By Yasmine Shemesh
VANCOUVER — “What do you think that song’s about?” Thomas Walmsley asks. The bassist for Temples, speaking over the phone from his home in East London, is referring to “How Would You Like To Go,” a head-swirling track off the band’s sophomore album, Volcano. In the song, melancholic lyrics talk of going under the ground. It is, indeed, about death, Walmsley confirms. “That’s kind of more where our heads are at on this record. Quite extreme on subject matter and just different pillars of human condition, really.”
Death, he adds, isn’t a subject the English four-piece have quite written about before. Sun Structures, the band’s critically acclaimed 2014 debut, was a technicolour dream of mysticism and spirituality. With its cosmic narrative, the album effortlessly conjured the golden era of psychedelic pop and quickly propelled Walmsley, guitarist/singer James Bagshaw, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Adam Thomas Smith, and drummer Samuel Toms into a starry universe, headlining festivals like Glastonbury and supporting the Rolling Stones. On Volcano, their highly-anticipated follow-up, though, Temples fan away the metaphysical haze to reveal subject matter that’s more tangible and raw, and, in the process, find themselves looking inward rather than through rose-coloured glasses.
“Certainty,” Volcano’s soaring and buzzy first single, is about complacency. “Roman Godlike Man,” another track, is about narcissism. “We try and address what makes us all such fragile human beings and hopefully by the end of the song we answer those questions,” Walmsley explains.
Conceptually, Volcano is a complete departure from Sun Structures, a record where everything, from cover art to lyrics, was deliberately connected to form a specific experience. With Volcano, Temples didn’t set out with a concrete idea of the kind of record they wanted to make. They just knew they wanted to be direct in their creative approach, rather than being obscurely poetic. It was, in every sense, a reaction to their debut.
“I suppose there’s a lot of nervous energy that comes across on this record,” Walmsley admits. “Not that that’s only come about recently, but I think perhaps it seemed like the right time for us to want to get across songs that address things like that.”
He adds, “I think we’ve all changed and certainly grown up a little bit as songwriters and, this time around, the songs took precedent, really, over any kind of sound or any overly referential sound that maybe our previous music has had.”
At the same time, Temples have expanded themselves sonically. Their already sharp dexterities have been further whetted, with each track meticulously mapped out one-by-one to explore its mood. Glittering synths, heftier rhythms, and the maintenance of the band’s brilliant pop sensibilities combine to create a nuanced and celebratory framing to heavier subjects — something almost akin to putting on a brave face to confront life’s harder realities. After all, Walmsley laughs, “It’s all inevitable, so you may as well enjoy it while you can.”
Temples perform at the Rickshaw Theatre on February 26.BC, British Columbia, Rickshaw Theatre, Temples, Volcano