Released: May 2014
Ever wondered what Lily Allen mixed with The Horrors and a dash of the Human League would sound like? Probably not, but on their debut LP the “lo-fi chic pop” duo Candy Says find themselves stirring their wooden spoon through a musical broth of these eclectic influences amongst others, serving a glamorous collection of melodic snippets that borrows from classic pop music throughout the decades. Not Kings is at times incalculably multilayered and at others stripped back and raw, a spontaneous album that never fails to surprise.
“Gotta get out before my heart explodes” chants lead singer Julia ‘Juju’ Sophie Heslop, formerly of garage band Little Fish, as Candy Says opens the LP with the dramatic rhythmic stabbing of its title track. From here the band sets a precedent for the whole record: there is no precedent. Whist the opening track is an experimental electronic amalgamation of sounds, owing as much to modern pop music as it does to krautrock, its follow up Favourite Flavour has a far more anthemic indie rock vibe to it, bearing similarities to Los Campesinos! and Florence and the Machine with its distinctive drum beats and irresistibly catchy chorus headed by the sweet sounds of Heslop’s airy vocals. Further into the record can be found the European-influenced sounds of C’est Pas Comme CA and Lord’s Mistake which seamlessly fuse acoustic sounds with electronic vibes, as well as the more low-key Chad, a computerised love ballad that recalls Horrors frontman Faris Badwan’s recent side project Cat’s Eyes as much as it does Lou Reed, the band’s namesake.
What makes Not Kings work is its ability to escape the maze of influences that surrounds the record. With the self-imposed burden of a Velvet Underground song as a band name, as well as a tendency to borrow from music spanning half a century, it could have been very easy for Candy Says to produce something so derivative it’s almost a covers album, or simply a great big mess of clashing sounds. However Heslop’s vocals, though certainly not without the input of other recent pop songstresses, is unique and exciting enough to steer many tracks into a new direction, focusing very much on melody and rhythm whilst the drum parts and basslines play simple supporting roles for most of the record. There’s no doubt plenty of the lullaby qualities found in Reed’s work, as well as perfectly judged glossy synth sounds, are grabbed right from the ‘80s, but with her voice’s wandering tunefulness and often playful sensibility Heslop moulds her songs into something truly her own.
Things slow down a little as the album moves into its final third, another wise move as it allows for more lyrical development and serves to showcase even further the ability of Heslop’s voice, as found on Dead on Arrival, Candy Says’s most organic song both instrumentally and lyrically, and certainly one of the highlights of the record. Another belting hit the likes of which are so common in the LP’s first half would not have gone amiss as Not Kings reaches its conclusion, but the echoing organ of closing track Camilla and its choral multi-vocal hook followed by a stomping disco chorus are more than enough to solidify this album as a fine piece of work.
Clean, distorted, electric, acoustic, loud, quiet and everything in between, Not Kings is a record from a pair of musicians free to do whatever the hell they want to. It’s bold and infectious, and never afraid to take a sharp turn from whatever direction it might fool you into believing it is going in. They may have plenty of influences from past and present, but this duo are doing anything but looking backwards.