Debut albums don’t normally sound like greatest hits collections but Oxford’s Spring Offensive aren’t really like normal bands. Weavers of complex emotional narratives and evocative melodies, they’ve been on the scene for a number of years collecting plaudits and fans the world over. Now, having flirted with labels and the like, their album is here, released independently, funded via a Pledgemusic campaign and sounding every bit as incredible as you would expect.
They may embrace innovation and technology (they were the first band to make a video by strapping iPhones to people’s chests after all) but there is something reassuringly old fashioned about the music they make. As we’ve noted on numerous occasions, they excel at building drama and a sense of profundity into each of their songs and their tales deal with the humanity of a situation.
Take “Hengelo” for example, a song that was inspired by the remarkable story of a Dutch hoaxer who concocted an incredible fantasy to secure state assistance on his arrival in Berlin. Rather than look at this ridiculous story and the claims he made, Spring Offensive look at his motivations and the drudgery of his everyday life that drove him to such an act in the first place, and they do so in a track that bristles with energy and wonderfully evocative lyrics.
But that’s what they do; they deal in the humdrum moments of life that can build unseen into the astonishing. They seek the daily stresses of life and the undetected breaking points inside us all, reach in and mould them into songs that glide and rise, that tingle and spark as you recognise the reality within them and that stir your soul with deft arrangements and sublime melodies.
Any album that starts with a song as remarkable as “Not Drowning But Waving” (our song of the year for 2012) is likely to be something special and Young Animal Hearts more than lives up to expectation. There’s deep, undulating darkness courtesy of “The River”, a sneering track of revenge that plays like the build up to combat. Intense and powerful like a lone warrior walking to a final showdown, going mano e mano with heartbreak in a battle that culminates with smiling retribution.
In fact we could easily go through every track and effuse greatly on why each is magnificent in its own right (“Speak” is an emotional rollercoaster of subtle power and drama; “No Assets” a bold and honest tale of financial hardships during the onset of emotional maturity, “Bodylifting” dances eloquently around the dissolution of a relationship and the hope that the future can be changed, “Cut The Root” has a surprising but welcome head nodding quality to it – as examples) but Young Animal Hearts is so much greater than the sum of its (high value) parts.
There is neither a single bum note, not one misstep nor a single drop of oil in this ocean of melody, harmony and wonderfully visual, quick witted, and occasionally dry, lyrics. One of our favourites being from the sublime and swirling “Carrier” that just seems to encapsulate Spring Offensive perfectly, “This morning was spent at my window / It seems to help them in movies / but I hope that their views are less boring”.
There is melancholy, there is hope. There is heartbreak and love, violence and drama, sprawling cinematic narratives and simple day-to-day drudgery. You can sing along to the whole album or just sit back as it embeds itself in your bones, playing your emotions like a violin, rousing a beast within you and then singing it back down to sleep. They are master storytellers and masters of aural stimulation and evocation.
It’s probably not an understatement to say that Young Animal Hearts is the first great album of 2014 and one that was more than worth waiting for. Buy it and jump into their world, you won’t regret it.
’Young Animal Hearts’ is due for release on 10 March and is available for pre-order here.