Sometimes you’ll hear an album which frustrates you—where you want the band to ditch the formula, though it works, and just break free a little more. It’s not often, however, that that desire is felt and realised within the same record. Larkins’ debut album JCOY accomplishes both.
The album starts off solidly; the opening track ‘Are We Having Any Fun Yet?’ is a cheeky wink to the listener, and forms a core part of their live set as a show starter. The obvious 1975 influence running throughout this record starts here, with lead singer Josh Noble employing autotune tech for his vocals, and bouncing synths and drums enhancing the effect. I’m just left wondering whether Noble could go further, as the chorus’ climax leaves me wanting more. That said, the punchy ending to the track is welcome and certainly adds bite, and overall it’s a strong start—it gets you off your feet, strutting. A main character track, for sure.
The second song, ‘Digital Love’ presents me with different problems, this time concerning predictability. We start off with a piano ballad introduction. This time, Noble doesn’t leave anything out in the verses; his cries and oohs are pained, meaningful. The sudden cut offs from the chorus and the solo at the end of the verses are effective. Yet the second chorus expansion seems predictable and could be executed better; the song is saved by the reflective, third version of the chorus, with piano and voice alone. Was the second version of the chorus, to which the song was obviously building, necessary? It’s nice to be surprised.
As third track ‘No Life’ kicks in, I’m hearing echoes of CHVRCHES 2013 smash hit ‘The Mother We Share’ with its “ah oh, ah oh ah-ah oh”. As the Scottish trio had proved previously, this, paired with bouncing synths and drum pads, works a treat. The track is good, and I’m eagerly excited by the appearance of a guitar solo. But I’m left disappointed—it’s not enthralling enough. I’m wanting it to go beyond repeating the same four notes. The harmonies which expand the chorus in the second iteration really work, though, and reinforce the heartfelt lyrics “I’ve got no life when you’re not around”; the same goes for the B-section, the overdriven guitars in the background providing a different atmosphere for the vocals as Noble ruminates on his failures with a girl. As the song culminates, all ingredients come together – the “ah ohs”, the overdriven guitar, the keys riffs – so, so well. But do Larkins linger too long as they bring together the completed dish? I’m not sure.
Before we meet the fourth track, we’re treated to a folk-acousticy-TikTok diatribe interlude satire (I think?) about ‘snowflakes’; this is a great, humorous comment on the maligned young generation; as the interlude develops, a heavier soundsphere than was first evident on the record comes through. Crunching drums, angry, riffing guitars; you can hear the influence of Blink-182 and twenty one pilots here. This segues into ‘This Is Gonna Hurt’, the album’s most singalong track. The synths here are delightful again, and the track’s ambience feels Glass Animals-esque, with the ditzy guitar riffs adding to the carefree lyrics.
And then… I was surprised. The snowflake theme comes back in lush harmonies! Larkins, I’m sorry for what I said a mere four paragraphs ago. You bashed up the formula and it worked a treat. The two songs work effortlessly together, and their two narratives—one about how young people are constantly mollycoddled, the other about how, even though we know there’ll be pain down the road, we still want to experience feelings—clash in their portrayals of modern youth.
I love the laid back start to the fifth track, ‘if + when’, especially the gentle phrasing of the lyric “a midnight drive”; it’s so soft and lush, you could fall asleep gently to the sound of that phrase. The ballad energy is really well retained on this track. The strength of the vocals builds powerfully—but not too powerfully—in the chorus; it’s enough to shake your subconscious, but not enough to truly disturb the golden slumbers crafted by the opening of the track. The second verse does wake you up, though; Noble seems to be channeling 21 Pilots’ Tyler Joseph here, quasi-rapping about the girl’s dependency on him, and how he’d wish she’d just call her mum. Even a slightly cringey call-and-response in the B-section cannot mar this superb track, especially since it leads back into an empowered final chorus.
The penultimate track ‘hurt your heart’ starts with breaking glass, and the vocals wade in, as if drunk or hungover; and, on cue, he admits “I guess that we drank too much and need to find a ride back home”. As the track develops, it’s great hearing the drums more prominent, allowing them to add a bit of quasi-harmony with the different pitches they provide, overtaking the pianos. The chorus returns to the predictability, though with some good responses—“how could you do that, how could you do that”—this hooks in the listener, making them want to sing along. The second part of the chorus is also excellent, as Noble enquires whether the ending love affair “break(s) your heart”—almost scattering the pitch around in the voice, losing control. The production on the track is excellent; there’s a quick, messy and reverbed piano glissando, which really cuts through the texture at the midpoint of each chorus.
The start of the final track, ‘Over it’ sounds like a Year 7 discovering arpeggios on a Casio keyboard with two notes an octave apart; it remains in the background throughout and creates musical tension, as a ticking clock. The vocals are conversational, as we hear both sides of an argument; this allows the short chorus to become properly catchy: “Get over it. I’m not over it”. The mini B-section presses pause on this conversation, as if we’re delving into some inner, private thoughts; but that arpeggio is still there, egging the song on, creating more tension. At the end of the track is another guitar solo, but it’s still predictable and restrained in the same 8 notes; that said, it seems more alive than the previous… I guess Larkins aren’t ready to fully rock out in this pop-rock formula.
Overall, Larkins deliver a solid and enjoyable record which takes it time to wrestle free of formulaic pop-rock song structures. When they do, however, it’s fantastic, such as on the standout track ‘snwflks/This is Gonna Hurt’ where crunchier textures mixed with their signature synth-pop sound—I’m just demanding this experimentation throughout, as well as some spicier guitar solos. Once Larkins learn that letting go and rocking out is ok, then they’ll be very, very exciting.
Words by Matthew Prudham
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