albums – much more punchy material, some anger, a clearer set of messages but floating off into dreamy melancholy perhaps a little too often.
The opener, In Between Two States begins complex and with all sorts of fancy treatments before a punchy second start. Under the smooth sound is a defiant song. Further on the album offers lyrical snatches that hover between the personal and the political – I always get the sense that lyrics are drawn from a real place for this band and have significance beyond the fiscal for them. That’s not to say songs like Second Hand Stores aren’t anthemic love songs with an arrangement aimed at big single territory with it’s rising bass line and big hook. The production has bells and knobs on; scratching is used as colouration, layers are piled on layers, instruments are treated and pulled into radio-friendly shapes. I guess that’s what production is for but I miss the simple clarity of the early work. This is self-produced so there’s no big name for me to blame…. That said, after a few listens, songs come by on replays as familiar old friends. In The Library sounds like something I heard years ago and just rediscovered in a dusty heap.
The sucker punch is saved till the end. Like a message to take home with you at the end of the Athlete evening, we get two symbolic songs. Potts sings of the thoughts of someone jumping from New York’s Twin Towers on Sept 11th in Best Not To Think About It. Maybe a hackneyed, marginally adolescent topic but one that has haunted the nastier daydreams of most of the people who saw footage or heard of it since. The closer – This Is What I Sound Like – is a voyage through the space between the clear image he wants to present and the messy reality of being himself. It’s drawn from the confusion of an Israeli agent in Speilberg’s docudrama Munich.
I’m still enjoying this band, for the sense of genuiness I hear in the lyrics and the steadfast plodding away at their personal preoccupations.