It’s nu-folk on Williams’ second long-player, but not as you know it.
Martin Aston 2012
Given the maximal dubstep glitch-witch digi-rap chillwave currently dominating the blogsphere, Tom Williams & The Boat sounds shockingly brave in its old-fashioned values. Yet Moshi Moshi, of all labels, are releasing Teenage Blood, which suggests that either the label imagines they have a potential Mumford & Sons level of success on its hands, or fashion is turning to the virtue of guitar jangle, sawing violins and an overall rock-roots grit in thrall to cult Australian icons The Triffids (and, to a lesser extent, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers).
That said, a band named The Heartbreakers flutters the heart more than The Boat, so Williams has his work cut out convincing anyone Kent is the new Brooklyn. And it’s been a while since the words "shoemaker" and "grandma" appeared in a modern song, together or apart, as they do in Little Bit in Me, a strident slice of family-based folklore that showcases Williams’ strengths.
Narratives – a series of doomed love affairs, according to Williams – dictate the form of Teenage Blood, as the music closely traces the words. Mirroring its title, the mood of his second album is sweltering, hormonal and tense. Take the gripping Trouble With the Truth: a brief guitar figure haunts the room as the momentum rises and falls, indeed like a boat, but with Williams’ vocal equally alternating between a tense calm and a giddy anger, like sea-sickness has set in.
You’d expect a song called Neckbrace (Big Wave) to be equally dramatic, but it simmers instead. A more accurate title is Summer Drive, one of Teenage Blood’s more wistful chapters, and Emily is a satisfying bittersweet finale that sounds like the doomed mood has lifted, and resembles a happy ending.
But it’s doubtful a happy ending awaits Teenage Blood in the blogsphere, as it lacks another palpable anthem beside Trouble With the Truth, and the aura of a truly great occasion; the charts, though, are something else. If followers of the Mumfords, Stornaway and other similarly broad nu-folkies are ready for something stronger, wordier and Triffids-y – and if a forthcoming series of Later gives them a slot, hint hint – Williams might well set sail in some virgin commercial waters.