The Slow Readers Club follow up Spring's Top 10 album The Joy Of The Return with the eight track 91 Days In Isolation, written during lockdown and recorded as soon as it was possible to get back together in the studio. Featuring singles Yet Again and Two Minutes Hate, it's a much more direct yet nuanced record than its predecessor whilst maintaining the anthemic qualities that have won them so many new fans over the past few years.
Rewind back to December 2018 and The Slow Readers Club announced at their triumphant sold out months in advance Manchester Apollo headline that they were giving up their day jobs to focus on being full-time musicians. For a band three albums in and a long way out of their twenties, it was a brave move and one that looked like it was going to pay off as they spent 2019 alternating between extensive touring and recording The Joy Of The Return. Released as lockdown started it sailed into the Top Ten, seemingly justifying their move. Then tour dates got moved for the first time and their ability to meet up to rehearse, write and record curtailed. They got inventive, started sharing ideas via a WhatsApp group, whether it be their series of Lockdown videos where they started a trend that the likes of Blossoms picked up on or, more crucially, refining the ideas they were kicking around into the eight songs that make up this record. As soon as they were able to they got back into the their spiritual home of Edwin Street Studios in Bury and almost in secret from their adoring fanbase and free from record company pressure, they committed those songs to tape.
Barricades announces itself and 91 Days In Isolation with a punch harder than we've seen from The Slow Readers Club before and this beefed-up version of the band makes its presence felt across the whole of the eight songs whilst allowing them to create their most varied record since Cavalcade. It provides a contrast. On one side there's the robust drumming and guitars that accompany Aaron's perusal of the mess that we find ourselves in as a country, more divided than ever before, with "he who controls the past writes the future" perfectly describing the way agendas rule the way people think and the increasingly frantic conclusion to the song that feels like Aaron's, and the listeners', head is building to an explosion. On the other side, there's soaring rise of the chorus that will delight those that have been carried along on the Readers' seemingly unstoppable momentum.
Everything I Own feels like a band casting off shackles, exploring areas of sound adjacent to the ones they've inhabited previously, pushing themselves without alienating their audience. There's the warm, airy vocal in the verses, short instrumental sections that appear where normally the song would build to an inevitable rousing chorus. Yet here that chorus never comes and isn't missed. It feels liberating in mood.
The lead single Yet Again will be familiar to many. The song makes clever use of repetition throughout to hammer home its message, exploring sonic territory that's both new for the band but which still retains their instantly recognisable and addictive sound. And the underlying feeling listening to it is that they've found space to breath - it's not light touch by any stretch of the imagination but it's got a freshness and vitality that comes from not poring over every minute detail. Lyrically it starts in a dark place with talk of self-destruction, refusal to listen and getting stuck in the past, but turns into optimism of emancipation, chasing shadows from the mind. In that respect it very much still gets to the essence of The Slow Readers Club's appeal.
Lost Summer slows the pace right down and showcases a tender side to The Slow Readers Club that hasn't been since the days of Don't Mind. There's a soft tenderness to the music and a vocal that allows the emotional depth to Aaron's voice, often lost in the bravado of a big chorus, to really shine through. Lyrically it urges the song's subject to free herself from the situation she finds herself in - "cast off the heavy weight darling, your back is breaking." It'll surprise and delight many more recent converts and be a welcome throwback for the longer-term fans.
The Greatest Escape has the album's most earworm riff and feels like it would fit comfortably on The Joy Of The Return and its predecessor Build A Tower although like much of this album we get the sense that they're making more judicious use of the accelerator pedal to create a record that's a more all-encompassing polaroid of the band's creative processes than we've seen previously. It's another song about breaking free of shackles, this time imposed by society rather than individual circumstances.
Wanted Much More has a much more dramatic feel to it, synths underpinning the track and taking the lead at points particularly in the chorus which is more understated than the section that follows it when Aaron and Kurt's vocals come together. It still has some of the birth marks of the creative process on it, and is all the better for that, eschewing the traditional verse-big chorus-verse-big chorus-break-big chorus structure for something that crams much more into its three and a half minutes.
Two Minutes Hate takes the theme of 1984 and relates it to the hateful echo chambers that social media of our time has become. The song is a very prescient observation about the way people thrive off creating chaos and division and the way people feel like they have to be drawn into it to defend their point of view - and then conversely become part of the problem. Musically and lyrically with its chorus line - "I start to crave chaos, unleash this rage in us, grand demonstration, two minutes hate and I start to crave chaos, unleash this rage in us, wheels set in motion, a constant" - it is further proof of the approach that The Slow Readers Club have taken with the 91 Days In Isolation album. It's fresh, invigorated and laid down early in its life to ensure those echoes of moment of creation can still be heard. Ironically it has seen them gather the Spotify playlisting that had previously eluded them.
Like I Wanted To finishes the album with a slowed-down heartfelt reflection that starts with just keyboards and builds slowly with dramatic effect then drops back down and builds again - the opening line "never got the words out like I wanted to..." sets the tone for the rest of the track. The last minute and a half feels like the walls falling down, the taut threads that held the first half together snapping, Aaron's vocals fighting to be heard through the chaos around it before it drops back to haunting strings that usher the record out.
91 Days In Isolation is a real triumph. Far more than being an appendix to The Joy Of The Return, it's a superior record in many ways. It feels like the pressure of writing songs that will get played on daytime radio and Spotify playlists has been lifted (and ironically they've achieved more of both with the two singles so far) and they sound more adventurous and varied across the eight tracks than they have since their truly independent breakthrough album Cavalcade. Isolation might not have been kind financially to them, but creatively it feels like it's fueled a rebirth.
The Slow Readers Club have also announced their rescheduled tour dates : Sheffield Foundry (March 17), Edinburgh Liquid Rooms (18), Gateshead Sage 2 (19), Leeds Beckett University (20), Warrington Parr Hall (21), London Electric Ballroom (23), Nottingham Rock City (24), Cardiff The Globe (25), Bristol Thekla (26), Birmingham O2 Academy (27), Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms (29), Brighton Chalk (30), Cambridge Junction (31), Blackburn King George's Hall (April 1), Liverpool O2 Academy (2), Amsterdam Bitterzoet (10), Antwerp Trix Hall (11), Cologne Luxor (12), Hamburg Knust (13), Oslo John Dee (15), Stockholm Nalen (16), Copenhagen Vega (17), Warsaw Stodola (19), Berlin Frannz Club (20), Prague Cafe V Lese (21), Budapest H38 (22), Zagreb Culture Factory (23), Milan Biko (24), Zurich Komplex Club (26), Montlucon Le Guingois (27) and Paris Supersonic (28).
The album 91 Days In Isolation is out Friday (October 23) and can be preordered here.