91 Days in Isolation
The Slow Readers Club
Soul conjures mental images of heart-felt blues and rhythm and blues, the performers leaving every feeling on the track for the world to hear. New Wave implies a certain amount emotional space, the artists keeping feelings inside and more under control. The Slow Readers Club’s 91 Days in Isolation brilliantly bridges those two styles. The band welds soul to New Wave, crafting something 80s-sounding that has the intensity of a great 1950s 45 side.
The emotional depth is impressive because The Slow Readers Club, as the album title implies,made the record in quarantine, with every band member working separately at home, presumably without the relentless ping of Slack notifications and Zoom meetings which defines most contemporary white collar work-from-home experiences. The Manchester band delivers an album that taps into a rawness enveloped by polished production. Singer Aaron Starkie walks a thin tightrope between coldness and over-emoting, singing with honesty and impact, but also the right amount of restraint.
“The Greatest Escape” shows off how well the band keeps themselves in balance. The song opens with a keyboard-y guitar riff or a guitar-y keyboard riff, a simple, almost drum-machine like beat providing the song with its pace. Starkie comes in, not dramatically, but sincerely. There’s a New Order vibe to the music, and Starkie’s voice certainly fits into that style, but he also has a vulnerable, haunting quality, and while it’s hyperbolic to say that in a different time and place, Starkie might have been a great blues or country artist, there’s a straight-forwardness to the performance that works beautifully against the music’s more synthetic aspects.
“Wanted Much More” is mid-tempo with a melancholy melody. Between the keyboards and drums, you can easily picture the song in an 80s movie montage. But as the song progresses, the groove loosens up, becoming more humanized. You can hear an actual drummer, and not a loop. And the music begins to swing in a way synth programming only dreams of. As Starkie hits the chorus, “You wanted much more / But you failed to ask / You wanted much more / Living in the past,” there’s a sadness that’s lifted by the music, almost like it’s trying to cheer him up. 91 Days in Isolation’s depth is striking. The songs and performances are solid, but Starkie’s vocals make this something special. He’s emotive, without being mopey, but detached without appearing checked out. And as well-balanced as those performances are, they never feel calculated or deliberate. The end result is a band that enjoys a good synth riff, but that’s also willing to expose themselves to their audience. Their electronic influences aren’t armor so much as they’re a frame showing off a lovely picture.
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