Having broken out into the mainstream with the release of their first single, Shelter Song, psychedelic rock band Temples, hailing from Kettering, saw an impressive amount of commercial and critical success following the release of their debut album, Sun Structures, just over three years ago. The band’s marrying of neo-psychedelia sensibilities with a poppy production style and a somewhat progressive approach to composing caught the attention of many, and despite their eclectic influences, Temples’ overall aesthetic is quite easy to get into, so it’s understandable how the band could be so captivating to so many people. The band’s newest studio project, Volcano, sees Temples approach their sound in a slightly different manner, with this record being a lot more pop-orientated than its predecessor, feeling like a synthpop project at times. James Bagshaw, the group’s singer, lead guitarist and primary songwriter, has stated that this stylistic shift came about largely as a result of the learning experience that was the writing and recording of their first album and the aftermath, so it seems that Volcano should mark a significant amount of maturation and heightened focus for the group. Indeed, as someone who was largely indifferent towards the band’s debut, largely due to what I saw as a relatively tired approach to psychedelic music that failed to establish a definitive musical identity for Temples, Volcano feels like an improvement from Sun Structures on most fronts. For instance, the expanded pop appeal makes for a generally more enjoyable listen and the group comes through with some more ambitious instrumental arrangements and better performances. However, that’s not to say that some of the problems I encountered on the band’s debut haven’t appeared again on their sophomore release, as this record still doesn’t greatly distinguish Temples from the significant amount of other popular artists working with a very similar approach to psychedelic music, such as Jagwar Ma, MGMT or Tame Impala on their latest album, Currents. There are most definitely a handful of pleasing moments on Volcano, but some of the record lacks the personality to fortify a band like Temples’ position as one of the more exciting psychedelic rock and pop outfits active currently, occasionally falling into the trap of being more focussed on sounding dreamy and blissful than on creating a memorable record.
Volcano opens with the lead single from the album, Certainty, which demonstrates Temples’ abilities at their most focussed and actualised, whilst also establishing the poppier and more synth-driven approach on this record. Synthesizers provide almost the entirety of the instrumental arrangement for this track and are used largely to good effect, with the band establishing many well-assembled textures on top of one another, rather than just piling on as many cool sounds as the human ear can tolerate. The lead melody on this track is easily the catchiest the band has yet conceived, and Bagshaw’s vocal melody is both memorable and worked well into the mix, without the common mistake in modern psychedelic pop of swamping the vox in so many reverbed effects as to lose its full impact. The songwriting on Certainty is also a noticeable step-up from Sun Structures, with the track progressing without a hitch, as the band embellishes the piece with indulgent synth lines that don’t clutter the mix. Ultimately, Certainty is a synthpop ear-worm that boasts almost spotless production, ravishing instrumentation and much improved songwriting for Temples. Whilst no other cut on Volcano comes close to the heights reached on the opening track, there are some nice moments around the front-end of the record. All Join In, for instance, brandishes a great, head-bobbing groove and one of Bagshaw’s catchiest vocal melodies during the verse, as well as some nice guitar lines. Although I feel that the chorus is a bit underwritten and Bagshaw’s singing isn’t as accurate as he reaches into those higher octaves, All Join In is nevertheless relatively successful for many of the same reasons as Certainty, albeit to a lesser extent. Oh The Saviour sees a more successful vocal performance from Bagshaw, and also marries a pretty acoustic intro with some classic psych guitars and spacey synth lines. The almost anthemic lead melody on Born Into The Sunset is incredibly infectious and I could certainly see this song receiving a lot of airplay if it were released as a single. Ultimately, there is far from a shortage of great moments on this record, thanks to the improved production value, slightly more focussed sound and more compelling performances from Temples, and a lot of these songs allude to far greater things for the band.
The salient issues that appear on Volcano arise from an over-reliance on the blissful atmosphere of some tracks as being enough to create a memorable psychedelic pop song, when in reality, the lack of thoroughly executed or thoughtful songwriting leads to some cuts being rather forgettable. The penultimate song in the tracklisting, Roman God-Like Man, acts as a good example of this, with Temples resorting to many a psychedelic staple but following these sensibilities through with significantly less substance than the better songs that appeared earlier on the album. In My Pocket displays similar issues, and it’s on songs such as these that it feels as if Volcano is hinged a bit too much on its colourful, saccharine aesthetic, as opposed to the material on the album. Whilst I feel that there are no bad songs on the album, and practically every track on here features good production and some lovely instrumental flourishes that go over nicely, Volcano nevertheless highlights a need for further focus with regards to the band’s approach to applying improved songwriting to these sweet, synthpop soundscapes.
Ultimately, bearing in mind the vision Bagshaw and co. seem to have had whilst writing and recording this album, Volcano is successful in certain regards. The band most definitely comes across as more focussed than they were on Sun Structures, with a notably more realised sound, and their performances have also significantly improved, making for an album that can easily suck the listener into its spacey sounds. I was surprised at how many moments there are on Volcano that I am shamelessly enamoured by and, indeed, if the quality of tracks like Certainty carried over to every cut on the record, this review would have been of a very different inclination. However, I still retain certain reservations for this album with regards to what sometimes comes across as a heavy reliance on these blissful atmospheres compensating for the occasional lacklustre song structure. What’s more, some of the pop sensibilities incorporated into these songs are more shallow than what the band presumably intended, reducing the impact of the sonic decadence on some of these cuts. All this being said, Volcano definitely carries a lot of appeal for fans of psychedelic pop and the handful of outstanding tracks have had me inching towards liking the album more than I did on my first listen. Despite not loving this record, I will most likely be revisiting it on the off-chance that my opinion changes slightly, but if not, there’s still more than enough reason to just plainly enjoy this album’s sweet, spacey psychedelia, even if it is on a rather superficial level.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10