A chime of guitars and a crash of percussion signals the beginning of Strange Hymns and an exciting new era for Neon Waltz; an album defined by starry-eyed optimism and fearless ambition. Kicking off at a galloping pace with ‘Sundial’, the band’s long-awaited debut record lives up to all expectations and more; with its rousing chords and disarming melodies, the six-piece deliver ten sublime tracks that delve into your subconscious and steal your heart and mind with seductive charm and understated beauty.
While Strange Hymns has been a long time coming for the band’s ever-growing fanbase, it has certainly been worth the wait. After bursting onto the scene in 2014 with some promising early demos, the band were very quickly hailed as one of Scotland’s most exciting young prospects, attracting interest from all corners of the industry with their anthemic brand of sweeping indie-rock. However, resisting the urge to jump on the initial hype and rush release an album, the outfit have spent an admirable amount of time honing their craft and creating a signature sound that is as warmly familiar as it is refreshingly distinctive.
They may wear their influences on their sleeves but they manage to do so while sounding entirely unique; Jordan Shearer’s angelic vocals drift over a tidal swell of drums and jangly guitars; classic song structures transform into dreamy, swirling compositions while the warm organ lines provided by Liam Whittles elevate the band beyond the tropes of standard indie rock and depict a group that are ready to take on the world.
Hailing from one of the most remote parts in northern Scotland, the band’s sound is rooted in Caithness. Swelling with atmosphere, each track evokes a powerful sense of place; as if to transport us to the romantic expanses of the north with every euphoric splash of percussion, swirling melody and delicate harmony. On the life-affirming ‘Dreamers’, an inspirational call-to-arms which ignites the record, Jordan Shearer sings with utmost sincerity “You should do what you love while you can” over a rumbling bassline and exultant blend of instruments. This is a band who know their way around a hook and their eyes are set firmly on the big stages.
Refreshingly, they conjure these epic soundscapes without having to overindulge. Each track is intricately crafted with enough light and shade to allow the listener to delve in and immerse themselves; Neon Waltz prefer to charm listeners with subtle flourishes and heart-swelling arrangements instead of throwing out bloated indie rock fanfare like many of their contemporaries. ‘Perfect Frame’ is an absolute triumph; full of crashing drums and sporadic crescendos, it builds to a joyous and cathartic finale. Meanwhile, breakthrough track ‘Bare Wood Aisles’ is every bit as effective as it was three years ago thanks to a glorious organ line and wonderful vocal harmonies.
‘You & Me’ and ‘Sombre Fayre’ allow for a change of pace but without bringing the mood down too far. Over an insistent bassline, the latter features a vulnerable performance from Shearer who reflects on the past; the ‘winter frost’ set alight by a fiery defiance as the track gradually comes to life.
Two of the album’s finest tracks follow in the euphoric ‘Bring Me To Light’ and ‘Heavy Heartless’. The first holds a beat-quickening pulse to create an uplifting slice of dream pop; driving forwards at its own momentum, the strongly evocative track is ignited by a rare guitar solo alongside some sparkling synth work. What follows is perhaps one of the most emotionally rousing moments on the album in ‘Heavy Heartless’. “Nothing’s OK/I’m going through a phase/Heavy heartless” Shearer exclaims over a colossal chorus and thunderous key change. It’s an introspective moment which delves into the band’s sensitive side; all the while staying true to their knack for massive soundscapes and heart-swelling melodies.
The sunny ‘Folklore’ and poignant ‘Veiled Clock’ sees Strange Hymns out in impressive style; the result being a deeply stirring and enriching debut album from the six-piece. Many of these tracks will be familiar to their long-term fans, but when placed together like this they are given room to breathe and stand out. Brimming with passion, ambition, grin-inducing charm and hooks aplenty, Strange Hymns is sure to mark the beginning of an exciting new time for Neon Waltz; a band destined to fulfil their massive potential.