Text: Jacob Parrott
Releasing a hotly anticipated debut album, on top of securing a record deal with Sub Pop, is not the typical trajectory for most bands after only being able to play one gig. Yet, following a year of cancelled and postponed performances, it is the precise situation TV Priest find themselves in with the release of ‘Uppers’. Bursting with frustration and anger alongside piercing topical humour, ‘Uppers’ is a ferocious delivery of post-punk which merges the sound and irrefutable wit of bands such as IDLES and Viagra Boys, whilst still managing to find space to embrace calmer, more considered moments of vulnerability.
Consisting of childhood friends Charlie Drinkwater (vocals), Alex Sprogis (guitar), Nic Bueth (bass/keys) and Ed Kelland (drums), the formation of TV Priest stemmed from seeing less of each other as they grew older and needing “an excuse to meet up, especially as guys” says Charlie. Suggesting that he “couldn’t have made the album at any other time”, ‘Uppers’ successfully boasts an intrinsic essence of honesty, which is equally reflective of the band’s good and bad personal experiences over the years, alongside readily taking stabs at the iniquity and occasionally laughable state of the world at current.
Kicking off the album and enticing listeners in with a grubby, distortion drenched bassline, ‘The Big Curve’ is a riotous opener harkening back to the sentiments of traditional DIY punk instrumentation. The track perfectly manages to establish the boisterous style TV Priest encapsulates throughout ‘Uppers’, through its use of thrashy drums, erratic guitar riffs and surprisingly even sci-fi synth melodies, all overlaid by Charlie’s appropriately aggravated vocal delivery.
Inspired by the “Death of Print Media” as well as Charlie’s grandfather’s life as a photojournalist and war correspondent, previously released single, ‘Press Gang’ follows with punchy drums and an addictive guitar riff, whilst ‘Leg Room’ runs parallel containing biting lyricism suggesting that the “Hollywood rains acid in your face” as it paints a target on the comforts of Hollywoodization within society.
‘Decoration’ stands out as the album’s centrepiece, choosing an outwardly humorous approach to its lyricicm, ribbing on televised talent competitions with a misremembered Simon Cowell quote: “I have never seen a dog do what that dog does”. The track features a warm bass line and a driving drum beat, resulting in an undeniably playful sound, with Charlie stating that ‘Decoration’ “is a fun one to play because you get to wander about and kind of sing it in a funny kinda way”, marking it as a definitive must-see live when the band are finally able to start playing gigs again.
‘Journal of a Plague Year’ with its consistent air of rising tension through a deep, looping bass guitar riff, in addition to ‘Fathers and Sons’ making use of pulsing drums and glitchy instrumentation, provide hints towards an element of experimentation within TV Priest’s sound. However, this air of experimentation seems to fully manifest itself on the instrumental interludes which manage to completely adjust ‘Uppers’ previously established genre and tone entirely. ‘History Week’ is the first of these tracks, using pretty keys to create an overall sense of jubilance rather than the angsty music that has come before, while ‘the ref’ is primarily made up of an industrial soundscape, before gracefully melding into a calmer melody in the final few moments, as it leads into the next track.
While the album is full of thunderous, rowdy punk songs, the essence of these prettier, more sincere, emotional moments are scattered throughout the majority of the final tracks. These seem somewhat reminiscent of heavier Foals releases, with Charlie even choosing to sing instead of assertive spoken work he typically utilises. ‘Powers of Ten’ spectacularly displays this greater sense of optimism as it interlaces twinkly synth melodies behind its heavy guitar riffs for an overall lighter, more considered tonality.
Album highlight ‘Saintless’ utilises this to full effect however, seeing Charlie at his most emotionally vulnerable and raw, on the track written for his wife and son that is bursting with a hopeful undertone throughout. “The lyrics and the vocals on that are the very first take I ever did of it. I’d never sung them before or showed them to anyone”. Opening initially small with a spaghetti western-esque guitar riff, ‘Saintless’ gradually grows ever more expansive and layered into a behemoth of a track brimming with optimism.
By refusing to shy away from these sincere vignettes of emotional maturity, whilst simultaneously providing a perfect balance of both volatile wrath and satirical wit, ‘Uppers’, as a whole, firmly stands as an impressive serving of scolding post-punk music that feels exceedingly appropriate for the present.