The Horrors – Primary Colours [2009]

Apologies in advance for the weird segue that this post will start with, but – lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about identity and names, and stressing about it. I’m pretty settled in being non-binary, but the way I want to display that – as masculine or feminine – varies from day to day. I currently seem to have two names (the one on my birth certificate, and the one I’ve adopted), but they’re at different extremes on the masc/fem spectrum and it’s frustrating trying to balance them.

So I’ve been experimenting with gender- neutral names lately, trying to get a few of my closest online communities to listen (thankfully they have been). I quite like the name Finley, but I’m struggling as to whether it’s a name that suits me, or just one I like in general.

Of course, with identity – especially when you’re a teenager anyway – you tend to draw influence from your idols, and sometimes how I’ve idealised myself has been based off whoever I’ve been into lately. And there’s been plenty of patches of me drawing influence from Faris Badwan – he’s cute and emo, but he also sings in a delightful band called the Horrors, and one of their albums in particular, Primary Colours, is excellent – reaching into the shoegaze/punk interlap with ease.

Primary Colours starts off in much more sedate fashion than the first Horrors album, 2007’s Strange House. That record started with a hard-edged cover of Screaming Lord Sutch’s ‘Jack the Ripper’, swinging you straight into the early Gothic shtick that the Horrors made their name with. This one, meanwhile, opens with a gentle drum beat and drifting, spacey guitar, easing you into this blissful introduction. An unusual guitar riff starts up though, growing louder and louder before we kick into this interesting, but unexpected gaze song – a keyboard pad playing a riff while we’re surrounded by some sheets of guitar noise and highly-mixed bass, Badwan’s post-punk voice just as prominent as it always was.

‘Three Decades’ keeps up the vibe, amping up the tempo as well. Joe Spurgeon’s drums are rapid and bouncy, the guitars swirl around in a calmer style than they had been before, and the vocals are starting to become better. Immediately following on is ‘Who Can Say’, my introduction to the Horrors (I asked on the shoegaze Discord server for some more punk-y gaze tracks, and this was recommended – thanks rar!) and still one of my favourite tracks. The song is propelled by some super-driven fuzzy guitars, and the lyrics are perfectly suited to the noise – especially on the bridge, where Badwan gives off a spoken- word recital of an old 60s song.

‘Do You Remember’ follows in the line of great shoegaze dance songs, and the way the drums and guitar interplay is reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Soon’ (at least in my eyes). The drumming is stuffed with fills and the guitar wildly moves up and down, turning it into the closest indieheads can get to a floor filler. ‘New Ice Age’ has a return to the dark vocals of the earlier album, while the rest of the band offers up a dense, unsettling backdrop to go along with the lyrics.

There’s plenty of sounds and types explored on Primary Colours, even if it all uses the same palette. ‘I Only Think of You’ is long and slow, playing along with noisy, distorted guitar and some Ian Curtis-esque vocals. ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ uses a lengthy, fuzzy guitar progression to drive the song, with straightforward drums and vaguely jangly second guitar keeping the quicker beat going. The album’s title track features some higher-pitched singing in the chorus, with the melody being more outwardly poppy than essentially every other song. And finally, everything on the record comes to a head on eight-minute lead single ‘Sea Within a Sea’. Badwan’s vocals are as soft and reverby as they’ve ever been, the drums tap out a rapid cymbal beat, and the guitar alternates between setting textures and a little three-note riff to add to it. That’s just the opening two minutes though, as the song must go on.

  • Guitar builds further, playing a mini solo at the two-minute break. A minute later, it reaches another level, ambient layers in the background colliding with another solo. Then we all fall away to just drums and bass, keeping us on our toes. Some almost chiptune keyboard swings in, switching between the left and right of the speakers rapidly, and the guitars return. This is how the song continues, rushing through for minutes and minutes. In an album as fuzzed-up and chaotic as this one is, it’s an unexpected but excellent ending – the calm in the sea of the title.

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