Appealing solo debut from the former Metronomy man.
Chris Beanland 2013-03-06
The urban heat island effect is a real phenomenon you might remember from geography lessons in Year Nine, explaining why higher temperatures will usually be recorded in cities than rural areas.
And cities, of course, are generally culturally hotter than the surrounding countryside. Gabriel Stebbing, once of Metronomy, is a country lad, and on his first solo album he mixes the pastoral with the not so.
Urban Heat Island boasts tracks which are whimsical, bare and ideally suited to the soundtracking of a sand dunes picnic, like Boys Born in Confident Times – which gently opens proceedings.
If that's a lunchtime song, Nathaniel is a sundowner – a slithery, soulful slick of pop suited to listening to on a car radio parked on the cliff tops at the end of a languorous summer afternoon.
But then Stebbing is very much a country boy, a product of a provincial upbringing in Totnes, Devon. It was here that he met Joseph Mount, alongside whom he had a wild ride in the first incarnation of Metronomy.
Stebbing also did a spell with Your Twenties, an indie act who produced pleasing-enough ditties. But a different, more metropolitan direction seems to be where this thoroughly pleasant chap is heading now, under the Night Works moniker.
The tracks on here that work best are the ones with more prominent beats, that cut a disco groove – like Lifeline, which has a highly hummable synth seam slicing right through its heart. Modern European meanwhile is a grotesquely catchy little number with one foot on the dance floor.
What perhaps lets down an otherwise enjoyable affair is the overt reliance on 1980s trickery at the expense of much that is forward-looking. But within that retro vision there is a fade-to-fuzzy charm all of its own.
Stebbing's little-boy-lost vocals might trouble some listeners, but you get used to them after a while. The only real eyebrow-raising moment is the final minute of Share the Weather, when he breaks into a car-crashy dad-at-a-wedding rap.
Otherwise though, Urban Heat Island is, as Paris Hilton might surmise, hot.