The second Self Help Group album is now amongst us. ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, the 2013 album by this Brighton-based group, was a terrific collection of story-driven folk-pop, laced with some of the best harmonies that have graced a stage, this side of Laurel Canyon.
The new album ‘Dead Stars’ was named in honour of the idea that “every atom in our bodies was fused in the collapse of an ancient star”. It picks up where the first left off with the same combination of strong song-writing, soulful folk-infused pop musicianship and the terrific boy-girl-girl harmonies of songwriter Mark Bruce and Clara and Sarah Wood. Probably the closest modern comparison is the Leisure Society, also masters of the beautiful song, but the Self Help Group are cutting their own path. As with the first album, the production by Jamie Freeman of Union Music is superb but the band’s playing has also been bolstered by the confidence that comes from their multitude of live performances over the last couple of years.
The songs are rich in story and melody, capturing a sparkling sense of mystery and wonder. Bruce hasn’t lost his knack for finding strange tales and turning them into wondrous pop classics. The stories as ever are cryptic, torn from old newspaper clippings and books, but the results at their best produce songs full to the brim with universal feeling. Opener ‘Myrtle Mae’ is a case in point, over a sparky drum riff, the band’s beautiful harmonies tell a tale about a reclusive millionaire spending her life hiding behind a veil, driven mad over the loss of her child. It’s mournful origins however are hidden under a beguiling melody. Another favourite is ‘Smile Club’, coming across bright and breezy like Belle and Sebastian, ostensibly about the Hungarian Government’s attempt to create ‘Smile Clubs’ to help overcome the suicidal tendencies of their nation in the 1930s. It could be dark, but it’s as light as the breeze and it’s refrain of “smiles for everyone” creates joy out of a dark and melancholy story.
‘Dead Stars’ is out on the 6th November via Union Music.
The album launch gig is on 25th October at the Brighton Komedia. It will be a beautiful gentle riot.