THE PHEROMOANS are tenants of an unruly domain. Over the last 18 years the group have evolved from garage rock primitivists to auteurs of their own curious sound; a frothy brew of loose electronics, refractory rock and humdrum musing. Their songs are mutable, capricious, unreliable narrations, often withholding as much as they reveal. Russell Walker's understated vocal has always been the band's unifying focus, it is wry, unsparing and wilfully honest. Walker's lyrics are an observational tour de force, sometimes droll, yet often tipping over into unlikely pathos. With previous releases on Upset The Rhythm, Convulsive and Alter, 2024 will witness The Pheromoans return with lucky album number 13, entitled 'Wyrd Psearch' (out March 1st on Upset The Rhythm).
UTR160 | LP / Digital | 12 tracks, 40 minutes | Buy
'Wyrd Psearch' was recorded in Lewes throughout 2023. This was undertaken by founding member James Tranmer, his keen instinct for how the band should sound shaping many of the creative decisions. Joined by new guitarist Henry Holmes, the five piece doubled down on a decidedly breezy, melodic approach. Scott Reeve's drumming is ever brisk, whilst Daniel Bolger explores AOR peripheries on keyboard and bass. "Wyrd Psearch finds us on relatively zestful form" affirms Walker "whether it be merrily recalling the Jason Williamson / Tim Lovejoy Covid summit, or mentally bathing in the pleasures of lunch hours spent strapped to a listening post in Borders." With The Pheromoans there is always a familiarity at play, only broken and reassembled, like a bygone sitcom gone rogue in your memory. This contributes to the group's peculiarly British outsider perspective, one that shouts from the sidelines, but never goes unnoticed.
Subjects covered lyrically on 'Wyrd Psearch' include "mid-life crises, male pattern baldness, and thwarted artistic and personal ambitions" according to Walker himself. "Nothing is off limits for scrutiny, even rural arts communities" he concludes. Lead single 'Downtown' swings with chiming guitars and finds Walker mid-breakdown trying to persuade a loved one to accompany him into the town centre to collect controlled medication and wind back the clock to happier times. "I want to keep you in cotton wool until pay day" he confides. 'Cropped to Death' and 'Father Austin' are ruminative and more relaxed in nature, whilst 'Twibbon Wife' is a more energetic effort, all jabbed synth chords, circuitous basslines and rampant drum fills. 'Faith in the Future' similarly bounds along with reverie.
Walker claims that the album's title is an expression of his frustration at the ubiquity of people claiming things are eerie or weird / wyrd in the present cultural milieu. The artwork for the record is designed as an actual word search too, a knowing nod to how we all grapple for meaning amongst the absurdity of each day. Leaning into 'weird' as a coping mechanism is a not on The Pheromoans' agenda however. This album holds little sway with the supernatural, it's not enough. The overriding impression given by 'Wyrd Psearch' is of a band renewed with ideas. There's no trouble finding the right words, they're hitting their mark, keeping up with the commentary. 'Wyrd Psearch' is a document of The Pheromoans mastering their unquiet moment.
'HEARTS OF GOLD'
The Boys Are British
UTR065 | LP / Digital | 13 tracks, 37 minutes | Buy
New album, 'Hearts Of Gold', is the band's sixth album proper, following on from 2012's well received 'Does This Guy Stack Up?', also released by Upset The Rhythm. Since that last record, Walker has been busy flexing his vocal chords via a number of other projects including his musical collage team-up with Dan Melchior entitled The Lloyd Pack (Siltbreeze), the playfully deconstructed Charcoal Owls (Night School) and Bomber Jackets (Alter).
So it's with eyes open that 'Hearts Of Gold' strides forward, casting its net across a diverse array of topics, including short distance holidays, ageing trendsetters, parenthood, functioning alcoholism and Hugh Laurie's blues career.
"Coach Trip" opens the album amongst a swarm of stabbed synth clusters and tumbling guitars (courtesy of James Tranmer and Alex Garran), ambling on the double yellows before concluding that "new dads all act like twats." "Vagabond Hits 40" is "on nodding terms with the girls from Beyond Retro." Flickering keyboards pepper "Chung Said", growing bolder as the song transforms into a transcendent nightmare, with bass (The Octogram) and drums (Scott Reeve) accenting the song's casual disdain.
With this album the expressive keyboard work of Daniel Bolger has started to command more of the centre stage too, lending an often melancholic/euphoric quality that feels like new territory for the band. Title track "Hearts Of Gold" returns to the band's draft though, delighting in a rush of jangling, scrambling guitars, sprightly beats that keep breaking loose and nonchalant voicings.
"The Boys Are British" is the lead single from 'Hearts Of Gold' and covers two failed army cadets struggling to adjust to civilian life. "Should we expect something in return? Should we expect anything from now on?" questions Walker, underscoring the album's main trope by walking a tightrope between hope and fear of disappointment. "Let go of the damp balloons" he resignedly instructs, bookending a mellow rumination on growing old, named "Old Curtains".
'Hearts Of Gold' draws to a close in a decidedly impulsive manner with the fleeting optimism of "Let's Celebrate" seeping into the spooked void of "Little Runaround" before "Laurie's Case" ices the cake. The drums strike out hard and fast, letting the unbridled guitars shuffle into unchecked chaos. It's a poignant track to end on - "I brought the song into the world... and I'm to blame" fesses up Walker at the end of an album that's at times as revealing as it is cloaked.
That's central to the appeal of 'Hearts Of Gold', making it such an oddly engaging listen. Through all the mess and melody, through the trivial and the achingly true, there's a grander point to be made, coming slowly into focus, the point of it all. With this album, The Pheromoans do everything but spell it out.
'DOES THIS GUY STACK UP?'
I'm A You-Know-What
UTR054 | CD / LP | 12 tracks, 35 minutes | Buy
New album, 'Does This Guy Stack Up?' witnesses a slight departure from their sound of old. With the recent addition of keyboard/violin player Dan Bolger to the band, their songs have leaned into a more pop-balanced realm, with the band's experimental tape collage approach sounding more natural than ever - the bass (The Octogram), drums (James Hines) and guitars (James Tranmer, Alex Garran) together forging a coherent foundation for Walker's voice to ramble amongst the radiant synth and electronic flourishes. "Old Lord Fauntleroy" is a joyous barrage of roaming bass, primal beats and droning keyboard, whilst 'Waterworld' propels itself through drifts of violin fog.
Central to the appeal of The Pheromoans are Russell Walker's insightful, often wonderfully humorous, self-deprecating lyrics that paint a picture of all of us as outsiders. "Don't Mention It" for instance is the only song we know that references both Royal Ascot and Puppetry Of The Penis. Finding much material in the slow and steady decline of the 21st century and its vain pursuits, Walker isn't afraid to rattle the cage of populist politics, and other comfortable ways of thinking, sighting Mariella Frostrup as well as Richard Littlejohn in the cross-hairs.
However, it's often when he turns his critical eye on himself, that Walker becomes most profound. "I've been the victim of subtle putdowns" admits Walker on the barnstorming "I'm A You-Know-What". "Scared of being late for work, I have to face the men-folk, I regret all decisions" he voices on "Grab A Chair", a message further accentuated by the song's prowling bassline, incessant beat and ascending stomp.
These are bleak times, fixated by obnoxious forces, a time of "total confusion, total breakdown", framed by the whipping rhythms and paranoid electronics of "бaлaнc" (Russian for 'Balance' FYI). "I want a puppy, a loft extension and a threesome, and silver shoes and preferably a Mercedes, because I am entitled, it was decreed" sings Walker on "Power Watch"; our obsession with 'possession as meaning' lampooned over an impeccable keyboard reverie.
'Does This Guy Stack Up?' closes with the plaintive yet triumphant "Moth On The Mend", perfectly encapsulating the album's overall character: "I'd like to say to you I did the things I wanted to do... this is the end of the world again". This seeps into the music too, with most songs rocking their way through unravelment; sounding spontaneous and unaffected.
With 'Does This Guy Stack Up?', The Pheromoans deconstruct a very English sense of ennui and in doing so show us its nonsensical building blocks. This album had the working title 'Let England Shake' and one can only wonder if a truer impression of modern life in this sceptred isle is one stalked by the nagging inadequacies and vacuousness detailed in 'Does This Guy Stack Up?'. It's hard to write about what you know, when what you know is increasingly marginalised, but this album proves The Pheromoans are at their best when shooting from the sidelines.