The Lathums: How Beautiful Music Can Be

Laurie Wilcockson 26 October 2021
Image credit: Twitter

The Great Escape is, I say unashamedly, one of the best songs ever written.

The Lathums’ debut album, How Beautiful Life Can Be, came out recently, and it is one of those albums I’ve been excited for since its announcement. I’ve followed the band for as long as most trend-hopping, zeitgeist-following indie fans have – that is to say, since The Great Escape hit Spotify. Their first runaway hit, it’s currently second in their repertoire only to Fight On in terms of streams. It’s a jangle-pop classic, lyrically reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand, yet musically of the Housemartins – two bands not often paired together, I’d wager. The band’s musical similarity to the La’s is also self-evident from the start, and all of these factors combine to make the album inadvertently and unapologetically nostalgic, to an indie era long forgotten.

However, the Lathums are not deliberately a throwback band. They are representative of the modern-day Britain, and if modern-day Britain is inherently nostalgic, that’s the fault of the Britain, not the Lathums. The Guardian, amidst what reads as a praise-full celebration of the album, descends momentarily into scathing criticism, calling them “[not] as witty or cultured as their indie forebears” for their vague, ambiguous lyrics. I’d suggest that admittedly, while Alex Moore’s no Morrissey or Alex Turner, that would only matter if he was trying to be. While their songs, the eponymous track How Beautiful Life Can Be being the perfect example, fail to pursue a narrative, what they do succeed in is creating an atmosphere – a vibe.

The claim of vapid lyricism does not apply evenly across the album. I Won’t Lie, for example, is limited in lyrical scope, and in the following track I See Your Ghost, I struggle to work out what the meaning is, other than the Occam’s Razor suggestion of it being about a lost love. However, the track after that, Oh My Love, is full of character. Don’t get me wrong, there’s again not much complexity, but complexity and meaning are very different; Orwell and Hemingway would baulk at such a presumption. “Time is weak, and demanding of me” is a beautiful lyric, poetic in fact, and while vague, a clear allusion contextually to the fleeting, uncertain nature of falling in love. Sure, it’s “undemanding”, as the Guardian would call it, but there’s a beauty in that. And the fact that every review I read seems to have different takes on the meanings of each song seems to prove that the ambiguity is nonetheless inherently poetic.

Across the album, it’s also notable for its diversity. One fascinating song is the new release I’ll Never Forget the Time I Spent with You, which is hymn-like, and eerily reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind, bringing to mind primary school memories of Friday hymn practice, and the Little England nostalgia that comes with it. However, this is a world a way from I Know That Much, which opens with a clean rock riff that wouldn’t sound out of place in the track lists of Boston or Bon Jovi.

The breakaway song, though, without a doubt is The Great Escape. Guitarist Scott Concepcion, whose hands play unbelievably like Johnny Marr’s, enters with a Charming-Man-esque riff, before Moore interjects with a powerful first line: “juxtaposition is a predisposition of a pacifist movement suppressing the argumentative”. The song is about feeling as though you exist just slightly beyond the real world, and you’ve never quite found where you belong.

It’s a song about displacement, and disaffection with a world that has no time for you. The narrator feels as though they need to escape, but want they want above all is acceptance, and to be able to return to the Earth they love so much. The song smashes out of the water any suggestions of vague lyrics, and shows Moore’s poeticism at its best.

It is perhaps only fair to comment, having discussed Moore’s lyricism, on Concepcion’s guitar. As a massive guitar nerd myself, for me guitar is as important, if not more, than the lyrics themselves. Concepcion lives up to this expectation, and the fact Moore plays alongside him as well accentuates the band’s sound as a whole, giving Concepcion the freedom to run into quick-handed solos that dance across the whole fretboard. In The Great Escape the pre-chorus riff stands out as especially beautiful, and the solo to Fight On is especially memorable, even though it lasts only a few bars, as is the intro to How Beautiful Life Can Be.

Overall, the album feels to me a massive success. If I were prone to giving ratings, I think an 8/10 wouldn’t be disingenuous, and I’d perhaps be inclined to give more, but as I’m not, that’s a decision I withhold with my conscience held clean that I wasn’t doing this original, talented, and most importantly, new, band a disservice.