Billed as Scotland’s most northerly band, Neon Waltz hail from John O’Groats, and this sense of remote isolation seems to inform every aspect of their ten-track debut Strange Hymns, for better and for worse.
Strange Hymns opens with Sundial and a crashing wall of noise that instantly evokes a sense of place before bursting into sun soaked Californian pop that seems to strain against its rural environment, suggesting a desire to escape the confines of a small town. I can’t help but be reminded of Idlewild by the vocals, and it seems a promising start.
But by the second track, Dreamers, we seem to be somewhere in late 90s Manchester, with vocals veering between Oasis and The Las, and a dense grandiose sound that all too often veers into the bellicose. It’s not so much influenced by these sounds as imitative of them, and although pleasant enough, there’s nothing much to grab the listener. From here on in, Strange Hymns threatens to sink into rural obscurity, the product of a disconnect between ambition and realisation. But then we hit track six, Sombre Fayre.
In Sombre Fayre, Neon Waltz begin to shine. The first two minutes veer towards gorgeous, with stripped back music and vulnerable vocals from Jordan Shearer, and it’s at this point that the band stop trying to sound like their influences and begin to craft a more distinctive sound. “I can’t go home” Shearer sings in the chorus, conveying the words with a fragility that seems to capture the emotional aftermath of leaving home; the feeling of having outgrown a town, of realising that “home” is a trick of the mind.
This emergent sense of identity continues on into the subsequent track, Bring Me to Light, which is strongly evocative of Scottish winter, a mass of dense melodic rock propelled by Darren Coghill’s drums and ending in a mess of discord. This promise lasts into track eight, Heavy Heartless, before once again the ghosts of 90s Brit Pop kick back in on the closing track, which is reminiscent of Mull Historical Society without any of Colin McIntyre’s lyrical genius.
Recorded mainly in Eastbourne, Strange Hymns is an ambitious debut and is at once infuriating and endearing. Neon Waltz are a band straining against the confines of their geography who are yet to truly find their own identity. Once they’re more confident about who they really are, the music will benefit.
Strange Hymns is released on Friday 18th August on Ignition Records.