The weight of being dubbed the saviours of guitar music is more often than not an unwanted albatross for a young band.
When Childhood emerged with the evergreen “Blue Velvet” in 2012 they found themselves in exactly that position, but instead of second guessing themselves or playing to the gallery, they wisely followed their own path.
Their debut Lacuna, released in the summer of 2014, displayed a very different and singular vision to the one that been bestowed upon them. Lacuna was certainly a record that revelled in the possibilities of guitars, but underpinning it was a love of soul music.
On their second record, Universal High, Childhood’s love of soul, funk and pop music is more pronounced, with the chorus’s possessing an innate catchiness, especially so on first single “Californian Light”, a contender for the song of the summer. Indeed, Lacuna’s more reflective moments, such as “As I Am” and “Falls Away” could comfortably nestle on Universal High’s soul infused atmosphere where, rather than sounding like a volte-face, it’s instead a subtle revolution.
If Lacuna was the sound of a four-piece band, Universal High sees Childhood broadening the breadth of instruments, with saxophones, gospel singers, pianos and keys added to the mix. Rather than sounding overbaked, the songs retain a sparseness where needed, with a ballad like “Understanding” built on a simple collection of parts rather than smothered in layers.
The opening “A.M.D” signifies the adaptation and swagger in Childhood’s step, with the guitars - retuned to clean, clipped funk settings, rather than using effects pedals – accompanied by a swirl of 70s funk keyboards. Ben Romans-Hopcraft’s voice, always a dulcet instrument, is chilled down to intone the funk, moving into falsetto at points, buoyed along with gospel singing, before signing off with “It feels like nothing has changed.”
Some things have changed for Childhood, and not just in terms of sound. Bassist Dan Salamons left the fold shortly after Lacuna was released, but Thomas Tomaski fits in seamlessly, providing a juddering, deep bass on “Cameo”. His playing with Jonny Williams’ pristine drumming takes the funk of the songs onto the dancefloor throughout the record, especially on the soul revue of “Don’t Have Me Back”, with its bouncing piano and saxophone flourishes.
The closing “Monitor” is a beautiful way to end the record. The slowest song here, with its spacey synths and deep bass it creates a psychedelic funk surround-sound, as the lyric revisits the streets of Roman-Hopcraft’s youth. Nostalgia has always been a theme of Childhood’s music, but with “Monitor” they mix it with a glorious sense of futurism, moving upwards and onwards both metaphorically and literally.
Universal High continues Childhood’s musical path, the guitar pedals are dialled down, the groove is ramped up, but the care in the songwriting remains wonderfully intact. It’s a natural-sounding progression that confounds the expected developments ‘a guitar band’ should make and instead adds a glorious musical technicolour to a set of songs to soundtrack the summer and beyond.