Common Tongues – Divisions

Having been around on the Brighton scene since the turn of the decade, Common Tongues have finally released a full length début album. Divisions captures the last two years of the group’s songwriting, seeing them emerge from the folky acoustic ballads of their early EP’s with a more contemporary rock sound, layering synthetic textures in amongst their acoustic instrumentation, lending them an epic pop edge that recalls the sounds of noughties groups like Foals and The Maccabees.

The album opens with ‘New Moon’: acoustic guitar and harmony vocals singing verses before the drums and buoyant bass guitar kick in, adding a slightly unexpected pop feel with pitch-shifted guitars and a synthesiser adding a sheen. Leadsinger, Tom, gets a bit of a work-out too, as his distinctive baritone gains more and more grit as the song progresses, searching and yearning. ‘Overturning’ sounds like it could have started life as a more slight finger plucked ditty, but its big drums and bass guitar have taken it off on another tangent. There’s something about that tightly wound rhythm section that reminds me of Dark Side Of The Moon-era Pink Floyd, driving grooves which push the songs forward and into your face. There’s also a floaty, ethereal quality to much of the record. The band tend towards a slow and steady pace: vocals soar on top and whether they use natural sounds like acoustic guitar, piano and violin or their more synthetic cousins (electric guitars and violin treated with effects pedals and synthesisers) the band tend to adorn the songs with luscious textures, avoiding any jarring use of distorted electric guitar or in-your-face lead sounds. This lends the album a consistent and contemplative air, songs are given plenty of room to breathe, arranged to take their time with vocals that roll out slowly, a set of measured melodic slow-burns.

‘New Moon’s trick, beginning with minimal instrumentation and building to a full band sound, is an approach that happens several times on the album, but it’s one that works very well with these songs and never better than on the latest single, ‘Pioneer’. It has one of the strongest melodies on the record, with lovely atmospheric trembling tremolo violin on the first verse. It succeeds in making a lasting impressions in a way some of the other tracks don’t, because there are such dramatic dynamic shifts between passages. There’s a real force to the delivery of the rocked out sections, and a fantastic vocal performance, that lift this track to another place. It follows ‘Picture A Scene’, another highlight of the record, but for different reasons. The circling groove and considered arrangement present a vista to lose yourself in.

‘Dogs’ is the most acoustic track on the album, taking its sweet time to introduce the more rhythmical elements to the song. It’s not a particularly lush, gentle track though. The vocals are full bodied from the get-go and you could imagine it working well with the big drums coming in earlier, although it is nice to have a slight lull at this stage of the album. The way the track builds into its last chapter via pizzicato strings is one of the strongest moments of the record. Album closer ‘Backs Against The Wall’ has one of the most interesting arrangements. If anything it’s a touch slower still than what has gone before, which suits it. The strings and piano are gorgeous, lending the song an almost classical feel, especially in the space afforded to them through the minimal drumming of the first half, which eventually builds into a military style marching snare drum. I would say though that, while this song certainly reaches some sort of summit, a peak that all the soaring and yearning of the album has eventually risen to, it’s somewhat less impressive for the fact it is surrounded by similar peaks.

There is a certain mood and feel that is all-pervading, it’s an album of struggle and triumph, hope and desire, but it all seems to settle somewhat in the middle. It might have been nice to hear them do something at either end of the spectrum: stripped completely bare or rocking out, hard and fast. For fans of slow-burning epic pop this album will be a treat, representing a real triumph for Common Tongues. It’s a well-produced, fully-realised set of songs, representing a significant shift in sound and an all round step-up from the band. It will be interesting to see if they settle here now or if they continue to develop and grow.
Adam Kidd