Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore LP can’t help but cast a long shadow over Prehistoric Friends’ (similarly self-titled) debut record.
On second album Bon Iver, Justin Vernon escaped the myth of the man who escapes to a log cabin and writes suitably introspective and haunting music; instead, on his second effort, Vernon embraced a range of diverse styles, most strikingly on ‘Beth/Rest’, which veered towards an appropriation of 80s adult contemporary music tropes with no apparent trace of irony.
Prehistoric Friends is somewhere near this diversion of folk-rock towards the kitsch of 80s synthpop, closer ‘Skeleton Key’ the sparkling ballad that serves as the climax to the record. The feelings-on-sleeve, majestic, sober indie pop of the rest of the album finds a place of rest in ‘Skeleton Key’’s soft pinnacle, Liam Chapman’s tenor sailing brittlely on the top of the instrumentation.
As on Bon Iver, Chapman’s melodies are best when they wander unexpectedly, reminiscent of the deft craftsmanship on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
The record is passionately earnest; fully wallowing in the exaggerated peaks in songs, in the transformation within songs from contained casiotone drum sounds to fully blown cymbal crashes.
The presence of violist Nichola Kerr lends a deep, sombre quality to the tracks that counteracts the boyish tones of Chapman’s voice.
Lyrically, Chapman doesn’t shy away from anything that is too sincere; “I’ll remember the dream” vows Chapman on ‘Bermuda Triangle’, while insisting that “you will find the strength hidden there” on ‘Skeleton Key’.
In an interview with this website, Chapman voiced concerns with drawing the line of what was to be deemed too personal to even share with Kerr; yet Chapman fits into a trend of artists (Drake, How to Dress Well) whose sincerity appears to be a response to postmodern disavowal and ironic disengagement, returning unrestrained feeling into pop.
Words: Tony Boardman