Release Date: Jul 21, 2017
Record label: Marathon Artists
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
When South London boys Childhood first came to attention back in 2013, it was almost equally due to their affiliation with then-darlings of the scene Palma Violets as it was for their musicianship. More fool those who wrote the group - now very much centred around singer and chief songwriter Ben Romans-Hopcraft - off as mere second tier players, however: ‘Universal High’ is a fully-realised leap forward into the kind of soul-flecked nostalgia that shows they’ve found their voice, and then some. It is, in all honesty, a better record than anyone could have predicted.
C hildhood's 2014 debut album Lacuna bore the psych-indie-pop, Stone Roses-lite hallmarks of that moment, as shared by artists such as Peace, Swim Deep and Gengahr to name but a few. Fast forward three years and - similarly to Birmingham's Superfood - the Brixton five-piece are less aligned with specific trends, and are instead playfully tapping into old-school pop and retro soul for a free and pleasingly experimental follow-up, recorded in Atlanta. Californian Light - an ode to London, despite the name - boasts breezy beats and nostalgic falsetto of the non-boyband kind from frontman Ben Romans-Hopcraft, while Cameo taps into the euphoric, proggy side of psychedelia that their debut largely eschewed in favour of the introspective side.
Following a few singles and positive exposure from the BBC and The Guardian, London's Childhood emerged in 2014 with their full-length debut, Lacuna. An heir to sounds of the '90s including the Stone Roses and shoegaze, they earned a following for an indie rock that was both dreamy and infectious. Three years later, their follow-up, Universal High, nearly wipes the slate clean, reaching back to earlier influences, namely psychedelic pop, new wave, and -- seemingly out of nowhere for the dance-rockers -- '70s American soul.
Reinventions are the flavour of 2017. Calvin Harris has ditched EDM for disco, Noel Fielding swapped goth attire for nice jumpers and cakes on GBBO, and Jeremy Corbyn proved to be one of the most galvanising politicians in a generation. Now Childhood continue the trend. Their debut, 2014's 'Lacuna', was a shoegaze-infused slice of indie-pop, hinting at something more exploratory.
When Childhood emerged with the evergreen "Blue Velvet" in 2012 they found themselves in exactly that position, but instead of second guessing themselves or playing to the gallery, they wisely followed their own path. Their debut Lacuna, released in the summer of 2014, displayed a very different and singular vision to the one that been bestowed upon them. Lacuna was certainly a record that revelled in the possibilities of guitars, but underpinning it was a love of soul music.
London's Childhood, with one strong contender of an album under their belts (2014's debut, Lacuna), left Brixton in their rearview mirrors and headed west to mine inspiration from the rich vein of funk-pop in the United States. Though you'd posit from from the initial single, "California Light," that the album was recorded in Los Angeles, not in Atlanta with producer Ben H Allen III (Gnarls Barkley, Deerhunter), as the track sways with the sunburst melancholia of great West Coast cinema; American Graffiti comes to mind. This feeling, the sense of finding respite in paradise to escape heartbreak is the through-line of this record.
A few years back, a smoky cloud of British shoegazing, psychedelic-inspired groups floated into the mainstream, drifting into American blogs and music festivals, only to soon be swept away by a stronger gust of wind. Amid this English fog was Childhood, the Nottingham-based band whose 2014 debut Lacuna cast its dreamy pop with heavy-lidded melodies that lacked any distinguishable character. There wasn't much backbone to it either as the group has returned, three years later, and completely abandoned the dazed reverb and fuzzy vocals now that the trend has worn thin.
Second albums being notoriously difficult might be something of a cliché these days, but clichés wouldn't exist if there wasn't an element of truth to them. As such, Childhood's decision to move away from the swirling psychedelia of their debut, towards the sleek, soul-inspired sounds of 'Universal High' is an interesting one. Recorded in Atlanta, Georgia, across the Summer of 2016, the band's new direction owes as much to the location it was recorded, as to the seventies soul from which it takes inspiration.