I first encountered HMLTD via their gothic epic Satan, Luella & I – one of those tracks so masterful that if the band never released another note they would still have made a worthwhile contribution to pop culture. Since then I have been awaiting this album with curiosity and interest. The string of singles, EPs and other assorted bits and bobs they have released in between have oscillated wildly in genre (and occasionally in quality) and I found it hard to imagine what shape their debut might eventually take. Part of me expected them just to combust before that point, particularly in the light of various frothingly hyperbolic press articles (ARE HMLTD THE SAVIOURS OF GUITAR MUSIC??) but here it is and it is, thank goodness, excellent.
While it’s fair to say that my first encounter with them remains their peak it’s surrounded by a rich, genre diverse and satisfying album that actually is an album rather than just a collection of disparate potential singles. Songs sonically dovetail into each other and there are several short vignette tracks that act as musical connectors from one micro genre to another. The biggest surprise for me was how heavily the album leans into pop electronica rather than the glam punk some earlier tracks suggested, however it’s a shift that suits them and they pull it off seamlessly with some of the more contemporary touches being the glue that holds it together.
Singer Henry Spychalski has an extraordinary voice in the great tradition of ‘marmite’ vocalists that is a little Adam Ant, a little Jobriath, a little David Byrne and in many ways it is an album that hangs on this however it’s also stuffed with great sounds, interesting production and solid pop hooks. There is an excessiveness to the album, something that is reflected in their grandiose, filmic and teetering-on-the-right-side-of-ridiculous videos, however it’s not excessive in the way I expected. Rather than the big, swooning, gothic melodrama of Satan, Luella & I it’s a glorious excess of style, genres and ambition.
There are some obvious influences here from the dark Depeche-Mode-esque LOADED to the pure 80s pop of Mikey’s Song but there are less obvious touchstones too like the gloomy, ironic The West is Dead which lyrically has more than a hint of Leonard Cohen’s The Future about it or the Weimar cabaret horror weirdness of Where’s Joanna? which sounds a bit like a sexier, glammier version of The Tiger Lillies.
Sonically diverse but also cohesive, if you like your rock and roll smeared in lipstick and accompanied by synths this is probably one for you.
TITLE: West of Eden
MOOD: Music to badly home-dye your hair to.
TLDR: Big, ballsy, glamorous and gothic.
TOP TRACKS: Satan, Luella & I, Mikey’s Song, Blank Slate, Nobody Stays In Love, LOADED