Tuesday 14 January 2020

October Drift - Forever Whatever

Forever Whatever might describe the wait for October Drift's long-awaited debut album. Years of relentless touring around the UK and Europe and a series of limited edition singles has won them a growing army of fans as one of the most intense and energetic live bands on the circuit. Forever Whatever attempts to distill their live shows onto wax and chronicle the sheer scale of their sonic ambition.

Once upon there was a band called The Darlingtons. They banged their heads against the glass walls and ceilings of the music industry, labelled uncool as they came from the freezer zone of the UK scene that was the South West. They regrouped as October Drift in 2014 and slowly but surely started to chisel away at the barriers in front of them, releasing single after single, delivering some exhilarating live shows and taking off around Europe with Editors. 2019 finally saw them sign to Physical Education Recordings and record Forever Whatever, an album that will have made all those long journeys, sleepness nights and frustrating evenings playing to half-empty rooms all worthwhile. It's a statement of intent, bold and confident yet also modest rather than arrogant despite the stadium-sounding riffs and hooks that run through it.

Losing My Touch sets out their ambition from the start - the first greeting is a wall of feedback that drops into a strident opening verse where Kiran laments "I think I'm losing my touch" as the song builds to a climatic chorus. Lyrics paint vivid pictures as the song progresses declaring "with a southern sunset backdrop, all washed out in the rain" and soars further off into the distance. It's the sound of a band more used to playing stadiums than the venues they frequent without losing the intimacy and connection with the audience. At times it's a fine line, but they stay the right side of it.

Recent single Oh The Silence starts a little more restrained until the chorus kicks in and lifts everything up on a wave of vocals that seem to come from everywhere from right in front of you to off in the far distance. Musically you know they're going to go big when it gets to that chorus but it still leaves you uncertain of just how until they do and just as you think the last minute is going to be wall to wall guitars it drops out and surprises you on first listen but then returns to where you thought it was taking you. It's cleverly done, leaving you on edge even on later listens.

Cherry Red is an old live favourite that's stubbornly refused to be removed from the stage and takes centre stage here in its new clothes, the uplifting chorus takes up on a wave that you see coming from a mile off but still leaves you exhilarated with its power. Across the album October Drift use many of the same methods to give these songs their structure and to impact on the listener, but each and every time it feels like their technique is different which makes it feel like a very consistent record without ever sounding like they're rehashing the same formula like many debut albums fall into the trap of.

Don't Give Me Hope has a yearning sense of optimism that things will work out right in the end once Kiran comes to terms with where he is, declaring "when we kill our confusion, I'll step away, when I see through the illusion that blinds me I'll walk away" just as the guitars come in and take the song away from him for the last minute where drums crash around, guitars squeal and that confusion still reigns.

Just Got Caught is a minute longer than anything else on Forever Whatever and starts with a repetitive drum beat that sets the pulse racing whilst eschewing the drama that paces its way around the songs that have gone before - and the five minutes ten seconds fly past in the blink of an eye as you're immersed in the song without having to succumb to their irresistible big choruses that make their mark across the rest of the album.

Milky Blue is also more reflective and less full-on in its approach, Kiran declaring in the chorus  "your eyes, milky blue eyes.... they put me on my side." It shows October Drift stepping back from their high octane live shows and demonstrating their ability to control the pace and emotional impact of their music.

Cinnamon Girl is another old favourite, one that's set crowds off for many years ago, the big chorus surrounded by a wall of guitars through which Kiran has to fight through to make himself heard. If one of the big hall bands that they've often been compared to brought this out as their new single it'd be heralded as a major return to form, such is the confident assured manner in which October Drift operate with songs like this.

Naked takes the album on a diversion, a stripped-down backing, including subtle string arrangements, leaving Kiran dead centre and allowing us to hear the emotional qualities of his voices more clearly than previously as he reflects on a relationship, contemplating what's left at the end "we're just dead leaves at the bottom of a drained swimming pools and all we know are these four walls, why is the dark so dazzling?" It shows a more fragile tender side to the band and one that they pull off with the same aplomb as they do everything else on here.

The album's title track sees them return to more familiar territory, slowly building into a chorus that picks you up and carries you along under its momentum whilst allowing you to still enjoy the ride without being overwhelmed - they've managed to both retain that energy of their live shows, but scaled it back enough to allow the listener to appreciate their craft listening at home.

The Past was October Drift's set-closer when we first saw them under this name back in 2016 and feels like a fitting way to conclude the album as it takes off and forces you to come with it. It's aged perfectly, evolving as the band's sound has and retaining its place in their affections - and pulls together so many of the strands that run through Forever Whatever in one place.

For a band with such a long history a debut album could be something of an anti-climax, full of difficult choices from a songbook that could probably fill three of four with the knowledge that you only get one shot at your debut, and if that fails then you might not get a second chance. October Drift have chosen well here - a mix of old favourites that anyone who has crossed their paths will have retained and recall and new songs that show that they're still moving forwards artistically. Their ambition in their scale of their sound has been captured yet not allowed to over-dominate proceedings here and it makes Forever Whatever a perfect snapshot of one of the country's hardest-working yet underappreciated bands.

October Drift's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

They tour calling at HMV Taunton (January 24), Bristol Rough Trade (26), Nottingham Rough Trade (27), Kingston Banquet Records (29), Bristol Louisiana (February 7), Birmingham Dead Wax (8), Manchester Yes (10), Leeds Lending Room (11), Newcastle Think Tank (12), Glasgow King Tut's Wah Wah Hut (13), Norwich Waterfront (15), Southampton Heartbreakers (16), Brighton Hope And Ruin (17) and London Old Blue Last (18).

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