by Jack Pickles
‘Touch’ is the sophomore release of Toronto five-piece rock outfit July Talk, and the follow-up to their 2012 self-titled debut album.
The band have already garnered considerable attention, partly for the vocal dynamic between lead singers Peter Dreimanus and Leah Fray – a dynamic built on sexual tension and the extreme contrast between their voices, and the ambiguity surrounding their relationship (something the duo happily play on during their live shows).
Of course, they are also backed up by three equally talented musicians, something that tends to be overshadowed by Peter sounding like Louis Armstrong if he joined a hardcore punk band.
If I was to point out one significant issue with July Talk’s self-titled debut, it is that it lacked focus, a common problem with many a band’s first LP as they try and find their own sound in what tends to be the experimental years of their lifespan.
As such, the album jumps between hard rock cuts with a heavy lick of blues swagger, and more melodic alt rock tracks with instrumentals that could have come off an early Kings of Leon record.
However, with ‘Touch’, July Talk seem to have found their sound. A twisted style of garage rock that cribs from the likes of synth pop and disco in unexpected ways, and through finding their sound they have managed to deliver a more evocative album with stronger song writing and more memorable hooks.
From the opening track ‘Picturing Love’, we are taught to anticipate the unexpected, as the mood created by a gentle electric piano groove is swiftly shattered by Peter’s near psychotic growl.
This sets the tone for the entire album, as the band uses the familiar loud/quiet dynamic to maintain a consistent feeling of unease and dread that never quite lets up. If a song starts off in a state of relative calm, we expect that to be fractured by the end.
Due to this, when a song like ‘Strange Habit’ comes on – with its ominous piano melody and whispered vocals – it is even more unexpected when, instead of erupting by the chorus, it blooms into something beautiful, with tender vocals and hopeful strings.
The first thing that struck me about the album is how much the two singers’ voices have improved. Peter frequently pushes his voice to its limits as he goes from near sub-bass lows to vicious, demented roars, while Leah’s sardonic vocal delivery remains on point as she deftly inhabits the characters within the ten tracks this album contains.
Like their first LP, the lyrics on ‘Touch’ tackle themes of lust and sexual repression, doing so through character vignettes where Peter and Leah play off each other perfectly. It also branches out to more socially conscious territory, touching on ideas like our personal body image and it’s relation to mass media on the opening track, as well as blind conformity on ‘Jesus Said So’, the latter of which is dealt with in a heavy handed manner. Granted it is still effective and it gets its message across without being overly cringe inducing.
Sonically, as previously mentioned, ‘Touch’ is predominantly garage rock. The blues swagger that permeated much of the first LP has been toned down and replaced with a greater sense of urgency. Songs tear ahead like a car racing at 100 miles towards a cliff edge.
The whole band sounds much tighter, songs have a stronger sense of rhythm, and the guitar hooks swiftly ear worm their way into your subconscious. Keys, which served as simple ornamentation on their debut, play a more significant role on this album’s sound, something that is apparent from the get-go.
Guitarist Ian Docherty seems to be heavily influenced by Josh Homme’s playing style, with his chunky power chords and fuzzy, tweaked-out lead guitar riffs, but never really rips him off.
Particular kudos should go to the rhythm section of Josh Warburton and Danny Miles, who play a huge role in shaping this album’s sound. Thunderous drum grooves propel the songs along, while the understated bass playing helps anchor the frequently frenetic guitar riffs.
Album highlights include opening track ‘Picturing Love’ for perfectly setting the tone of everything to follow. ‘Now I Know’ melds synth pop with July Talk’s sound in a way that doesn’t come off as trite and actually manages to be one of the LP’s more sinister songs. ‘Lola + Joseph’ is almost like a microcosm of the album surrounding it, with one of the most ear worming guitar riffs and an utterly compelling performance from both vocalists with the sexual tension that builds between them as they roleplay the song’s characters becoming palpable by the end.
For me however, my favourite song after several listens remains the dark horse of the album, ‘Strange Habit’. Listening to it, I got a similar feeling to the first time I heard ‘Polly’ by Nirvana – one of suspense. Much like that song, ‘Strange Habit’ constantly feels like it’s on the verge of exploding but never quite does. It’s hard to describe the exact mood this song creates, all I can say is if you were driving alone through miles of long winding roads at two in the morning, this is one of the songs you’d want on your playlist.
‘Touch’ is basically an ideal sophomore album. July Talk sound more focused, and actually manage to be more diverse with their song writing because of it. This is the sound of a band both finding their niche, and also becoming better musicians and songwriters during it.
‘Touch’ comes highly recommended to anybody who’s a fan of slightly twisted rock music, like Cage the Elephant or – given the vocal dynamic – early Pixies. July Talk are hardly underground anymore, but there is a real sense that they are about to become much bigger, and they are definitely worth following on that journey.