On one hand, I feel for TV Priest, as the London quartet come in the wake of the post-punk revival of the past few years, encompassing everyone from Fat White Family to Shame to Girl Band, Fontaines DC and, of course, the titans of the genre, Idles. Idles’ last album, Ultra Mono, débuted at #1 on the charts in England and Scotland, and #3 in Ireland, last spring. The movement has gone mainstream, it is part of the rock firmament of the UK, and to a lesser extent, the US. And along come TV Priest, following this explosion. I worry that this will lead people to dismiss them for being bandwagon jumpers.
That would be a mistake. On first listen, yes, Uppers is fully in this vein of masculinized post-punk rawk. On repeated listens, Uppers reveals itself as an album of depth and layers, revealing a band that is less worried about the world may thing than staking their claim to that world. And as I listened again and again, I found less of Idles and more of The Fall, to say nothing of their own voice.
The band is comprised of four lads who grew up together, making music as teenagers before the world took them in different directions. But late in 2019, they found themselves back together, Charlie Drinkwater on vocals, Alex Srogis on guitars, Nic Blueth on bass and synth, and Ed Kelland pounding the skins. They came back together a bit more sanded down, disillusioned by the world, of real jobs, of real exhaustion and frustration. This bubbles to the surface over and over as the album goes on.
And rather than shouting into the void, standing in a place of righteousness, TV Priest thus lean into the unkowns, the beauty, the terror. They take on the world for what it is, and recognize that life is not about answers, but about questions. There is wisdom to be found here.
‘The Big Curve’ explodes into being with a furious bass, and Drinkwater declaring that ‘This could be/The first day/Of the rest of your life,’ that shitastic, anodyne phrase we’ve all heard from well-meaning friends, lovers, and family. But Drinkwater’s note there, instead finding mystery, amusement in the world, finding the courage to face the world. His vocals are less in tune with the music than one would expect, as the band thrashes out a pleasing mélange of guitars, bass, drums, Drinkwater’s vocals wander around the melody à la Mark E. Smith (RIP). But this also isn’t standard-issue post-punk, as Blueth and Kelland create a bouncy beat that propels the song along, as Srogis’ guitars are all angular and sharp and fierce.
‘Journal of a Plague Year’ borrows (most) of its name from fellow Londonder Daniel Defoe’s masterpiece recounting of the Plague Year of 1665 in the English capital. I don’t think I need to explain why I song written and recorded in 2020 would take on this title. A plunging bass and rolling drums bring us in, and then Drinkwater arrives and informs us that ‘Bad news/comes likes busses/in twos’… and then he goes onto relive the descending of the Plague Year of 2020, as Drinkwater demands ‘Hey, buddy! Normalize this!…And the new normal/sets in.’ And we’re dropped back into that horror, the one which isn’t really exactly receding in 2021, though at least here in the US, we’ve booted the Great Orange Despot from office.
‘This Island’ is the single, which over a motorik beat and the propulsive bass Drinkwater implores us to come live on the island, offering an escape from the world. A well-placed synth bit presages the brutality of the guitars as we are off to the races. And Drinkwater manages to deadpan: ‘I found singularity at the bottom of the Mail Online comments section / HAHAHA, laugh it up.’ I mean, c’mon. This is the world today.
This is the beauty of TV Priest, of their début album, is all the instability, fragility, fear, terror, beauty, and general fuckedupness of the world as we see it today.