Without the exposure Envy and Other Sins found themselves swarmed in, the Midlands lovelies would’ve still been slaving away in their day jobs. The TV contest they won was unfortunately targeted at the wrong audience and the promotion for their storming single ‘Highness’ was pretty non-existent – resulting in it missing the Top 40. The band are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea – supporting The Hoosiers at one end, unable to be playlisted on Radio One due to Jo Whiley’s conflict of interests at the other. They’re filling the small venues they once only attracted a few people to, but surely the thousands of people watching the programme should have made for a more market progression? And equally, the endless assault of disheartening put-downs they face can’t be all that much fun. In ‘We Leave At Dawn’, they forget the backlash and provide us with a selection of intricate, well-crafted, reflective snippets. This is pop music with heart, intricacy and subtleties – a self-justification of sorts.
It’s a record best listened to with headphones to pick up on the crescendos and the way the elements are carefully knitted together. Megastar producer Danton Supple’s efforts on ‘We Leave At Dawn’ give the album a finish which verges on over-polished – the instruments are a tad too crisply separated, or in the extreme, too hazily fused. Regardless of that negative, the four-piece continue to write lyrics far cleverer than your average indie-pop fare – they’re pacey and idiosyncratic, complementing the sweet little ascending vocal runs that frame them in songs like ‘Almost Certainly Elsewhere’.
It’s refreshing to listen to music so unpretentious and naturally memorable which retains its quirks even after repeated listens – it can feel too familiar on the first play, but the knack for telling a story and pushing out cute hooks and rhythms far overrides any cynicism that may be trying to creep out. ‘Morning Sickness’ is a timely blend of Casio arpeggios, homely yet unsettling bass and challenging tonality. ‘Step Across’ is an ecstatic escapist mish-mash of piano hammering and scattergun syllables – the most complex and involved offering on the album.
Next single ‘Man Bites God’ is oh-so-contagious: “We’re rotten to the core, we’re all the same/we are scu, you were like us/but when did you become so righteous?/Let’s do a roaring trade, ‘til the day the Messiah comes/And stops us having fun” – it’s rollicking, knowing, and proof of Envy and Other Sins’ highs and low, sidesteps and backsteps, devious sneaking in of a bar in 6/4… it’s a song which should be loved by millions. Though ‘Don’t Start Fires’ is the album’s highlight; it’s so simple and unfussy yet its soaring melodies make it epic in the same vein as Doves, with a huge-scale sound that the stadium bands aspire towards, not to mention a damn fine effort on the drums. The nigh on falsetto of the album-closer ‘Shipwrecked’ shows off a more spacious, nautical sound which touches on a new-found viciousness, something which should be more evident in other places on the album but is somehow passed by.
Ali’s fey vocal is something which usually provides a contrast rather than a weakness, except on ‘The Company We Keep’ – it possesses the deft chord progressions and syncopation we’ve come to expect, but feels the least substantial due to the anonymity of the otherwise flourishing bass. And ‘(It Gets Harder To Be A) Martyr’ has got the charm but lacks the plentiful core of the album’s best moments.
Although a lovely pop record, we can’t help feeling that the four-piece capable of more, going on the basis of how much fun their live shows are and how much they put into their music. It’s a shame that the production has dumbed down their Victorian leanings, although maybe we just expected perfection… let’s hope Envy and Other Sins get the attention they deserve very soon.