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Slow Club explores romance on 'Complete Surrender'

Moshi Moshi Records

By Brian Burlage, Daily Arts Writer
Published July 14, 2014

Five years ago, Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor – the British twee-folk duo called Slow Club – explored the myths of young romance and used their own love for each other to chart the course. Their debut album Yeah So exuded a jangly, sprightly air while unveiling the gravity and the heaviness of romantic vulnerability. Up-tempo percussion buoys the hooky bass lines and open acoustic chords as Watson and Taylor banter and bicker over faults, misunderstandings, silences and doubts, many of which are their own.

In their sophomore album Paradise the duo carries their turbulent, yet surprisingly charming love affairs even further: entertaining thoughts about life after separation, about drifting alone through nature and finally having the freedom to admire the things that love – and being in love – sometimes eclipses. The album’s diversified and expanded sound emphasizes the symbolic pulling apart of two lovers.

In a sense, Slow Club’s first two albums form the first and second parts of a romantic trilogy. As the third installment, Complete Surrender rounds off the landscape’s fraying edges and reveals the redemptive joy of love in reunification. Watson and Taylor discard everything excessive, opting instead for sonic plainness and paucity. It’s easy to envision two tethered lovers, wearied but determined, sitting down face to face to discuss only the important things – topics that are primarily addressed on the album. Because of the barebones honesty and attention to detail, even in spite of its drawn-back instrumentation, Complete Surrender feels more heartfelt and perhaps more riotous than its predecessors.

In an April interview with Drowned in Sound, Taylor described the band’s directness in crafting the album, describing how they wanted “To make it beautiful, and as nice as every sound can be. There’s a lot less going on instrumentally, nowhere near as much stuff on it.” Though a few songs – “The Queen’s Nose” and “The Pieces” in particular – stray from the aim of simplicity, for the most part each sound and vocal inhabits a space that is intentionally wrought, and the songs build in layers to convey the narrative tension and fragility that is so characteristic of the band’s draw.

The album’s blissful opener “Tears of Joy” probes indecision. Watson’s tenor breezes along smoothly while Taylor backs with the vowel sounds of her own impressive range. Faded guitar chords pop in the distance. A swirl of keyboard tones lollygags with reverb. The bass-driven melody gives the song its immediate appeal – plainly retro though it may seem – and also its subtle sexuality. “And you needed a doorway/And you needed to see/What happens when you give yourself back to me,” Watson sings. The song captures the imagined lovers’ conversation in a moment of insight: in wanting to be wanted, one lover will risk the indignity and embarrassment of complete surrender to the other. The character simultaneously feigns interest and disinterest, moving candidly between distance and intimacy. This repeated protracting/retracting creates the song’s ever-so-slight tease.

The title track also boasts emotive gusto. Once more, a heavy bass line propels the track into a jubilant groove while Taylor sings proudly of shame: “I was paralyzed/Behind the camouflage/And the naked.” The song’s arrangement intersects a disco-inspired complexity with the nakedness of R&B pleading. Certain sounds and notes feel askew, but, when given the context of the narrator’s personal dichotomy, actually work better as they are.

However, despite the strength of some of its songs, Complete Surrender as a unit is rather weak. It suffers from the same cliché that certain indie bands, when confronted by great directional space and an opportunity to evolve musically, utilize to appeal to a larger audience, allowing them room to also juggle their core values. Complete Surrender makes the mistake of dealing in generalities when its most pervading theme, romance, is so nuanced and personal. Slow Club has aimed for universality with this album by stripping surplus sound and cutesy vocalism, but what they achieve instead is a kind of artificiality. Watson and Taylor want to reveal new romantic depths. They certainly want to expose the undercurrent beneath relationships. But they stop together at the surface of their exploration, and whether by comfort or cowardice, they refrain from really delving into the deep milieu, the ominous majesty of darker emotion, the stuff of love that every person fears and admires. Complete Surrender doesn’t fully deliver on its promise because it simply leaves too much to be uncovered.