I’m a loyal fucker, for my sins, and I’ve been listening to bands with Owen Brinley in for the last ten years.
One of them got by on a premise of homegrown talent, a leavening of their knob-rock riffage by elfin vocals, and approximately two good tunes. The other was Grammatics, and they were ruddy ace most of the time, as would you be if you were English and wrote weird rock songs that sounded like Cursive’s fey and flowery little cousins.
So here’s the new double A-side from Department M, on which Brinley eschews guitars and flings his penchant for moody theatrics ever further into the blacklight. I was sceptical, sure – the thrusting disco rhythms of first cut The Second Prize vamp dangerously close to Muse territory, and no one needs that. It’s saved, though, by a number of factors, Brinley’s voice not least among ‘em, drawling out some deliciously obscure, vaguely threatening nonsense through a fug of Laudanum. It also has a number of searing, lopsided bass breaks, a clattering beat constructed partially from sounds of handguns being cocked, and ends in huge, icy sheets of synth.
Really, though, the brilliance lies in Absentia, which pitches its keys lower and wonkier, its groove less inviting. There’s little opportunity for hip-swinging here, just bitcrushed beats and the clang of metal on metal before the whole thing explodes widescreen, goes end-credits on us with Brinley shivering “I’m breathing out and breathing in” like it’s all he can remind himself to do to stay conscious.