Icecapades, the debut album from The Lunchtime Sardine Club, pseudonym of Brighton musician Oliver Newton, comprises an intriguing array of songs and moods. The album was home-recorded over a year and a half, and right from the first, Newton reveals that he is an artist not afraid to take his time, opting for subtlety over immediate catchiness; the memorability comes more naturally. Opener ‘Charon and the Boxer’ begins with a gentle musical cacophony, before the introduction of, in turn, lilting guitar rhythms, mesmerising vocal melodies, the groove of the snare drum, and a mournful cello line reminiscent of early Arcade Fire. Each introduction is afforded its space, and thus each entry is a powerful moment building up to an end-passage punctuated by grungy electric guitar and piped flourishes, with a certain Midlake feel to it.
The album then fluctuates between different moods. ‘I’m…jesuschristmaam’ is laid back but with an underlying frustration similar to Brand New’s The Devil and God… album; this is achieved particularly by the higher, more distant backing vocals following the main melody, giving the vocals an almost insistent tone. The calm swaying of ‘Rumours’, with its chiming guitar chords and wash of backing vocals, provides sweet relief following the first couple of tracks. These ideas are continued in more upbeat fashion towards the end of ‘Quesadillas’, before the raw beauty of ‘Old Truths Rare Grooves’; the second half of the song combines a chugging rhythm with a ringing guitar riff on the top, and the repeated F major – F minor – C major acoustic guitar motif is an example of an idea that is both subtle and memorable.
One of the strengths of Icecapades is that it is simultaneously very layered and almost puzzling in places, whilst still being easy to listen to. This is partly due to the placement of two longer but attention-drawing tracks at the start being followed by sweeter, slightly shorter tracks. By the time you’ve reached the strangeness of ‘Three and Four’, including the sounds of running water, tannoy announcements, conversations and sonic ‘twiddles’, around an olde-English folk guitar pattern, you’ve already been drawn in by the charm of the album. You appreciate the subtlety in the songs, the little moments that stick in your head almost subliminally, like the single synth line halfway through ‘Quesadillas’.
Newton displays a nice variety of influences, with elements of The Shins and Grizzly Bear in the vocals, the latter also infused in the guitar chords, along with Nick Drake. In the range and complexity of the album as a whole, Newton has made his mark as an intelligent and thoughtful artist, focused on crafting music around well-written songs. The production betrays no hint of its being recorded in a living room; on the contrary, he harnesses the roughness of the guitars and uses it to give the music an added charm and distinctive flavour. Icecapades is an absorbing debut, with flashes of brilliance, paving the way for greater projects to come.
Words: Ned Mortimer