The debut EP from Savage Mansion, led by Craig Angus (formerly of Poor Things) and members of fellow Glasgow band, Catholic Action, is a wistful slice of indie rock in the tradition of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star.
Released appropriately at the start of autumn, the EP is brushed by the dying but lovely leaves of schoolyard nostalgia, like pages from a diary.
Fuzzy guitars, bouncy drums and catchy basslines give each song a garage rock feel, and Angus’ coolly delivered, conversational vocals lend to the songs a winning, Mac DeMarco balance of chilled out reflection and intimate confession.
The EP is tinged with that sense of quarter-life crisis (“everything I do/I’m a nervous wreck/I’m waiting on a sign”), where one retreats into the pastel-hazed land of childhood to seek meaning in a world that’s grown increasingly complicated, and Savage Mansion’s effortless pop aesthetic readily suits this exploration.
Opening track ‘Trouble in Paradise’ hints at the difficulty of returning to your hometown as an adult: “no more comfort in this town/my old friends they’re not around”; it’s this realisation of isolation, of things moving on irrevocably, which lends a melancholy tone to the EP.
On ‘Trouble in Paradise’, Angus name drops The Velvet Underground and Scott Walker as favourite musicians once listened to in the comfort of his teenage bedroom, and certainly there’s something of Lou Reed in Angus’ slightly husky and restrained yet no less powerful delivery, as well as a hint of the ballad-like pop music of early Walker throughout the EP.
‘Elwood’ is a groovier number, which starts confidently with a jangly, syncopated rhythm and slips between the slower pre-chorus, rolling yet understated guitar solo and this central cadence, its catchy jaggedness complimenting the song’s address to and indeed dismissal of a former friend/classmate, whose grownup life is a perpetual spectacle of trouble: “we said hello at the supermarket last year/and I hope it is the last time”.
Lead single, ‘Bring Down the City Hall’ is appropriately accompanied with a nostalgic Super 8 style video, where footage slips between clips of the band playing casually and scenes of countryside and town which are often in movement (seen from a plane or bicycle), suggesting the struggle to pin things down in memory.
‘Bring Down the City Hall’ is an existential reflection on past and present, trying to make sense of change in the context of the event that opens the song: “my old nemesis approached me and apologised for/kicking me in the ass in 2005”.
Angus negotiates the implications of this apology by exploring various childhood memories from the perspective of adulthood: “I was younger then, so dissatisfied/and I hoped I’d be better, I really tried”; yet this mature perception of his younger self doesn’t bring enlightenment or change in the present.
As the 2005 reference makes clear, this is a song about millennial melancholy; although Angus makes no direct reference to collective experience, we can read its expression of twenty-something stasis and frustration (“the clock ticks but time stands still/I shave my face but time stands still”) as partly the post-recession sense of being letdown by the world, the generational burden of useless degrees and dead-end jobs.
Still, there’s a kind of roguish joy to be found amidst this despondency.
Musically, the song has a playful, light and almost surf rock touch, structured around clean guitars, steady drums and a rising and falling bass riff which suits the song’s bittersweet mood.
It sums up well an EP which perfectly combines the Belle & Sebastian legacy of storytelling pop with a fuzzy brand of catchy indie rock, led by the lyrical charisma of Angus, whose doleful yet endearing vocals leave us with an impression of whimsical yet addictive intensity.
Words: Maria Sledmere