There’s generally nothing wrong, I find, with being mild-mannered. Look at Clark Kent for example, never did him any harm as he worked away at The Daily Planet and slowly but surely won the heart of Lois Lane. Yeah, there was all that Superman stuff too that probably helped, but hey, he was simply Clark Kent to most people, most of the time. It’s a different story when it comes to music, though. Being mild-mannered on record generally isn’t a winner as there’s got to be something that grabs the listener and pulls them in. On Ten Songs, the debut album by Yorkshire five-piece Horse Guards Parade, it would appear that on first listen, the seemingly mild-mannered northerners don’t have enough about them to carry it off…however, if you give them a chance, a few more spins, they might just win your heart. They won’t be Superman, but Horse Guards Parade aren’t quite as gentle in demeanour as they seem.
Ten Songs is a peculiar mix of Englishness and sunny, Neil Young-style Californian pop, and perhaps what Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn had in mind for Blur when they were suggesting that Pavement had been a major influence back in the day. Perhaps the closest comparison might be the early days of Clearlake – despite being a band from North Yorkshire, singer James Waudby does sing in a more southern tone, with only the northern vowel sounds betraying his roots – or a more sedate British Sea Power. It’s the sound of dropping an acid tab in a field, only to discover you’re in a city park….in a good way, you understand.
It’s a real slow-burner, this record. On the first couple of listens Ten Songs drifted by almost unnoticed, but repeated playing reveals a depth and energy that’s not quite evident to start with. Songs develop slowly, often from gentle folk beginnings before blooming into psychedelic maturity. It’s helped along by production that’s intimate and immediate, and the record benefits from this clarity.
The band is at their best when taking it slow, which gives space for the melodies and lyrical dry wit to open out to the listener. Take as an example ‘It Ended In A Haze’, a lovely track of twanging guitar and acoustic plucking, telling a tale of a countryside date that ends in tears: “Take the next road on the left / and let the engine rest / I hadn’t even noticed you had held your breath / I thought I heard the gate go / and so I went to see / when I came back / your eyes were not for me.”
Then there’s ‘She Looked Like A Henry Moore’, a delightful quickstep of a song which begins :She looked like a Henry Moore /so he had another drink / she danced on his famous floor / while he threw up in the sink”, and goes on to tell of a chap who’s known “from Andover to Stroud”, a cape-wearer who “lives on ketamine”.
Without a doubt the highlight of Ten Songs is the forlorn love song ‘Since You Fell Off My Axis’, one of the tracks that display the chiming, LA country-rock side of Horse Guards Parade. It’s a beautifully realised moment of electric piano, Byrdsian guitar jangle and gorgeous harmonies. Praise should also go to some of the rockier acid-folk moments, like the exhilarating ‘The Treble Clef’ and the rollicking ode to drinking ‘The Lies’. The album does need this change of pace, and it’s good to know the band is able to produce this when needed.
As debut records go, it’s a pretty fine stab at giving the world the Horse Guards Parade mission statement. They belong firmly in Tim Slowinski’s Slow Art Movement – if you allow them to unveil their songs bit by bit, over a period of time, then you might just grow to love them. Have you got time for a nice sit down?