There’s something refreshingly quaint yet modern about a band coming together in response to an online ad looking for like-minded musicians. Following his move from Limerick to Brighton in the quest to break into the London scene, Brían McNamara got his wish when his advert was answered by the talented violinist Nikki Bates. From there sprang Warsaw Radio, a band named after a live orchestra that played over the airwaves to keep Polish spirits up during World War II until their transmitter was hit by a shell. Now bolstered by Laurence Bridge on bass, that air of defiance runs through much of Midnight Broadcast, a debut album that is startling with its self-assurance.
Opening with ‘Ms. Monroe’, a tale of imagined relationship advice from Marilyn Monroe at the end of her time with famed filmmaker Arthur Miller. As the guitar strums with a similar style to the likes of Woody Guthrie, there is a sense of a record that’s rediscovered after being lost in time. With an air of gypsy folk through it all, there is also more than a touch of the gothic portentousness delivery style of Nick Cave. “I’ve got it all to lose, he’s got it all to win” sings McNamara at the song’s climax, on what is a highly impressive start to Midnight Broadcast. It transpires that this is only a warm up. While ‘Whispers’ begins as fairly routine folk-rock, the second half shifts momentarily into the sort of huge rock anthem that Springsteen did in his prime. It is this fluidity that sets the album apart from many of its peers.
Each track has at least one moment or detail that makes the ears prick up – whether it is a change of pace that takes the song in a surprising direction, or with an infectious melody creeping in. ‘The End (Where We Started)’ has a fascinating joust between a guitar line and vocals, while ‘After Eve’ takes a classic chord progression and takes it to the heavens and back. Bates’ violin snakes back in, turning it into a moment of beauty. Vocally, McNamara sounds impressive throughout – there is a similar rich timbre to Matt Hegarty of Matthew & The Atlas fame, only bolstered by a slightly heavier sound. On the gentle tidal rhythm of ‘Lost In Her Sound’, his voice climbs like a rising tide. Every inch of emotion is wrenched out of lines like: “You don’t need to ask me twice, cos your hearts and lips are my vice”, always on the right side of being over-wrought while losing none of the power.
When Midnight Broadcast amps up the guitars, it truly flies. ‘New Day’ balances a riff of fire with the brimstone of Nick Cave’s Preacherman aesthetic, asking: “Did you ask for an extra helping of hate…Your money’s no good and your emptiness is subsidised”. As the guitars kick in after that line, it is enough to have listeners punching the air, as with ‘The Escapade’. The delay in reaching a crescendo in that track showcases a real cleverness of songwriting, as it makes the emotion when it does all the more delicious. ‘Still Have You To Hold’ paints a poignant picture of time slipping by with lines such as: “Past the pictures of memories and the phone no-one calls, not since ’04”. There is a timelessness to tracks like this, and show that the band understand the power of turning the volume down just as much as the opposite.
Warsaw Radio have in the past supported acts such as The Waterboys, and their influence (in particular that strand of big Celtic rock) is wrapped around much of this album. Strings build on anthems that already contain heart-in-throat sentiments, combining to make a record that is already big, bold and confident. These songs sound supersized and custom-made for stadiums, though of course now the band need to earn that status. For now, though, this is a genuinely eye-opening record and one that feels like it could have resided in discerning collections for years already. Just like the inspiration behind their name, Warsaw Radio will be keeping spirits up for quite some time yet.