HMLTD have taken the long way round.
Active for five years, the six-piece have learnt the rigours of the music industry and manipulated them to their benefit. Initially signed to a major label after generating a huge amount of buzz back in 2015, things didn’t pan out and the band sought pastures new.
Yet the extra spent time formulating a strategy enabled new ideas and sounds to formulate. Their debut album, West Of Eden, was released in February, one of the most eclectic and ambitious you’re likely to hear all year: synth pop, Madchester house, euro pop, western…it’s all contained within.
“That’s really intentional,” frontman and lyricist Henry Spychalski told Live4ever before their recent gig at the Exchange in Bristol. “One thing that we really hate in a lot of bands is that there’s not really much to distinguish any one song from another. It quite often just collapses into itself. The intention with the band has always been to never write two songs that are the same. That’s why we try and explore so many different genres.”
HMLTD are based in flourishing south London, but Spychalski is keen to clarify that the area isn’t the home of a specific movement, more of a mindset: “I don’t see it as a scene but more of a community. Within the community you’ve got lots of different artists who actually respect each other and know each other on a personal level. We all play different genres: Shame make 1970s punk, we make this electro art-punk or whatever you want to call it, black midi make prog or math rock. There’s always artists that are doing really different stuff. I have a lot of respect for those other artists and I believe that’s mutual. It’s like a petri dish of ideas.”
West Of Eden has ideas in spades. Its lengthy gestation, due to circumstances beyond the band’s control, brought about the opportunity to throw many genres into the pot. “The album is so much richer for having had an inordinate amount of time spent on it,” Spychalski said. “It’s the best part of three or four years work. Most of that work hasn’t made it onto the album. Some have been discarded, thrown to the wayside in their dozens. Not necessarily because they were bad, just because they didn’t fit this narrative we were trying to build.”
The broad scope extends to the narrative as well as the soundscapes; opening track The West Is Dead should give you some idea. “The last year was just this real tough process of crystallising the concept and the themes, and then creating this narrative thread that runs through the album,’ Spychalski elaborated. “The album is about the death of the West, and the spiritual crisis that has occurred in the wake of the collapse of religion. About trying to rediscover meaning in this really meaningless landscape against the backdrop of ecological crisis, and economical and political catastrophe.”
Whichever way you look, mankind is in trouble. Yet much has been made of the younger generation having to make sense of the mess that’s been created by their forebears. “When you look at what’s happening in the world politically at the moment, the rise of the far right, populism, the massive inequalities being created by neo-liberalism…all these things may be a necessary stage we have to pass through in the historical dialectic, in order to move on to something better,” Spychalski said. “Our generation is probably going to have to bear the burden of a lot of that transition and the pains that it will produce. I think our generation’s lives are going to be filled with a lot of pain and difficulty. The album’s about having to still find joy in life against this backdrop.”
Depressing stuff, but there is hope in defiance. HMLTD don’t claim to have the answers, but refuse to get dragged down to the quagmire: “We want to show rather than tell. We don’t want to be pedagogical. But we also want to be very explicit about what we’re showing, and to try and show it in the clearest light possible. The album is short term pessimist, long-term optimist. It’s celebrating the darkness before the dawn and trying to find a space to dance within it.”
So broad is HMLTD’s sound that it’s no surprise they are building up a following on the continent as well as in the UK: ‘Next week we head into Europe,” Spychalski told us. “This (Bristol) is our last British date and then we’re going across to Europe which should be fun. Just a week, not a big tour, a whirlwind trip.”
Indeed, their plan for the rest of the year is to spend some significant time building up a fanbase in foreign fields. Grueling experiences of the UK festival circuit apparently requires a fresh approach for 2020: “We’re trying to avoid English festivals and focus on eastern Europe. People don’t really appreciate you at English festivals, and nor do the promoters. You just get treated like shit, then you go to Europe and the hospitality is incredible. They really look after the artists and it’s just a far more enjoyable experience.”
Europe’s gain is Britain’s loss, as the album translates well live: the acid infused beast that is Loaded, with a thumping bass that brings to mind the super clubs of old, is mind-blowing, but then twenty minutes later Spychalski is facing the Exchange crowd, arms aloft to the full-on Euro trance of Blank Slate. It causes no end of frustration to a writer, that they are indefinable, but epic synth-pop is the broadest term that could be tenuously applied.
Singer Tallulah Eden, who features on several tracks, provided a sensual breathlessness to the fray, working well in contrast to Spychalski’s extravagance and high-octane sincerity. It’s a powerhouse of a performance from a band fully aware of the society in which they operate.
“We live in a generation where attention spans are shrinking and shrinking,” Spychalski had concluded. “To an extent you need to just celebrate what you have before going on to the next thing. That applies to music and to anything else.”