From the ill-fated (Your Twenties) to the inexplicably neglected (Olugbenga), offshoot endeavours from the independent members of Joseph Mount’s almost excessively successful gawky electropop outfit Metronomy haven’t exactly led a charmed existence thus far. Though that may all be about to change as here appears upon your horizons Urban Heat Island – the début full-length from Night Works, a project conceived by onetime Metronomy torchbearer and indeed Your Twenties’ lead vocalist since, Gabriel Stebbing. Last seen strutting some flamboyant stuff in the aisles of the Royal Albert Hall some seventeen months ago, this newfound moonlit path traces certain footsteps once trodden on Nights Out, and does so more attentively than any of the artistic undertakings aforesaid. As such, the skew-whiff proto-punk of Armajaro could quite conceivably have come from the sessions to have moulded that particular record though to so concertedly forge comparisons is to discredit Stebbing, and disregard Urban Heat Island as a drifting also-ran when conversely, if perhaps only sporadically, it should be celebrated as an eminent 21st century British pop record.
Whether that be during the soft rock simmer of opener Boys Born in Confident Times which recalls Damon Gough’s understatedly sublime About A Boy soundtrack perched atop an angular, po-mo Design Museum coffee table or the groovy Long Forgotten Boy, which serves as a pretty transparent fourth gear rerun of Back On The Motorway, there are pulsating recordings within. The buoyant eccentricity of Lifeline – equal parts Clor and urbanely candied synthpop – and the languid funk dribble of The Eveningtime, which eases into itself as it progresses and derives an inspirited gusto from its vinous lyrics adroitly drizzled over off-kilt time signatures, both intoxicate to similarly potent effect. It’s on the latter that Stebbing adopts a more composed take on Jonathan Higgs’ idiosyncratic, and ever erudite chirp and he later returns to this particular vocal tone – albeit to a less effective extent – on Arp. Akin to a worryingly scatty redux of Koji Kondo’s legendary Ocarina of Time soundtrack, it’s one of a clutch of subpar selections. To this section of the record so too belong the cod reggae-cum-limp daytime TV sax noodling of Nathaniel, and the disorderly chaos of Riches. That it’s down in the tracklisting as Riches (Vocal Dub) intimates that another version may exist somewhere or other – a perhaps preferable edit.
Though as heat can be known so to do both in tropical and downtown environs, there’s a foggy confusion momentarily creeping in on the action. It’s to be forgiven, and indeed it is after just the one airing of the album’s shortest track. I Tried So Hard also just so happens to be its centrepiece and although immediately unassuming, it’s that which keeps longest in the memory. A neo-classical tinker coiled about a louche bass line and gripping, Miami Vice-like synths, Stebbing recurrently contends: “I tried so hard not to lose you/ I tried so hard not to care.” It’s an amorous quandary which many of us will have found ourselves profoundly holed up in – whether playing it hard to get, or reciting some cruel to be kind cliché – and one to engender an instant affection.
Whether or not people will find it hard not to care about Night Works remains to be seen, heard, and so forth though it’d be dispiriting were you to let Urban Heat Island slip away as you did Your Twenties – both the age bracket in most cases, though more pertinently the band in this instance.
Released: March 4th, 2013 [Republic Of Music]