TV Priest – Uppers Album Review

Sub Pop – 2021

It’s always enticing to listen to an album and wonder how it will play out in a live setting. That’s been the case for many albums released over the past year, but at least those bands played shows before the pandemic hit. In fact they’ve only ever played one live show, in a disused industrial freezer, so naturally this collection of songs will be fresh to about every audience member when the times comes. Born out of childhood friends needing a new get up in life, TV Priest aren’t just the latest in the new wave of post-punk bands to emerge from South London, they’re something more. Their lyrics still speak and focus mainly on the failings of the conservative government and the disparity of life in modern Britain. But unlike their contemporaries they offer up a conversation “It’s about the meshing of information strands. It is supposed to be a snapshot of a time and place” says lead singer Charlie Drinkwater“. And this can be heard in the likes of “This Island” where Drinkwater sings “Well I found singularity, I found it at the bottom of the mail online comments section”. Through grinding riffs and snarling vocals TV Priest have set about to deliver a sermon of understanding.

Perhaps the standout element of this album is Drinkwater’s storytelling charm and weave. Consistently he not only captures the emotion of a time and people, but displays the absurdity found within the mundane and everyday. On “Decorations” he’s breaking down the idea of ‘personal progression’, all these small victories that he describes like “A certain medal on a certain chest, A nought and a cross and a Sunday best” are supposed to take you “Through to the next round” as he puts it. The conversation that Drinkwater is trying to create is clear. Let’s look at the world and question it together rather than dying on a hill for our own beliefs. “I thought we were getting closer, but we’re further apart” he declares on “Slideshow”, which has certainly been the case over the last decade or so, stoked by politics, Brexit, racial injustice and somehow the pandemic. This is not Drinkwater abstaining from the conversation, his views clearly match those of other contemporary punk frontmen, but through his lyricism he’s wit-fully documented a moment in time. Of course no one’s safe from his intentful gaze, not even Prince Louis who’s “On a throne of his own, a bovril biscuit, a cup of milk, not saving lives but not taking ones either” he remarks on “Powers Of Ten”.

Being a document of the there would inevitably be a mention of the pandemic. On “Journal Of A Plague” year Drinkwater lays down the general collective emotions and tellings of the year, “Hey buddy, Normalize this, you better dig that pit” he sings over the somewhat understated instrumental. Much like a journal Drinkwater offers small insights and records of what transpired within the year, rather than commenting on the impact they had.

This wouldn’t be a punk album of course without some chugging riffs and screeching guitars to soundtrack Drinkwater’s musings. And there are moments where these axe wielded flurries reach truly euphoric heights. Although closer “Saintless” might not follow the formula instrumentally than the rest of the album, adding in embellishments of acoustic guitar and bedroom pop synthesisers, it leaves you feeling almost hopeful for what’s to come. As each layer is slowly added you can feel the intensity and emotional outpour slowly building until it erupts into an impassioned chorus cry of “We’re no saints, but that’s okay, would you have it any other way?”. Surrounded by a cacophony of whirring guitars and pounding drums, it’s truly an explosive ending that caps off this journey with a topping of grandeur.

This vehement sound does appear on occasion on the likes of “This Island” and “Slideshow”. But too often does this album get lost in the ‘1,2’ beats, with a rolling bass line placed on top, that after a while of the same motion gets a bit too comfortable in its current gear, unwilling to switch it up. And there’s almost a sense of the song wanting to burst out into a fury of anger or flailing guitars, but it never quite reaches it. The like of which can be seen on “Fathers And Sons” as the palm muted strums and rumbling four note bass line carry the song through verse and chorus, but are overarched with a feeling on tepidness, as if they don’t want to become to chaotic. There’s definitely the emotional intensity packed and ready to blow, but its never quite unlocked.

They may not be miles apart sonically or contextually from contemporaries IDLES, Shame or Fontaines D.C. (Drinkwater funnily enough designed their latest album cover), but what TV Priest bring to this new wave of punk is a sense of perseverance. Whether it be from their own story of reformation, or though the stories they tell of a struggling world, not to shame it, but analyse it and see where we can all move forward together.

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