REVIEW: The Slow Readers Club – 91 Days in Isolation

The Slow Readers Club are one of those bands whose records make you wish you were at a gig. Their music is tailor made for the live arena – soaring synths, effects-laden guitars, driven bass and impassioned vocals, perfect for being mirrored back by thousands of fans. There are moments on this new record that transported me to an imagined live setting, leaving me pretending I was pumping my fist in the air as people crowded around me in the packed confines of a venue. It’s all the more galling that being able to attend a gig at the moment looks like an unattainable pipe dream. What’s strange is that far from being birthed in a live setting, this album was dreamed up entirely during the first lockdown earlier this year. Aping The Postal Service’s MO, the members of The Slow Readers Club pieced this record together during isolation, sharing their ideas over the internet. The album’s title is a nod to this.

It’s testament to the band that it feels so cohesive and organic – despite the nature of the record’s gestation, you can’t see the process of its creation in the finished product. It’s a document of a band firing on all cylinders. Anyone familiar with the band’s previous work will know what to expect here, which is not to say that it’s simply re-treading old ground. The Slow Readers Club do have a trademark sound, which they do little to leave behind here, but within that remit this is the most varied of their releases that I can remember. The shifts in density in particular keep things fresh – in some songs the instruments are layered on top of each other, producing a dense but anthemic wall of sound. But elsewhere the approach is more delicate, intricate guitar lines or drum patterns are given the space to breathe, like on ‘Lost Summer’. The attempts to change things up don’t always completely succeed. The piano and vocals approach of album closer ‘Like I Wanted To’ doesn’t really get going until the guitars and synths arrive near the end of the track. But mostly, this is a varied and engaging set.

Opener ‘Barricades’ is classic Slow Readers Club. A state of the nation piece, its verses are full of paranoid, claustrophobic imagery of violence and control. The chorus offers a shift in tone, with Aaron Starkie exhorting listeners to “raise up the barricades” as the music becomes softer, anthemic and more positive.

On ‘Yet Again’ Starkie makes effective use of repetition. Each verse begins with a shifted but repeated phrase, the repetition emphasising the speaker’s frustration with themselves for being stuck on a “path of self-destruction”. Here too there is a shift between verse and chorus, the halting verses lifting off into driven, anthemic choruses and the imagery of self-destruction being replaced by a vow to “hold you till the day I die”.

Throughout, the lyrics stay just the right side of cliched. The songs are peppered with figurative if not outright poetic images that are delivered with impassioned earnestness. On ‘Wanted Much More’ Starkie sings of a “long retreat”, whilst on ‘Two Minutes Hate’ he asks if he should “turn the page”. Whilst the lyrics won’t win prizes for originality, they suit the songs perfectly. As I said earlier, you can imagine them being bellowed back by thousands of fans.

A result of the lockdown in its genesis, the album isn’t really a ‘lockdown album’ in its content. Instead, it’s a buoyant, anthemic comfort blanket of a record. It’s the perfect thing to stick on, turn up loud and allow the listener to tune out of the current state of affairs.

Words by Will Collins

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