On first listen, it’s clear that Charlottefield have evolved into a seriously tight unit. Opening track ‘Beatings’ marches into view, propelled by a rolling bassline and tense, terse guitars. It’s business as usual for vocalist Thomas House, whose ferocious screeching picks up where the debut left off. Melody isn’t a priority here, instead House attacks each song with the intensity of a young Guy Picciotto, howling and railing against mysterious targets, shrouded in mystery and darkness.
Anyone who’s seen the band live will already be familiar with the almost illogical tubthumping abilities of drummer Ash Marlowe. Much more than just an impressive beard, his fills and ridiculous polyrhythms are strongly reminiscent of post-rock pioneer Damon Che, of Don Caballero infamy. Marlowe’s drumming feels organic rather than showy, and he is quite clearly the backbone of the band. Seriously, he’s one of the best drummers around. Anyone who disagrees can go and swivel.
‘Late Repeat’ is a more laid-back highlight that really emphasises the band’s growth. Its almost-crooned vocals are complimented by serpentine, shifting guitars, sparse bass with, yet again, the drums at the forefront. The slow-burning ‘Snakes’, meanwhile, is driven by a suitably reptilian bassline and growling guitars.
The only real criticism that can be levelled at What Are Friends For is that it ends just as it seems to be getting into its stride, with the jagged, abrasive and all-too-short ‘Backwards’ giving way to a brief hidden track. After the tension gradually built up by the rest of the album, this sudden release seems like a slightly truncated finish. But it’s a minor quibble.
What Are Friends For is a significant step forward from one of Britain’s most talented rock bands. Building on everything that made How Long Are You Staying so impressive, What Are Friends For rewards perseverance and repeated listens by gradually revealing its many layers of subtle intricacy. Don’t be surprised to see it in 2008’s end-of-year retrospective lists.
(originally written for Time for Heroes)