Temples has inherited an unusual spot in the modern world of psychedelia.
Marc Bolan haircuts and spangled jackets aside, Temples has inherited an unusual spot in the modern world of psychedelia. Not as slavishly attached to the ’60s as its detractors think nor as forward thinking and inventive as its Perth-based counterparts, on its debut album, 2014’s Sun Structures, Temples found a way to combine ’60s songwriting and arrangements with a modern sensibility. Its new album Volcano furthers this sound while doubling down on many of the more esoteric influences that informed its debut. Along the way, the band has shed some of its psych-pop smarts while bringing forward the more freewheeling blend of early prog, latter day experimental psychedelia and cinematic scores that has always subtly informed its work.
Like its debut, Volcano was produced in the home studio of band leader and singer, James Bagshaw. Nothing sounds quite like it belongs in the present day, but the new album captures a band working hard to find its own sound.
For a lead single and album opener, “Certainty” is a bit of a grower. Muscular, David Fridmann-esque drums and a catchy almost ear-worm chorus aside, it sounds more like a mid-album pick me up. Coupled with the somewhat forgettable “All Join In,” Volcano has a rather aimless opening. Fortunately, things pick up with the ’70s prog meets Johnny Marr riffage of “I Wanna Be Your Mirror.” After two mid-tempo songs, its urgent chord changes and transitions between classically-inspired mellotron melodies, motorik verses and bright, chiming guitars deliver the euphoric wake-up call to set the album on track.
At its best, Volcano is urgent: melodies draped over dreamlike landscapes of synthetic strings and phased keyboard glides, all wrapped around a pounding rhythm section. “Born into the Sunset” captures that feeling with dreamy slide guitars, while Bagshaw gives high pitched synths a challenge with his own vocals in “Open Air.” It’s obvious the boys have a voracious appetite for prog as many of these songs function as mini-prog-pop epics. There are, for better or for worse, no 20-minute suites, but the band throws enough curve balls to keep things fresh and surprising.
“Roman Godlike Man” is one of the few stand outs, a pleasant mid-tempo ground between a delightful glam beat and a Kinks-like melody. Its gleeful chorus of “fa fa fa“s is ambushed by an ice cool daydream of a guitar solo, Jeff Lynne’s ELO guitar harmonies pushed under melted fuzz guitars and reverbed-out mellotrons. This is one of those songs that doesn’t quite make sense on first listen but quickly worms itself into your head. “In My Pocket,” cheesy lyrics aside, begins with a similar Kinks-inspired melody before unexpectedly rushing headfirst into a widescreen chorus of off-kilter rhythms.
“Strange or Be Forgotten” closes everything as it swoons in larger than life balladry. It’s the closest Volcano veers to past victories, but its lovelorn lyrics and stargazing melodies blend into an appropriate ending. For an album that is more successful in creating intriguing soundscapes than pop melodies, it is both ironic and well-deserved that the highlight is its purest pop moment.
It’s tempting to call Volcano a sophomore slump, but that speaks more to the immediacy of Sun Structures and its festival ready singles. Hooks aren’t up to the level of the debut, but Volcano is a more cohesive album, and its sonic explorations have Temples on track for an intriguing future.