Way back in the cold depth of January Sundara Karma released their debut album Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect and it was glorious, I dare say it’s a strong contender for my album of the year. Now sadly the review got lost in the post, during the midst of the great Peanut Mixtape hiatus of 2017 so I’m here to right a wrong and give this extended cut the review it deserved in the first place.
The true appeal of Sundara Karma seems to come from the contrasting wildly infectious instrumentals and existentialist lyrics. They put both beauty and a great amount of intellect into their music, just at a time when the critics complain that indie music is becoming mindless. They cross between the wider topics of ‘Flame’ to the introspective ‘Happy Family’. There’s a definite sense of duality in the narrative here, youth being the linking factor between songs yet also being what divides opinion in the individual tracks.
Opener ‘A Young Understanding’ really sets the scene. The crashing drums and striking guitars courtesy of Haydn Evans and Ally Baty respectively grip the listener from the offing so when Oscar Pollock comes in belting the first verse, we’re ready. It’s song to let loose to, there’s a catharsis in an arms open sing along here which really sets the tone for the rest of the album. Next comes ‘Loveblood’ the hit that infamously took four years to write. If anything it’s testament to the fact that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s another notch up from ‘A Young Understanding’, proving that just because it’s catchy doesn’t mean it has to be mindless.
New addition ‘Explore’ slots itself nicely between ‘Loveblood’ and ‘Olympia’. This song is bloody lovely, I’ve already reviewed it’s video here but the song itself is Sundara Karma nailing their dance infused indie quota. The important thing to note here is that they aren’t rehashing dance pop indie from the 2000s, they’re firmly their own thing with it. The guitars are so light and airy it’s difficult to think of doing anything other than bopping along to this song. The slow, building verse offset by bursting into a ridiculously satisfying chorus.
‘Lahkey’ is a grounded yet euphoric track, taking a hint from Foals and building itself up on snappy, upbeat drums and acoustic guitar. This song is as infectious as it is happy to plod along with shining synths in the background.
One of my favourites is ‘Happy Family’ which resonates a lot with their fan base. It’s definitely their darkest song on Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect. Oscar Pollock talks about it ‘unwittingly turn[ing] out to be the saddest song on the record.’ It reflects on leaving home to follow your dreams, but feeling an obligation to your ties to home whether that be for better or worse. It’s a delicate moment lyrically but vocally it’s just as strong as the other tracks. The building tension in the song also seems to reflect the tensions between home towns and pursuing dreams, making the breaking tension in the second chorus all the more gratifying if not bittersweet.
Another high point of the album is ‘Lose the Feeling’, it seems it got neglected in favour of biggest songs on the first cut of the album but hopefully it’ll get a little more attention this time around. There’s an air of Springsteen about the song but not in a cliché way, more in the way of 80s arena rock. And ‘Vivienne’ still proves itself a fan favourite, the band themselves not particularly fond of the track but it still finds itself cropping up two years on.
From there stems ‘Be Nobody’, a track that stems from a raw vocal performance from Oscar Pollock, and branches into a far larger beast while keeping in tact it’s emotional depth and compelling intimacy. It’s tragically wonderful, taking a lesser mentioned fear of our generation, and poeticising it without romanticising it. This is where Sundara Karma’s song writing excels, they’re able to look back over what are very recent memories at the ripe age of 21, and tell their stories from a subjectively wiser standpoint.
‘The Night’ is an old favourite and a classic, taking inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the longing guitars over the bridge making it almost sultry. Finally comes new addition ‘Another Word for Beautiful’ is the closer. Much like ‘The Night’ it’s a slow burning sultry number, but more so. The song is dramatic, I dare say cinematic, with the grandiose of The Last Shadow Puppets.
This album on a whole is compellingly intimate at times. It’s remarkable as a debut, even more remarkable when they’re still barely out of ‘youth’ themselves yet are able to so clearly and so poetically look back youth and recognise the rose tinted glasses that falls over their memories, to be honest. With this being their debut offering it’s clear Sundara Karma have a long future ahead of them.