Release Date: Jul 29, 2016
Record label: Fuller Beans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
What makes Viola Beach’s self-titled debut, released three months after the band and their manager died in a car crash while touring in Stockholm, especially tragic is just how much potential they show as a sunny indie pop band seemingly on the rise. Viola Beach is not a perfect record, but its sweetness and optimism make the somber realities surrounding its release even more difficult to swallow. Clocking in at nine tracks, Viola Beach features the band’s two previous singles, “Boys That Sing” and “Swings & Waterslides”, along with a handful of unheard material that was likely slated for inclusion on an EP this year.
The posthumous debut album from British indie rock quartet Viola Beach is a harsh reminder of the caprices of fate. With only a few singles under their belts -- including one in heavy rotation on BBC Radio 1 -- and an appearance at SXSW on the horizon, their futures were cut short in an instant. On February 13, 2016, the band -- Kris Leonard (guitar/vocals), Jack Dakin (drums), River Reeves (guitar), and Tomas Lowe (bass) -- and manager Craig Tarry were killed in Sodertalje, Sweden when their car plunged off a bridge.
Releasing a debut album five months after the tragic death of a band is a touching tribute to work that couldn’t be completed. Encouraging reviews of said release is a ballsy test of media/artist relations. Viola Beach’s debut album—hastily compiled of studio recordings and live sessions—poses an interesting question when it comes to musical critique.
All albums come with baggage, but the debut - and presumably only - LP from Warrington’s Viola Beach comes with more than most. Fuck, I wish we didn’t have to even mention it. I wish we were reviewing this record as we would any hotly-tipped, bright-eyed young indie band. But art cannot exist outside of context, and the context here is, well, awful.
Five months ago, all four members of Viola Beach were killed when their car plunged into a canal in Sweden. Since then, Coldplay have paid tribute to the band, performing one of their songs at Glastonbury, hinting at what the future might have held. Certainly the Warrington group’s first and only album reveals they were tailor-made for festivals. Pitched somewhere between Arctic Monkeys and the Kooks, Viola Beach is impish and effervescent, albeit short on qualities particular to the band.
The old maxim goes that you have your whole life to write a debut album and six months to come up with a second one, but for Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe and Jack Dakin, that simply wasn’t long enough. Viola Beach’s lives – and that of their manager Craig Tarry – were cut tragically short before they could reach that first milestone. And while this posthumous patchwork of recordings, many of which were destined for a future EP, demanded a release and deserves to be celebrated, it’s tempered by the knowledge that this band were barely even getting started.