Album review: The Slow Readers Club – 91 Days In Isolation

Slow Readers Club album cover

Slow Readers Club album cover - Credit: Archant

Unexpected second record grinds gloomy indie-pop from the bowels of lockdown.

The first own-label release for this Mancunian four-piece, 91 Days... follows just seven months after their UK Top 10 album The Joy Of The Return. Released straight into the gaping maws of our first Covid-19 lockdown, the band were left unable to tour.

Not to be outfoxed by international uncertainty over a deadly virus, supermarket panic-buying and an uneasy, open-ended national lockdown, the guys spent the summer playing to fans over the internet, staging listening parties and piecing together this record at home with ideas being swapped online. It wasn’t until restrictions were relaxed that the band could reunite and commit it to tape in the studio.

The good news for fans is that, while certainly lean for a studio album – eight songs that collectively clock in at less than half an hour – it doesn’t feel like a stopgap or rushed, half-baked side-project.

Given the circumstances, the needle on the band’s dark-pop barometer has unsurprisingly shifted little, the record opening with Barricades’ rattling guitar riff and frontman Aaron Starkie railing against the sycophants and cynicism of Orwellian nightmares, painting a picture of depressingly eternal conflict.

Everything I Own is calmer but hardly any sunnier, its tribal drums and synths eddying and flowing beneath Starkie’s heartbroken couplets and fleeting, menacing piano. Alongside a couple of others here like Wanted Much More, the song sags when it ventures too far into familiar pop structures, giving a bit of a jaundiced feel that they can’t shake.

Things improve with Yet Again, its driving rhythm and lyrical repetition more arresting than its ingredients suggest, while tracks like The Greatest Escape tessellate with the electro-informed rock of their last record.

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Stronger still are Lost Summer’s gently descending vocal and gorgeously mellifluous electric guitar plucks – both unexpected and genuinely meditative.

After more Orwellian-cum-lockdown references in the tub-thumping Two Minutes Hate (“I start to crave chaos, unleash this rage in us”), the record closes with Like I Wanted To, a sweeping, morose ballad of regret built from an earworm piano motif, upon which umpteen velveteen strings are draped, before ribcage-rattling drums and cymbals ratchet up the emo dial.

Despite its challenging gestation, 91 Days... is a worthy companion to its 2020 sibling.

3/5 stars

The Slow Readers Club will play the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town on March 23 next year. Original tickets remain valid.