Release Date: Mar 3, 2017
Record label: Fat Possum
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
The difference a couple of years can make. Sun Structures, the 2014 debut album by the English band Temples, often took its cues from '60s psychedelic rock while at times brushing shoulders stylistically with contemporaries like The Last Shadow Puppets. Their latest, Volcano, practically sheds the skin of their earlier approach, with the band leaning on their melodic strengths to emerge with a largely new identity that also seems a surprisingly natural fit.
When psych pop four-piece Temples first came to attention at the tail end of 2012 with superlative debut single ‘Shelter Song’, it was as though the perfectly-coiffed quartet had been beamed down from the glam-indebted recent past to bring all the best bits of the 60s and 70s back to er… Kettering. Like a perfect storm of analogue-produced Pink Floyd-isms, ‘Nuggets’-delving psych nerdery and T. Rex sparkle (not least in frontman James Bagshaw - a living, breathing Marc Bolan incarnate), the band’s home-crafted sonic wizardry found a quick home among musos and vintage-delvers alike and catapulted the group onto the main stage quicker than you could say '13th Floor Elevators'.
Three years ago, Temples went from YouTube group to full-fledged studio stars with mellifluous debut album Sun Structures, a pool of acid-washed sound and color deep enough to drown in. Now, England's neo-psychedelic wonder boys are back with sophomore release Volcano, an album that sees them sharper, more polished, and ready to charge ahead into a retro future. From the outset, a strong sense of melody sets Temples apart from other rock groups.
Temples' 2014 debut 'Sun Structures' arrived with sky in its hair and the endorsements of Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr ringing in its ears, putting the Kettering quartet at the forefront of an exciting new wave of British psych. Yet whereas the artists they were most obviously indebted to - think early Bowie and Pink Floyd, Nazz and T. Rex - employed subversive humour and acid-fried absurdity, Temples themselves were masters of surface-level psychedelia: less a state of mind, more a feat of engineering.
Temples' debut record, Sun Structures, presented the band as time-travellers with their pitch-perfect, late 1960s psychedelia. On their sophomore album, Temples trade in time travel for space travel, as the guitar riffs and grooves are replaced with pulsating synth and drum beats. Fans of the first record might miss that '60s tone at first, but repeat listens reveal the Temples we know and love. Volcano breaks away from that first record almost immediately with "Certainty," a song that opens with drums and a low, electric pulse that starts the dystopic groove before giving way to a magical synth lead that's as jaunty as it is whimsical.
With their first album, Sun Structures, Temples tapped into the essence of what makes psychedelic pop so enchanting. The swirling sonic textures filled with chiming guitars and booming basslines, the trippy arrangements and moody melodies...they combined into an aural experience on par with the best psych pop. When it came time to record their second album, Volcano, the band made some changes.
If psychedelic rock seems disconnected from the here and now - too much of a hark back to the seventies, or perhaps out of reach half way round the world in Australia in the form of Tame Impala or Pond - Temples may just be your accessible way in. Signed to Heavenly, a suitable label name for such an awe-inspiring, blissful sound, the quartet released their debut Sun Structures in 2014. Early track 'Shelter Song' made Temples' name, with its twangy sound and call-and-response-type chorus harking back to later era Beatles, and its incessant drive surely inspired by krautrockers Can.
W ith opener Certainty's trilling keyboard pitched halfway between OMD and an ice-cream van chime, Temples' second album sets its stall out early. With the exception of Roman God-Like Man's appropriation of the melody from Pink Floyd's Grantchester Meadows and the howling synths of Bowie's Breaking Glass, there are fewer of its predecessor's gauche fanboy steals; instead the effect is more home-synthesised psychedelia with ecstatic J-pop visuals. Just occasionally, as on Oh the Saviour, the Kettering four-piece leave some of the sprinkles off their confections, revealing a reassuring bar or two of acoustic guitar.
I'm a big fan of Temples. Ever since their breakthrough single 'Shelter Song', they've been one of the bands I've been most passionate about due to their remarkable ability to reinvent songwriting within a genre -- which can be loosely described as neo-psych/prog/pop-rock. You can upgrade production all you want, gain access to new methods and instruments and excellent performers, but at the end of the day, all that matters is how good a song is, and Temples excel in songwriting.
After debut 'Sun Structures' was lavished with critical acclaim, charting in 18 countries and sending Temples on sell-out nationwide tours, it was hard to imagine how they might follow up on this success. Named Rough Trade's Album of the Year, and becoming the biggest selling vinyl album in independent record shops of 2014, the Heavenly quartet had a huge weight on their shoulders ahead of the second album. But on 'Volcano' they really have outdone themselves -- no second album syndrome here -- taking their synth-pop, festival-friendly sound into something more sophisticated, with more depth.
Temples return with their neo-psychedelic follow-up to their neo-psychedelic debut Sun Structures. Some moments strike like Tame Impala lite, others soar and don’t look back. They didn’t sophomore slump with Volcano, they, well, I was going to say sophomore trump like they played a trump card, but I don’t think that’s super useable in 2017.