High Hazels On The Rise With Cracking Debut
Sheffield foursome echo the sixties with their classy longplayer.
In our modern obsession with all things retro, its easy to forget that ‘vintage’ was once the dreaded ‘second hand’, ‘shabby chic’ was tawdry tat and ‘up-cycling’ was that poor lad struggling up the hill with his push bike in the Hovis ad.
And so we are awash with bands that just try that little too hard to reference an era in which never lived; choose jeans too tight to pose in, buy knackered synths that never bloody worked in the first place, and generally look and sound a bit naff.
High Hazels are not one of those bands. In fact, they are so out of step with the London-centric trendy trend-setters that I’d fear for their future. That is, if they went so damn good. Yes, this Sheffield foursome couldn’t look and sound more mid-60s if they tried, but they know its less about the love beads and more about the good vibrations, excitations and cockiness of a young band with everything to prove and nothing to fear.
Those familiar with their superb ‘In The Half Light’ EP from earlier this year will know what to expect from this debut long-player. That said, the randy rocker of a first single ‘Misbehave’ caught us all off guard with its urgency, single-handedly blasting away any suggestions that the melancholy of their previous efforts was the default setting.
Autumn after all is just a season, and it’s the positively sun-soaked stomper ‘Valencia’ that opens the album with Scott Howes’ exhilarating reverb-soaked guitar dominating proceedings. The Byrds are cited as an influence, but this is more jangly Johnny Marr/Bernard Butler flamboyance, with a touch of the tetchy Neil Young’s work with Buffalo Springfield.
It’s there again all over ‘Banging On My Door’, the poppiest thing here and a song which, again, turns lust into a horror film with frontman James Leesley’s heartfelt warble craving release. Leesley’s intoxicating croon sometimes closely resembles fellow Steel City reveler Alex Turner, though High Hazels give their singer more space to emote than the uptight Monkeys ever have. ‘Hanging Moon’ and ‘Shy Tide’ in particular reveal their considerable charms upon repeated listening.
The latter is a revelation, with band histrionics stripped away in favour of fragile finger-picking balladry. Leesley’s cracked vocals revealing the one hell of a hangover that was inevitable after all that misbehaving. Its a hint at treasures to come from this band should they, and their superb Spector-esque producer Matt Peel, challenge and stretch themselves further on future records.
For now we’ve been gifted a pretty marvelous debut. It’s not perfect by all means - for all the band’s fondness for the drum machine driven closer ‘The Promenade’, for me its still the least effective track here, but at least it leaves you wanting more. And, boy, this is a band that can deliver.
High Hazels, High Hazels, released on 27th October, Heist or Hit Records.
Words by Gary Shepherd