They live in a haze of accidentally anthemic self-made and self-assured angst, where webs and threads of Bona Drag and Juju clean-jangled guitars (from Morrissey and Banshees respectively) weave like a network of nerves up and through.
This mix of lush and almost-soft spike has been tightly refined since the last time I saw Desperate Journalist, back when they propped up and outshined the main act at a gig in December 2017. But their poise and conviction is new; they’ve outsized the stage and grown into new egos. What then seemed in shaping stands sculpted and set, any hint of a hesitant step 18 months or so back has been swapped out for hardened new stances. Guitars sing more pinched, muscular on occasion, their wraparound textures have widened, each beat of a stick on a skin rings precise and vocals run happy to hang, dance or croon… or let notes reach and crane up to the next.
We’re here to hear the new album, I’m here to hear how they’ve changed. I’m too busy spotting the between then and nows to fully breath in the first songs.
Two tracks in and the third comes to grab me; ‘Jonatan’ is a letter of questions, where snatched observations pass for accusations depending on how they’re delivered. “In the year of our lord / On a bright message board” is the crackling opening couplet that begins the song and the subject within, but “The loving smile / The earnest plans”, were they perfect or perfectly pitched? A moment to look back and miss or a deception now seen and called out? Either way, “I never like your favourite band” serves to straighten the line of intent.
And around those words that string out and sway, the cleanest of grunge-pop sweeps over. Spacious in verses, those jangle-twanged tinges, they flourish and flex, no fuss and off beat on drums. It’s as strong as it’s nimble and thin.
Follower ‘Hollow’ is meaner and trim as set out by its baselines that grind out unhurried. This scratched running texture in its upfront position is a break from the smooth swirl-washed gloss. We relax in a groove that leads us from here to someplace or somewhere much darker. We ramp up, we’re led, we’re guided by hand, until the song and the landmarks wash out …and we’re left in uncertain surroundings.
Until ‘Cedars’ returns us to clearings. And for the second time in the set my pen scratches that come to mind reference of Bona Drag and the ease of ‘Every day Is Like Sunday’. There’s something in the fey and willowy wordplay, a soft sarcasm’s wheeze in a romance’s breeze. “The wanderer adrift in muddled grass and loam / Kisses him like flypaper, like vodka, like she’s home” is a line that’s as sharp as it is disconnected, all backed by a settled and well mannered hum of only as flashy as need to be sounds.
I hadn’t expected to re-use that reference and I swear I won’t use it again.
And that’s Desperate Journalist’s charm; while there’s plenty of gloss on the surface that splits with the grain and the splinters of vocals and melodic hooks, underneath there’s a roughness and wit. It runs through the songs, it runs in the music, it clips in the between-song talking against cool blue nature projections. It runs between pomp and strung out like a sarcasm equipped for deflection, best used when deployed as a weapon.
As it is in ‘Christina’, a track from a 2013 EP where bass lines comes back to front and those tight clean guitars get backed up by choked up and wrought crunching rhythms. Or ‘To Be Forgotten’, the closing song from new album in which we see, in which we feel, those anthemic leanings twist into cascading synth-sounding high runs and squeals.
These urgencies keep cropping up; through the set, through the occasionally over polite, through the mist of the haze and chipped varnish. Each time they come they reach out to me like a glisten-tipped pincer that snags me and drags me back in.
They charm, they endear, they trick you and trip you with easy delivery that delves into strangely lit places. Nu-wave, new romantic and goth all combine at the edges of Cranberries and Lush atmospherics… where jagged sits just underneath. Precocious, precautions, almost scenic pictures, barbs hanging just out of sight.
In the packed, blue-soaked room of Bodega, I watched the band on a stage meant for smaller continue to flex out and grow.
Desperate Journalist played Bodega, Nottingham on March 22nd, 2019.
With support from I am Lono and In Isolation.
Find tour dates, new LP and info right here.
All photo credits and thanks to Michael Prince MA @ Crown Prince Photography
Find and Contact Crown Prince Photography Here.