Home Counties – Exactly As It Seems review: a debut outing brimming with personality

Promotional image for Home Counties' debut album, Exactly As It Seems
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Review

Rating
8/10
Rating
8.0/10

London based six-piece Home Counties have been about for a hot minute, and in their time together as a group have undergone a rapid rate of reinvention and directional shifts. 

As a group whose origins were far more aligned with the disjointed post-punk found on records from KEG, the early Squid singles, and the sadly departed Manchester no-wave septet Duds, where Home Counties find themselves now lies relatively far from these roots, and there are only brief flashes of these initial influences present in their current work.

For them to come forth with a debut album five years into their career entitled Exactly As It Seems is misleading, because this collection of ten songs is anything but reflective of its title.

The musical landscape around us is well-documented as being a volatile thing, and the personal tastes of its creators are just as subject to sudden change as those of devoted fanbases. With this, there’s little surprise that in order to both survive as an act and keep things exciting, bands like Home Counties have to take stock every now and then and consider their direction.

There’s a much stronger pop sheen that coats their music these days, and a heavier emphasis on disco grooves and use of synths that underline how vibrant their songwriting is. Fear not – those after their spiky guitar licks of old won’t be totally disappointed, but there’s certainly less pressure placed on them to do the melodic legwork with so many other elements being brought to the fore.

After their previous incarnation, Haze, came to its natural conclusion in 2019, the group expanded to bring in additional members in synth/percussionist Barn Peiser Pepin and vocalist/synth player Lois Kelly, both of whom make a great difference in this evolution of the band and have been instrumental in their pivot towards a more polished sound.

Another element that has come along leaps and bounds in recent years is guitarist Conor Kearney’s production work across the record – nothing feels forced together about the varying styles, and there’s no point where things begin to sound cluttered on the record.

With a seemingly renewed sense of confidence that the band could write in a variety of different styles without it seeming as though they’d lost focus on what they represented as a group, tracks such as ‘Wild Guess’ are the closest the band have come to producing a pop single (with a bossa nova lilt followed by a sudden segue into a breakbeat that could have been lifted from a Sonic the Hedgehog game), and ‘Funk U Up’ is rather unsurprisingly being their best effort at funk but with more than just a nod towards Talking Heads’ work circa Speaking in Tongues.

There are nods to more contemporary artists who blur the lines between synth-heavy pop and dance-punk, with opener ‘Uptight’ having a riff running through that sounds like something Al Doyle would play on either a Hot Chip or LCD Soundsystem record, and other moments such as ‘Bethnal Green’ or ‘Push Comes to Shove’ that recall Late of the Pier and Metronomy respectively.

It’s this sense of comfort that Home Counties seem to have taken in not limiting themselves to solely producing music in one single vein that has allowed them to come up with a debut that defies a lot of preconceptions that may have existed about them in the past. They’re more than capable of cementing their place in multiple different genre boundaries, and this is only going to become more apparent over time as they grow on future records and explore further possibilities within their sound.

While there are many musical highs on the record, there are moments where clunky or trite lyricism does bring down the overall enjoyability, and although the sentiments of lynching landlords and ousting trust fund white boys from the music industry are easy to relate to, there’s only so many times you can hear a collection of Yard Act-isms in song before they start to become nothing more than platitudes.

Minor lyrical transgressions aside, frontman Will Harrison does mix snarl with a heightened sense of melody compared to on previous releases, and with vocal duties now shared between him and Kelly have given him the opportunity to discover different styles that allow the two to play off each other well.

What Home Counties have done on Exactly As It Seems is take their particular brand of fun and broaden its horizons to create a debut album that is brimming with energy and personality from start to finish, and if their dedication to evolving and trying out new things continues at the same rate in the future, perhaps album two will have strayed even further from how it seems now.

featured image: Alex Amoros

Review

Rating
8/10
Rating
8.0/10
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