After building a reputation off of an EP and a debut album (not to mention a killer live act) under the Black Wolf name, Photopia is the first album by these five guys under their new moniker of illustr8ors. Ridiculous spelling aside, the evolution in sound here undoubtedly prompted the change in branding, and whilst the band maintains the same broad rock flavour as their earlier incarnation, there’s a definite new maturity to their sound, setting it apart from earlier releases.
A record of consistently good album tracks, initial listening revealed no real stand out. The possible exception being Shush Shush, which qualifies as the only obvious single amongst the 10 tracks on offer. After multiple listens though a couple more come to the fore (Feels Like Dying, Steady Slow) and once you’re familiar with the songs you can really start to appreciate the craft on offer. Won’t Bury Me for example offers a tonne of groove, and the light and shade employed in Grace, coupled with an arena-rock chorus, demonstrate a real honing of the craft since the youthful exuberance of the Black Wolf releases. Nowhere is this more evident than the slow burning Citizen. Invoking 90’s grunge the track builds to a great crescendo with which to end the album, though one would have loved a longer guitar solo to really put the icing on the cake. One suspects the influence of producer Toby Jepson in that.
Ultimately one of the band’s greatest strengths also proves to be it’s biggest weakness. Scott Sharp, besides possessing a stupendous larynx, is capable of some fantastically poetic lyrics. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of this imagery, the words don’t always marry themselves well to the melody, which may explain the lack of any real anthemic hooks here. There’s a lot to be said for descriptive verses, but in this format a ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ approach to the chorus often wields the best results, as opening track Something Biblical attests.
Changing the name of the band is one way to get around the ‘awkward second album’ problem, but ultimately there’s a real development in sound here and you get the sense that the Bristolian quintet now have a much greater sense of who they are and what they want to achieve. It’s a grower, but Photopia is very strong album who’s nuances are much more appreciated in familiarity.
Feels Like Dying
Won’t Bury Me
Swimming With Anchors