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Tellison – The Wages Of Fear (Naim Edge Records)
Having not released an original album since the distant days of 2007, London indie - rock 4 piece Tellison are back on the scene with new album ‘The Wages Of Fear’ set to be released on the 13th June…
My Wife's Grave Is In ParisTellison
Tellison - My Wife’s Grave Is In Paris.
I’ve been holding off posting anything from the best album of the year because I had an advance to review it and didn’t want to contribute to it leaking, but I just saw someone else post a song from it, and it’s leaked and it’s streaming and everyone’s heard it, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. I’m really looking forward to my review going up because I was really pleased with it, and I want to see if people agree with me.
If Tellison aren’t one of the biggest bands in the UK in a few years, I will lose all faith in people even more so than I have already.
This song is indescribable. Maybe I’m just being self-centred. It’s one of those ‘oh god oh god oh god curl up in to a ball and never come out again’ songs. I shouldn’t listen to it as much as I do because I’m pretty sure it does absolutely nothing to help my mood, but some days it’s all I want to listen to. I’d post some lyrics, but, I don’t know if I want to.
I am hungover. I need to revise for my exam. I need to find my polling card thing so I can vote. I need to do a lot of things.
Tellison - The Wages Of Fear
(Written for The 405, very happy with how this came out because I love Tellison and this album.)
I first saw Tellison when I was only fifteen years old. That seems like forever ago now. They were on tour with Ross from My First Tooth’s old band and a band from Scotland called Stapleton, doing a rotating headline thing and Tellison were opening that night. I don’t really remember too much about their set, to be honest, other than their closing number, this awesome song about New York. It stuck with me and I made sure to keep an eye on them until their first album came out about a year later. Contact! Contact!, it was called, and it ruled. No other way to describe it, really. It’s just flat out killer, this storm of UK indie rock that sounds as much like it came out of the American Midwest in the late 90s as London in 2007, with huge choruses and wall to wall singalongs that I repaid them for at every show I could see. Every cramped stage across the country with sweat dripping off the walls, screaming the words right back at them, like you do when you know a band is going to be something special. Tellison have always been a band close to my heart, and with the songs on The Wages Of Fear, it’s actually getting a little dangerous how near they are to piercing it.
It’s been four years between albums and in the meantime there’s been a handful of singles, a few new songs emerging at shows with a changing line-up of live members, a disappearing solo album, and maybe most importantly, everyone’s grown up. “Maturation” is a concept people like to throw around in regards to second records from promising young bands and, yeah, you could say Tellison have matured, but that’s not really all there is to it. There’s a weight on the shoulders of this record that “maturer” bands can’t quite manage. It’s a draining listen, from every hooky pop-punk high to every crushing emotional low. Maybe Tellison are old before their time. Not quite mature, but already a little world-weary. You can hear it straight away, in the opening track ‘Get On’, once the nice piano intro is out of the way. “I’m a writer, I’ve got a bit of a problem,” cries Stephen H Davidson, by way of introduction. “I picked up some moves in my youth and I’m scared that I’ve lost them.” It’s all about convincing yourself of your own worth whilst your talents are failing and things are going wrong around you, and Davidson’s already proven before track one’s even finished that he can at least still write a great song.
The Wages Of Fear bursts at the seams with energy. Singles ‘Collarbone’ and ‘Say Silence (Heaven and Earth)’ help sustain the desperate energy of ‘Get On’, with the former letting Peter Phillips take over lead vocals for the first time on the album, something much more common this time round than on Contact!. The first chance to pause and catch your breath comes with ‘Freud Links the Teeth and the Heart’, a song that’s been kicking around as an acoustic solo demo of Davidson’s for a couple of years now. Expanded to a full band, it’s a gorgeously restrained and bittersweet number about Freudian interpretations of love and pain and having a crush on your dentist. The entire song sounds like it’s being sung through a sad smile, especially the song’s climax, when things finally break down and he confesses that “my teeth are breaking, but my heart is aching for you.”
Then, to counterbalance things, a mighty drum crash brings in ‘Horses’, one of the rawest songs on the album. “It was a bad time of year for it, Henry had gone back to Boston,” Davidson spits (on a side note, though, Henry seems to go somewhere different every time! On the last album, Henry Went To Paris under apparently dubious circumstances that the song doesn’t quite address) over tension building guitar feedback. It feels claustrophobic and furious, and if I was the kind of dreadful person who skips over songs on albums, I’d be too scared to skip this one even if I didn’t like it, just because I wouldn’t want to stop whatever’s being gotten out of the system from getting out.
Other highlights include finally having a recorded version of ‘Tell It To Thebes’, the epic slow burner they’ve been taunting crowds with at shows for ages now. Gradually building and building to a pounding repeating chorus that ultimately just cuts loose and lets go. It’s one of the most punishing and intense songs on the album, unlike ‘Edith Wharton’, an absolute belter of a catchy pop hit that you can sing along to even if you’ve never heard it before. It could be a massive single, if there was any justice in the universe.
Both of Tellison’s songwriters have a remarkable talent for openly and honestly baring their souls in their songs, but at the same time hiding behind literary references, metaphors, and private nicknames, and then burying it all behind incredible Get Up Kids-style pop so that you’re too busy dancing to notice. To listen to a Tellison song is to know both everything and nothing about the person singing it, and either have a bloody good time singing along with them, regardless of what it all means, or sit and puzzle everything out and deal with the consequences that brings.
It’s the closer, ‘My Wife’s Grave Is In Paris’, that packs the biggest punch. A slow and quiet number that immediately tugs at the heartstrings. “I wish I’d never met you,” laments Davidson, and things only get worse from there. The most personal song on the record, with tiny references to tiny events, “the little things that no one ever knew,” these little memories and mistakes that all get lost in this beautiful mess of a song. After every catchy hook and singalong chorus that’ll leave you buzzing with energy, The Wages Of Fear ultimately ends with a kick to the chest that it’s hard to recover from. Songs like this don’t come along once an album, they come along once a lifetime. You have to wonder what the fuck Davdison was even thinking if he could doubt his abilities as a writer and then come up with something like this.
Is it better than the first album? That’s usually what people want to know, right? It’s hard to judge, because at times they may as well be by different bands. Contact! Contact!, even on the sad songs, sounds so much more carefree and, in retrospect, a little more naive. Stephen H Davidson has actually been to New York now. He and his bandmates have loved and lost, grown and changed. They’ve been carrying the weight of the world, from the sound of things, so give this incredible album a spin and help them shoulder the burden for a while.