It seems prescient to be reviewing this album in the week the UK enters another lockdown.
For those of us old enough to remember the first lockdown, it was a time of great uncertainty and fear. Others took the bull by the horns and made the most of the opportunity – as you will have gathered by this album’s title.
They may have released an album only in March, but as The Slow Readers Club’s avenues for promotion were all closed off, the Mancunians weren’t as idle as many of us. In tandem with using social media to their advantage for listening parties and livestreams the band also, using the wonders of modern technology to their advantage, shared ideas and wrote songs online before taking to the studio once restrictions were eased.
As one would expect with an album written during an unprecedented (sorry) period, themes of isolation, anxiety and reflection pervade.
On the snappy, yearning Barricades frontman Aaron Starkie outright demands that we ‘raise up the barricades’ while ‘our kids are marching on London’ against an insistent rhythm with trademark chiming guitar. Commencing as a state of the nation address, the music becomes softer as it progresses, bass and drums building up before settling down. The synth-driven, trotting Wanted Much More repeats the trick, the robotic grooves eventually loosening up to become more human as a purveying sadness is lifted by the music itself (despite some very Muse-esque backing vocals).
Across their five albums, The Slow Readers Club have refined signature sounds that are all on display here. The grandiose, ethereal guitar on Everything I Own, with a chorus melody that manages to be both heart-breaking and uplifting, maintains their usual haunting drama. Its grandiosity has the feel of autumn turning to winter.
Repetitive refrains also scatter their catalogue, and on Yet Again each verse begins with a shifted but repeated phase. In a similar vein, The Greatest Escape harks back to the aesthetics of their first two records in its anthemic Bloc Party-ness, chopped guitars and plaintive vocals.
Indeed, the most recognisable weapon in the band’s armoury is Storkie’s vocal range (he can sing in a falsetto style and by heavens he’s going to do so). On the tender Lost Summer, his voice is both elegant and comforting set against some sumptuous guitar licks, while on the boisterous chorus of Two Minutes Hate (a nod to Orwell’s 1984), he laments about the vitriol that can be found on social media with appropriate righteousness.
His voice is perfectly suited to the melodramatic (think early Suede) Like I Wanted To (‘here comes the heartbreak’, he implores), which contains a wall of potent guitars and drums that, in conjunction with the emotionally-drenched vocals, builds towards a cacophonous conclusion.
Born out of necessity, 91 Days In Isolation sits comfortably alongside the rest of The Slow Readers Club’s output in terms of quality of music, but its unusual gestation will forevermore give it special status.
For 91 days’ work, it’s impressive. Still feeling good about your banana bread?