Once known as SPQR, San Lorenz have rechristened themselves in reference to the wittily apocalyptic novella Cat’s Cradle, and as Vonnegut did, the band dwell in the space between cynicism and tenderness. However, their lyrics never feel smugly detached, their music refusing to overindulge; in an age where indie rock is dominated by post-post-ironic art school experimentalists and ceaselessly publicised nepo babies, San Lorenz fit within a niche of earnest and accessible music that glitters with a hundred details, a polished and considered successor to the erratic yet grounded Northern art rock school of Field Music, Maximo Park, and Franz Ferdinand.
A Death At Sea opens with swelling ambience and soaring vocals, establishing an intimate tone that never entirely dissipates. Synths are often used to embellish the atmospheres of each piece; the title track begins with robotic drumming and elegiac piano akin to one of Thom Yorke’s ballads, evoking a forlorn detachment before the chorus is announced by a plunging bassline and expansive electronics. “Where’s the Shock?”, on the other hand, uses handheld percussion and guitar flourishes alongside cheerfully tropical pads, and like most songs on the record is driven by an emphatic, groovy rhythm section. Emotional states are fluid and sometimes unpredictable – “Dijiste Adios” begins cheekily a la Gorrillaz but ends with forlorn apprehension, while lead single and personal karaoke favourite “Tightrope” begins with tentative instrumentation and the vulnerable suggestion that
“I’m gonna lay my cards on the table”
before blossoming into huge choruses. Smart choices like the track’s bass-driven, stripped-down bridge are common as the band refuses to stagnate texturally, constantly building or releasing tension as they add and subtract instrumental layers.
As Everything Everything frontman Jon Higgs’ endorsement suggests, vocalist Pete Harrison’s lyrics are as nuanced as his music. The emotional dissonance in “Adjust the Angle” is a prime example; a playful, mischievous rhythm underpins the plaintively delivered chorus
“An empty nest, deepest regrets to you who I have done wrong
Relieve me of that handle, adjust the angle, I could live another life
Or carry on and be a better son”
in what feels like a wry take on The Smiths’ bittersweet blend of singalong melodies and depressive musings. This maturity extends to the album’s themes – no teenage infatuation here, instead meditations upon life and love as an adult in a difficult world, peppered with regret and self-doubt.
All these unusual twists make the more straightforwardly cathartic closer all the more meaningful; “First to Know” slowly builds toward a sonically rich and profoundly grandiose conclusion, after which the synthesiser can be heard bursting into flames in the studioas the band finish recording, as if exhausted by its contributions and cremated by the band’s passion.
A Death at Sea is a meticulous yet unpretentious debut, as rewarding emotionally as it is musically, honed over many years of writing and musicianship. Whether you seek a singalong, an emotional outlet, or something musically complex, this Liverpudlian quartet will quickly steal your heart all the same.
by Toyah Stoker (she/her)