Shoes And Socks Off‘s fourth album in just over eighteen months, although first to get a proper release rather than produced to order, finds Tobias Hayes still sounding like he’s been caught pondering his lot in his bedroom. Intimately recorded with little apparent concession to gleaming hi-fi, his songs seem, at times, like uncomfortably personal confessions.
It can be quite difficult to judge albums like this. Whatever the singer emotes, you’re still pretty much left with just vocals and guitar to wrap a few hundred words around unless you want to start quoting lyrics at length and ruining it for the potential listener. It’s all down to the delivery. Which, in Hayes’ case, is imbued with heartfelt uncertainty, sometimes straining to be heard by an unlistening third party. “When have I ever let you down? Don’t answer that” he rhetorically asks in ‘Smithereens’, one of the more direct paens to the people who let him down. Open heart sores seep throughout. By ‘CYF’ he’s desperate for a break, pleading “if no-one’s looking, can we get some skin contact?” even as he knows it’s going to end badly, probably through every fault of his own. At least you can’t fault his emotion driven honesty, even if deep down he could all day.
Smartly, it slowly becomes apparent that the album is building in musical muscle. The thoughtful, verbose (but not much brighter) seventh track ‘Here’s My Head On A Plate’ is heralded by tapped out drums before being played out by an overlapping electric guitar and bass, which stick around for the rest of the album. Given Hayes re-recorded his first album with a full band for his second release, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’d switch to playing with the form, but the subtlety with which it’s done here makes it seem almost natural. It also gives Hayes a new outlet to vent his frustrations, as the apologetically world-weary ‘A Massive Excavation’ dissolves into feedback before the vaguely Cursive-like ‘Throwing Opinions At Walls’ employs a violin to provide some form of grounding to Hayes’ caustic bitterness as the distortion swells before the end.
From a whisper to a scream (neither literally, it should be noted for accuracy), Hayes is quietly going about building a catalogue strong on melancholic thought and suggested recrimination from the very depths of his man with guitar and angst soul. With album five already on the way, according to his blog, where this spirit heads next will be keenly watched.