These days, if you name drop the Beach Boys, describe your music as dream pop, and take a financial plunge on the tightest black jeans that Topman are currently stocking, A&Rs will be ramming free drinks down your necks within weeks. This slightly depressing fact is one of which Wirral band BY THE SEA are painfully aware.
Because, although their forthcoming Bill-Ryder-Jones-produced debut album could be fairly described with the term, dream pop has become more of a cynical marketing term that’s hastily applied to the next characterless hype band rather than a legitimate genre. Yet from the soaring heights of euphoric opener By The Sea to the maudlin hum of the last track, Game Of Circles, By The Sea gently dismantle your consciousness with ease, inducting you into their hazy, dream-like world. Admittedly, as we meet the band in a sleepy pub on the Wirral, at least one of them is wearing black jeans, they mention the Beach Boys, and concede at least the otherworldly aesthetic of their music, but the difference is that none of it is contrived; this is exactly the record that they wanted to make, and, as you’re swept away by the insistent fog of Dream Waters, it’s impossible not to feel that this is an album born of real inspiration.
After a couple of years quietly amassing plaudits from this very magazine to a clutch of music blogs and, eventually, the NME, By The Sea will finally release their eponymous debut album through Dell’Orso Records and The Great Pop Supplement on 12th November. “Basically, on that day, we’re going to go and treat ourselves to a big bag of Chupa Chups lollies,” explains frontman Liam Power, with a keen awareness of the financial injustice of the music industry. And it’s hard not to sympathise with him, because if the musical brilliance of an album equated with album sales, By The Sea would definitely never have to fight over the last pinch of tobacco ever again. For a less inspired band, this might be the realisation that drove them into a dour but steady existence sat in a chair in an office for the rest of their lives, but Liam continues that “I just don’t want to work in a call centre. I’m going to end up there at some point, but I want to put it off for as long as possible.” They’re understandably proud of the record, too, with bass player Danny O’Connell firmly stating that “I’m made up with it, I love it,” to keen agreement from the rest of the band. “We’re just all happy to leave it to its own devices… Even if nothing happens, we’re just gonna get straight back recording.” Listening to the record, it’s not surprising to hear that it was made with such a single-minded passion that ignores the expectations of the music industry and the temptation of financial ambition. Instead, By The Sea’s eponymous debut is a record on which every shimmering guitar note and breathed vocal is hung heavy with honesty and emotional weight.
Although you wouldn’t guess it from the effortless way in which they knock out their intensely melancholic sound today, By The Sea have changed hugely since they first surfaced two years ago. No band stays the same over two years, but By The Sea were driven to their uniquely affecting sound because, as Danny explains, after their first couple of demos recorded with Bill Ryder-Jones from The Coral, “We somehow we got this name as Scouse revivalists, like we were this jangly Scouse band, but we were really not like that at all.” This forced the band to find their own identity outside of these narrow expectations that people seem to be desperate to apply to any band from Liverpool. Danny continues: “There’s a whole wave of new Wirral artists like Forest Swords and Outfit reacting against this stereotypical image of bands from around here. You go out of your way now to really make a statement.” Perhaps we’ve now reached a point where this unfair assumption of the sound of Liverpool-based bands is encouraging new bands like By The Sea to be more original – although Liam is unsure of this concept of originality, interjecting that “I don’t think that our album is highly original or anything, but I don’t think it needs to be. I mean, dubstep’s original, but it’s also shit. I think you have to be quite conventional, but put your own stamp on it.” This aim expresses itself effortlessly through the album, because although it’s not going to be winning any prizes for innovation, the whole album is firmly draped in something that’s very distinctly By The Sea. Whether it’s the carefree way in which the guitars meander over each track, the hushed, confessional tones of the vocals, or the ethereal wash that laps the edges of it all, it ultimately doesn’t matter – this is an album with more character than a thousand bands who could never escape the shadow of their ancestors.
Unfortunately, although coming from the Wirral does of course give you the chance to constantly compare your musical knowledge to that of John Peel and your Trojan-like body to that of Daniel Craig’s, the fortunes that the peninsula allows a band are far narrower. As drummer Andy Royden says, after over a year on the Wirral, “We went to London for the first time and got signed in a matter of hours.” Having said that, without the charming backwards ways of the peninsula, By The Sea wouldn’t even exist: when we come to the question of influences, they’re not keen to reel off lists of pretentious references but cite “the boredom of the Wirral in general” as the main factor we have to thank for their music. “There’s fuck all to do, we’ve got fuck all qualifications and this is just something good to do.” Keyboardist Joe Edwards at this point looks up incredulously from constructing his next rollie to boast of his GCSEs, but it’s a strong point nevertheless. Danny adds that, stranded on the Wirral, away from the distracting influences of managers and labels, the band had “more space to do the recording without any industry pressure, so we could do exactly what we wanted”. This allowed them what is a worryingly rare luxury for talented new bands – time to grow. Over the past couple of years, they’ve slowly flourished into a fully formed band and have found their own sound: rich, reverb-soaked passages which even sound like they’ve been made with the conviction that comes with total creative control.
In the context of today’s mercilessly accelerated music industry in which new bands are never given years to develop, By The Sea’s record stands out as a remarkably fully formed set of affecting pop songs that float somewhere above the realm of consciousness. Genuinely accomplished debut albums like this can be as much an unwanted pressure as they are rare, but when we ask if a second album will definitely happen, Liam replies with characteristic self-deprecating wit that “It’s got to, or else I’ll kill myself.” Danny follows up his comment with one that neatly sums up By The Sea: “We’ve got nothing else to do. We might not make a great record for 10 years, but we’re going to be trying.” Forget ten years’ time, because, whilst By The Sea’s first effort might not be perfect, it just proves that perfection isn’t even a goal worth pursuing – it’s every bleary idiosyncrasy and imperfection that makes this submersive trip through the subconscious all the more convincing.