In the months leading up to the release of Temples’ debut album Sun Structures, the band posted a series of YouTube videos on their Facebook page in order to share their musical inspirations. These ranged from the well-known (Pink Floyd) to the more esoteric (Franco Falsini), revealing that band members definitely knew their musical history.
Over the last three years, Temples has released a series of 18 mixtapes called “Hieroglyphics,” perhaps another attempt to indicate just where they are in their musical progression. “You don’t know who you are / when you’re living inside of a replica,” sings singer/guitarist James Bagshaw in “In My Pocket,” one of the songs from the band’s latest release, Volcano. While Temples’ detractors could lobby this as a complaint against them, not only has the British, neo-psychedelic group firmly established their own style, it’s a style whose charms are impossible to resist.
Volcano is overflowing with lyrics that are evocative and often alluringly nonsensical. We’re invited to “land upon the parallelogram” (“Certainty”), “take a look with our eyes closed open” (“Oh! The Saviour”) and think about things that are “strange in familiar ways” (“Celebration”). The alliteration flows from Bagshaw’s mouth like golden honey, through eyes that are both “arid” and “married,” to this clever verse in “Mystery of Pop”: “And if we plea / and if you please / we can invite each other to the parting of the seas.”
Opening track “Certainty” features all of the things that made Sun Structures such a standout in 2014. It opens with booming drums and a retro keyboard melody that is positively giddy in its exuberance and will also remain firmly lodged in one’s head for hours on end.
For the next few tracks, however, things are somewhat less kaleidoscopically idiosyncratic than they were on the band’s debut. The Sgt. Pepper-esque whimsy in the chorus of “All Join In” is certainly beguiling, as are the harpsichord and flute that open “I Wanna Be Your Mirror,” but “Oh! The Saviour,” despite its catchy melody, feels like a bit of a letdown. Still, the band pulls out many delights from its considerable bag of tricks: delayed choruses, multiple bridges, vocal flourishes and unexpected endings and fadeouts. There are a lot of heavy bass riffs to ground the often piercing synths and guitar melodies.
Things pick up enormously with “Born into the Sunset,” a song whose core melody doesn’t rely on vocals for its power and eventually leads to an impeccable bridge. The couplet “You lay on the surface and breathe / and you feel the eruption of free” conjures a remarkable synesthesia.
Volcano’s high point is the melancholy “How Would You Like To Go?” with its cavernous keyboards and repetitive, minimalist vocals. The chord progression in the chorus is simply perfection, reminiscent of The Beatles at their Abbey Road best. The bouncy bass melody and hooky chorus of “Open Air” provide a nice counterpoint, one that’s followed by the poetic riddles of the lovely “In My Pocket”: “I was dropped onto my head once as a child / twice as a man / three times as a cloud.”
“Mystery of Pop” is the rare Temples song that references something listeners can firmly put their finger on. In this case, it’s the elusive nature of music. It even mentions the Thin White Duke: “Most want to know / that they’ve listened to the Best of Bowie / and that’s the way that pop must go.” And while the title of “Roman God-Like Man” sounds like a mouthful, it also has a fantastic melody, fetching vocals and crisp drumming.
The album’s closer is the self-reflexive and buoyant “Strange or Be Forgotten.” “Abstain from the passing fashion” might be a suggestion or a statement of purpose, but either way, it’s a wonderful way to end an album, encouraging the listener to start listening to Volcano again right then and there.
Volcano was released on March 3 by Fat Possum Records.
Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.