Sunday, 14 January 2018

Album: The Academic - Tales From The Backseat

The Academic - Tales From The Backseat

Info: For the four members of The Academic, one thing was clear: they were always going to make music. From their very first gig - an underage school disco where they performed a shoddy MGMT cover with a nerve-wracked Craig on lead-guitar - to their appearance on Battle of the Bands when they came a resounding last, these four Irish Midlanders were resolute in their determination to share their music.

"Our songs are stories about everything from relationships, to nightlife, to a dissatisfaction with the 'what' and 'where', and a longing for bigger and better things," explains Matt. "I think what is interesting about our songs is that they give the world a glimpse of what adolescent life is like in small town Ireland." Their songs chronicle the relief of pitch-black teenage winters finally giving way to the adult bright lights beyond their native Mullingar flatlands. But as their lyrics hint, with freedom comes newfound anxieties. In their words: "It’s about recognising that life can’t be all fun and games forever, but that it’s still okay to have a good time."

The first big Irish album release of 2018 came this weekend courtesy of indie-pop rockers The Academic and their debut album Tales From The BackseatI recall seeing the four-piece live in October 2015, not knowing what to expect as at the time I'd only heard single 'Different', but hands up I probably had that suspicion that sometimes goes with the territory of young bands having a relatively large following at such an early stage. You wonder how much is hype and how much is a big PR push behind some acts, a default position I used to hold often but thankfully I'm a bit less cynical nowadays. During and after that sold out main stage performance from the Mullingar quartet in Whelan's I got it, I got what made them stand out. It was an incredible live performance and one of the best shows I saw that year, easily a top 5. 

From that point on they would play multiple tours with sold out shows across the UK, Europe and North America and it was quite amazing to watch it unfold. Now we have their debut LP to put side by side with that progression. Starting with 'Permanent Vacation' you can instantly grasp that pop-rock sound and a youthful appeal, the track grows on you very quickly after a couple of listens and has all it's anthemic moments carefully placed for maximum effect.

The very successful single 'Bear Claws' comes up next, with over 1.7m streams on Spotify to date, it encapsulates the naive teenage romanticism of first loves and heartbreaks, trying to make sense of the whirl of fond memories and subsequent painful parting. 'Different' still stands the test of time 2 years on, there's an endearing emotive appeal to the vocals and lyrics, proceedings are kept simple, however, it was certainly a very early piece of evidence of what the band are capable of.

'Bite My Tongue' has a pop-edged The Strokes feel about it, and like so many of The Academic's songs there is a real rousing energy to the chorus, it's a snappy sing-a-long slice of indie-pop. We can all relate to this song title, with trepidition, a night hanging in the balance, 'Fake ID' is a dancefloor filler, which is appropriate, with our protagonist losing out with his roll of the dice and faced with a solitary wander home through town. At this point you really have caught on to the diary mode of Tales From The Backseat, how it's a wry recollection of ups and downs and what, at the time, seemed more tribulation than trial. 

Another single springs forth in the form of 'Northern Boy', this is the ultimate anthem song on the album out of the ten, the breaks and rises compliment each other perfectly as the track reaches its penultimate forlorn finale. The second last track on the album, 'Why Can't We Be Friends?' is comfortably my favourite on the album, I'm loving that dark 80's guitar intro, and the first time I heard it it struck me that this track represents the direction where I personally would like to see The Academic go in. The album closes with the balladry of 'Girlfriend', it's an unashamed pop tune, but encapsulates the entire theme of this collection of songs, and as we've seen previously, one thing The Academic do well is straight-up nostalgia.

As a whole package Tales From The Backseat ticks so many of the right boxes for a debut release, it's clear the band had a vision when writing these songs, that they would be connected in storyline form. In some ways this reminds me very much of an early Beatles record such as Introducing or With the Beatles, not musically mind, but just in terms of concept, although those Beatles LP's were littered with covers. It recalls that period of the Fab Fours discography in the sense that youthful abandon and innocence is celebrated, and is something their audience can directly connect with. 

The big challenge for The Academic now is that they won't be able to repeat this formula without accusations of labouring creatively. I don't think this is a concern however, as we do see windows into where they are veering toward next, and the most important thing right now is that, after over two years of incessant touring and recording, they sit back with satisfaction on what is an accomplished debut album in Tales From The Backseat.

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