All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is a flirtation which, whilst seducing ears with its pop charm, has the body bouncing and worming around like a slinky. The second album from Scottish alternative popsters Universal Thee brings a smile to the spirit and infectious revelry to the day and whereas their critically acclaimed debut album had ears and voices seriously enticed its potential has simply been blossomed to new refreshing heights in its successor.
Formed in 2010 as a trio with “a faulty Macbook for a drummer”, Edinburgh hailing Universal Thee first took their live steps two years later with an actual drummer. It was a show which had a low-key attendance to say the least but within two years the band was sparking really sparking eager attention, with first album Back to Earth at the forefront of the new thrust in their emergence. Since then their stature has only ascended, shows supporting the likes of Ded Rabbit and an appearance on the pyramid stage at the Kelburn Garden Party potent successes enhancing further their live reputation. Such the magnetic and contagious prowess of All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, 2016 is looking like being another successful time, possibly the moment when the band’s individual sound and presence is grabbed by new and broader spotlights.
Led by the united vocal enticement of husband and wife, James and Lisa Russell, the Universal Thee has drawn references to the likes of Ash, Pixies, Weezer, and Queens of the Stone Age; they amongst many inspirations to the band as a whole and individually. There is also, by coincidence one suspects, an eighties new wave/indie pop scent to their music which reminds of bands like The Chefs, Girls At Our Best, and maybe to a lesser extent The Passions and The Chesterfields. As shown straight away with opener Why, they are all just hues to something distinct to Universal Thee.
The first song swiftly jangles in ears with alluring elegance as the beats of drummer Matt Grieve provide a feistier touch. The song soon strolls along with a fuzzy air to the melodies of guitarists Robin Spivey and James Russell whilst the bass of Andrew Perrie brings a delicious almost groaning temper to the radiance around it. The blend of James and Lisa Russell is another key element in its persuasion, their union carrying a great essence of discord which just seals the deal for ears.
Unashamedly catchy, the great start provided by the first song is continued and surpassed a little by the second. Keep Falling adds a grungy texture to its enticement whilst the bass courts a post punk appeal within a quickly captivating Weezer-esque saunter. Its hooks are as keen and inescapable as its melodic romancing and boisterous energy, a creative weave more than matched by the band’s brilliant latest single Speaker. The mellow but lively vocals from both the Russells, leads a swinging almost mischievous tempting that instantly seduces ears and feet. That earlier mentioned eighties new wave pop colouring is a rich essence to songwriting which also openly draws on the influence of Frank Black, creating a proposition easy to suspect that the Pixies man would be proud to claim as his own.
Xang is a mellower but still energetic proposal next, its shadow lined air and character a slightly melancholic and evocative caress framed by more forceful rhythms whilst Lost at Sea glides through ears with a heavier and grittier breath to its punk infused pop. Both songs keep an already happy appetite fulfilled if without, and maybe expectantly, matching their glorious predecessors, a success definitely achieved by the outstanding Hey. With tenaciously anthemic rhythms and a fiery glaze to its pop ‘n’ roll, the song is certain single material with all the addictive hooks and qualities needed. Quaint and ballsy simultaneously, the track has the body leaping to its compelling creative throes before Hamlet 3 hits the same sweet spot with its own unique Teenage Fanclub does pop punk like canter. The song simply epitomises the growth in the band’s craft and sound without any lessening of their invasive pop ingenuity and it is impossible not to be fully involved in voice and hips with the increasingly rousing encounter.
A calmer climate washes over the senses as Sail Away floats into view, though rhythmically it offers great agitated bait around which vocals and melodies provide a familiar yet indefinable lure. A romancing which breeds more volatile moments within its persistent smooch, the enthralling hug makes way for more galvanic pop ‘n’ roll in the irresistible shape of Hounds, it in turn leaving ears to the pop fascination of closing track Light On, two tracks ensuring album and emotions are left on the same high they started with through song one.
Universal Thee have the great knack of creating something you feel you already know but then you only come across exciting surprise after surprise whilst being infested with pop music to get greedy over. All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace is the sign of a band ready to step into the intensive recognition of national awareness and more; a success hard to see evading the quintet for much longer.
All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace is available from February 19th whilst the single Speaker is out now, both via Eventual Heirs Records.
Pete RingMaster 18/02/2016
Copyright RingMaster: MyFreeCopyright
For more exploration of the independent and promotional services check out http://www.zykotika.com/