I’ve always made it very clear that I think Lakes rule. I instantly fell in love with their debut, The Constance [best album of 2019, @ me if you need], and have championed each of their successive releases.
Start Again is the second album from the Watford sextet. They’ve experienced a few changes in recent years – a few new members, a global pandemic, and they signed to the indie label Big Scary Monsters. I think this is great news because this means their amazing music will find a wider audience, and they’ll possibly get chances to tour with other bands signed to BSM and other bands in that sphere, which should hopefully unlock even more opportunities for Lakes. [I’m holding my breath for a tour supporting NZ indie darlings The Beths]
They ease you in on Start Again with “Blind”, which seems more like a nice intro than a fully fledged song, but then we launch into the track “No Excuses” and you know they mean business. It’s lush and busy and charming and the drum parts remind me of Josh Sparks who drummed on the Into It. Over It. album Standards – frantic, driving and interesting. Gotta love those noodly guitar lines too. We hear the wonderful vocal harmonies and subtle mathy arrangements that made me fall in love with Lakes in the first place, and then they go and throw in some glockenspiel and cheesy handclaps just to add more magical fun to the mix.
Many of the songs in Start Again explore events that have been rocking our world in recent years. The populace being poisoned by divisive politicking, a global pandemic changing how we function and shifting our perception of normality, and how we cope in the face of all of this. I get it. I had big plans laid out and was hoping to go travelling last year, hoping on even making it to Watford to hang out with the musicians in Lakes. Instead I had a fairly traumatic year and got pretty depressed. But I chose to face my problems and move on, and I’m now better for it.
Like Frank Turner’s album Positive Songs for Negative People, Start Again is about fighting the demons and doing your best to progress and grow in the face of hard times. Heck, both albums even have a song called “Get Better”.
The video for the titular track is a perfect example. The setting is something we’ve all become accustomed to in the past year: Zoom meetings. But it provides glimmers of hope and humour, showing that despite all the disruption we’ve been going through, we can still find ways to connect with each other.
Hmmmm, I hadn’t planned on getting so deep during this review. Maybe this emo stuff is beginning to rub off on me?
For my money, the track “Talk!” is the best song on the album. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but some of the riffs and production reminds me of late 90’s/early 00’s pop-punk. It’s a really fun song. The cherry on top is the final bridge. It’s so cheesy, but you can’t help but love it. You’ve got handclaps, awesome guitar noodling, and gorgeous layered vocal harmonies doing rounds in the outro. Stunning. And the piano at the end is a great touch.
As a New Zealander, it is my duty to focus on the track “Taupo”. It’s just the way we’re wired. Honestly, any time some international talkshow host like Colbert or John Oliver even utters the name New Zealand or mocks our accent the entire national media goes berserk.
Anyway… Taupō is the huge lake at the centre of our North Island. Millions of years ago it was a supervolcano – very similar to Yellowstone in America. It erupted so violently that there are historic records in ancient cultures from around the globe that mentions how the smoke disrupted weather systems. And once the volcano had done its dash it left a crater that filled with water and became a lake the size of Singapore.
If you’re familiar with The Constance LP and the few EPs that Lakes released in those early days, you’ll know that they used to name all their songs after…. wait for it… lakes!
Matt Shaw told me that the two interlude tracks on this record – “Windermere” and “Taupo” are a throwback to how they used to name all their songs after lakes, and are also inspired by the Minus the Bear album Highly Refined Pirates, which used interlude tracks to great effect. [Minus the Bear are also signed to Big Scary Monsters label. Pretty cool huh?]. The interlude tracks work very well to break up the album and lead into new segments, just as intended.
Matt has actually travelled to NZ a few times and shared that “I have very special memories of travelling around New Zealand. We had a campervan and stayed in a campsite right on the river between Huka Falls and the lake.”. Howabout that tour with The Beths then?
Lakes are incredibly talented in an understated way. The way that they can just incorporate weird mathy time signatures, have multiple singers with voices that are simply to die for, use a whole array of interesting instruments (glockenspiel is key to their sound, for goodness sake!) and pull it all off and make it sound so effortless is outstanding. And despite writing songs that have come from some dark places, they emerge triumphant with an infectious fervor to bring joy to the world.
I had very high hopes for this record and as expected, Start Again is wonderful. It’s different to The Constance and shows that Lakes have grown as songwriters, but still contains the elements that drew me in when I first heard them.
Highly recommended. Start with “Talk!” and if you don’t enjoy it, check to see if you have a pulse.