*Insert Bowie Reference Here*
Twenty-one year old indie prince Declan McKenna has been turning heads ever since the release of his breakout hit ‘Brazil’ in 2015. At the mere age of sixteen, McKenna had played Glastonbury, and two years later his debut LP, What Do You Think About The Car? was presented to the world, showcased the starlet as much more than just a one-hit wonder.
Three years on, McKenna has (finally) dropped his much-delayed sophomore record, Zeros, and straight from the off it is one hell of a step up from the debut. The tracks are better structured, his performances are stronger than ever and the songwriting is simply a lot more enjoyable. Instantly clear on lead single 'Beautiful Faces', wobbly and fuzzy guitars duelled back and forth, announcing to the world an infectiously catchy and danceable slice of indie rock and a fantastic first step for the lead-up to this latest LP. It's still one of the best songs SMPM have enjoyed this year, still sounding as bubbly and inventive as it did back in January.
Getting into the album, opener 'You Better Believe!!!' functions in clear homage to his 70s heroes, with its bouncing piano and crunchy guitar tones. McKenna’s vocal performance flits back between reserved singing and his raspy, raw screams, with an arrangement that is similarly solid, partitioning off every instrument into its own well-realised lane. As an opener, 'You Better Believe!!!' is in your face and bold, but runs more than a little too long. Coming in just under five minutes (!), the track does struggle to justify its runtime, but despite this it's an exciting first track. 'Be An Astronaut' has McKenna highlighting a piano rather than the guitar (Alex Turner circa 2018 anyone?!) but Astronaut feels like it could’ve cropped up on a 70s rock compilation. 'The Key To Life On Earth' reminded me immediately of David Bowie’s 'Ashes to Ashes' with its blend of plucky keys and futuristic soundscapes, with McKenna once again providing undeniably excellent chorus melodies to the feast of his Marc Bolan revivalism.
The second half of the record is where things start to fall a little flat however. Structurally the songs become repetitive, losing the initial excitement we had from the first crop of songs. 'Emily' is a fine song, but does feel like it was the culmination of ideas that did not fit into other tracks. It isn’t a throwaway track by any means, however it is the closest to filler we see on this album. The noisy, fuzz outro of 'Twice Your Size' is easily the most exciting point on the second half of the album, but 'Rapture', 'Sagittarius A*' and 'Eventually, Darling' all fly past with little demand to be revisited.
Much like Harry Styles, McKenna has pulled stylistically from his heroes, creating a nostalgic yet contemporary rock record, but despite the heavy influences that reverberate across the music of Zeros, nothing feels dated or cheesy. McKenna has crafted his own little world with this sophomore LP, and it is definitely one of the more interesting rock albums of the year, but it is (unfortunately) a lop-sided release. It starts off strong, but quickly loses focus and excitement once Side B begins, resulting in a record that keeps its mindblowing moments at the front while slowly running out of ideas.
- 6.7 -
'Beautiful Faces', 'Be an Astronaut', 'The Key to Life on Earth'
James Mellen is currently studying as a guitarist and producer based near Bristol. Interests include silly effects pedals, Yorkshire tea and 100 gecs.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created by Ben Wheadon, a literature student at the University of Oxford.