Temples’ debut album Sun Structures unleashed their personal brand of chunky, addictive psych-pop on the world, all performed in 70’s friendly haircuts and equally enamored uniforms. The release was a cognizant nod to their inspirations, but still managed to showcase their own little quirks and techniques, and as a result, the album was clean and inviting like a kaleidoscope, constantly changing its youthful color with a mere flick of a wrist. In the Kettering quartet’s sophomore album Volcano, that youth and color appears less like the main attraction and more like a background component to an edgier, more intriguing aesthetic.
The biggest difference between Sun Structures and Volcano is the increased amount of technical experimentation, as well as the unyielding focus in mastering those experimental flourishes. Not to say that the debut didn’t have its fair share of ambition – so much so critics accused frontman James Bagshaw of placing more effort in achieving that perfect ‘70’s sound rather than create something fresh and modern – but here, it sounds much more innovative, more representative of the band’s mixture of youth and skill. It’s chunky, with hazy walls of sound instead of relying on bright, cookie cutter melodies. It seems that over the years, the quartet figured out how to combine the exhilaration that comes with neo-psychedelia with the focus of the modern age, and the result is, at times, otherworldly and strangely evocative.
Each track tends to follow a highly fantastical and whimsical theme; “Born into the Sunset” has an intro reminiscent of retro animation sounds, offset by background shrieks and euphoric synth, while “How Would You Like to Go” is dark and ethereal, almost like part of an art exhibit where sheets are slowly pulled off the main attraction, yellow beams of light peeking out from underneath them. One small grievance with these tracks, however, is that Temples seem to have a set structure in their compositions, with them all being mostly middle-heavy; their most addictive melody or vocal track is sometimes a feat to reach due to the aforementioned walls of sound, which does tend to come complimentary with the desire to fire every piston in their technical repertoire. “Mystery of Pop” and “Open Air, however, are the outliers, both shimmering, spacey romps from beginning to end.
Opener and supersonic lead single “Certainty” has Bagshaw revisiting his signature elastic croon, the falsetto that erupts after the chorus appearing several more times throughout the album. In fact, Bagshaw is exponentially more transcendental and impassioned in his vocal performance this time around, not to mention versatile, allowing himself to be the starry-eyed dreamer in anthem “Strange or Be Forgotten” as well as the quirky romantic in the playful “In My Pocket.” However, no other track more brilliantly showcases the dual power and soft qualities of his vocals than “I Wanna Be Your Mirror,” where they intertwine seamlessly with the bouncy guitar and scuzzy bassline before dissolving into the flutes and chimes surrounding them.
Volcano matches the unpredictable, bubbling energy of its namesake, with all of the intrigue and none of the paralyzing fear. It’s looser yet somehow more focused, bubbly and playful but with a darker, insanely irresistible ulterior motive, like sunlight hiding behind a dark velvet cloak. Most of all, however, it shows Temples’ ability to grow and mature, as well as more efficiently use the fiery passion and tenacity that comes with youth to their advantage.
photo by Ed Miles