The debut album Uppers by London based 4-piece TV Priest is released on 5 February 2021 on Sub Pop, and it has so much to say. Packed full of commentary and ideas evolved and delivered through the filter of punk and its DIY ethos—it wakes you up both physically in the music and emotionally with its powerful content. That’s not to say it’s preachy—despite their name—it’s more an expression of the current state of affairs we find ourselves in. If anything it’s a reassuring album, expressing that confusion and uncertainty are perfectly natural emotions, but also that the macroclimate is one we need to keep an eye on.
Opening track “The Big Curve” perfectly demonstrates this sentiment. Literally, the first lyric of this album is, “This could be the first day of the rest of your life”. But I was mystified by the images on the screen.” “Wake up, pay attention, but what the heck is going on around us”. “Time washes over us said the man in the big suit” a reference to Talking Heads’ David Byrne in their concert film “Stop Making Sense” which had a real influence on lead-singer Charlie Drinkwater. His Art Director background has led him to have a real aesthetic view towards music.
“Press Gang” was influenced by Charlie’s grandfather’s life’s work as a photojournalist and war correspondent on the UK’s Fleet Street from the 1950s to the early 1980s. Now, of course, we live in an era of 24 hours news, with current affairs being disseminated not just by official channels but also on social media by whoever wants to express an opinion and convey it as fact. “Reading the world on your lap” sings Charlie, referring to our mobiles, iPads, laptops etc. This sense of disappointment in our “fake news” culture is conveyed in angry guitars and drums mid-track. You can feel the angst. I suspect Charlie’s grandfather would be devastated to see what has happened to the print media and its shift in importance in analysing the news. “Its got legs. Its got legs. It walks and it walks and it walks and it walks, it runs and it runs and it runs, then it stops”. Perhaps this refers to the current media driving the story, rather than the other way around. “You’re better off ill-informed” sings a disheartened Charlie.
“Leg Room” spits out disdain for celebrity and its artificial world. Leicester Square in the rain is not the centre of the cultural universe yet the billboards and neon lights would have you believe it is so. Reality TV participants become famous in cahoots with the media for both their gain “my public needs its images, my public wants my confidences” the lyrics cry. “I’m in love with a picture of myself” an accurate reflection of the selfie based culture.
Vocalist Charlie, guitarist Alex Sprogis, bass and keys player Nic Smith and drummer Ed Kelland are four childhood friends who made music together as teenagers. Life took its course and they took their separate paths but then got back together late in 2019. They felt the need to create together again and brought their individual experiences of pursuing “real life” and “real jobs”. “The process of making music had always been very cathartic for us,” they say, “and we probably didn’t realise that until we stopped doing it for a while and realised what was missing.”
However, of course, 2020 turned out to a be the year from hell and “Journal of a Plague Year” is a homage to that. Sonically it is a gentler track, befitting the subject matter, but still hard-hitting nonetheless. Phrases such as the “new normal” will forever be associated with the pandemic and with a refrain of “hey buddy normalise this” we are reminded that our environment is continuously shifting and resettling at this time.
And so we have a breather for a couple of minutes in “History Week” an instrumental which allows us to pause and absorb this dramatic, uncompromising album thus far.
“Decoration” is a humorous track initially inspired by a misremembered quote by Simon Cowell about a performing dog on Britains Got Talent. “I’ve never seen a dog do what that dog does” which quite frankly perfectly captures the ridiculous nature of modern culture. With the line, “Through to the next round” already written, this just had to be included. The chorus “It’s all just decoration” is credited to the 2-year old niece of Alex’s fiancé. This was her reassuring response when he pretended to be scared by Halloween decorations. But it encapsulates the idea that the mundane in life is often dressed up to be something it really isn’t.
“Slideshow” is probably the most accessible track on Uppers. Not quite so angry, it’s a banger for the dancefloor. But still, there is an expression of suddenly realising, “My God, I never had an original thought” before an abrupt end. Thought-provoking.
“Fathers and Sons” recognises the consumerism and materialism of our lives. Chasing bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger TVs, promotions, the latest technology—but is this the best thing for us as human beings? “How you feeling friend?” asks Charlie over and over. This repetition over the funky guitar and industrial electronica vibe asks us to stop and take stock of what is important rather than continue blindly on this endless roundabout. He even offers to step in to help break the cycle.
I love at the moment how bands are not afraid to drop in a short soundscape. It speaks of confidence in an album as a whole. TV Priest have included the 50 seconds of “The ref”, which sounds similar to an industrial lift in motion, but then it arrives and transitions into “Powers of Ten”. Here the drumbeat and bassline are slowly climbing accompanying the lyric “Build a ladder reach the top”. The individual members of TV Priest bring their shared experience of “real jobs” into their music. I loved the line, “Hail the Finance Department too”, emphasising that the accumulation of money is often the driving objective of life. The foreboding of having such a goal in life builds in “Powers of Ten” with another recognition that the band do not have all the answers. “I’m just a priest in search of a God”. We are looking for answers, and the track ends with a minute of white noise suggesting confusion and uncertainty.
“This Island” addresses creeping nationalism in the country. It starts with a dark metronomic clang but then goes straight into an upbeat groovy track and ends in a complete frenzy. It seems to state that Britain is not what it once was, and is not as important as it likes to think it is. It’s not the promised land that others may perceive it to be.
Album closer “Saintless” is the most personal and raw moment on Uppers. It’s an intense track Charlie wrote it for his son, following a difficult period his wife had faced during and after the pregnancy. Continuing the theme of not always knowing what the right thing is to do in every situation, to give your love to those that need it and appreciate it will get you through. Its an emotional track but dominated by bass and synths that build the emotion and swirl around creating layer upon layer, leaving us with the most important message to end this album. To repeat, love will get you through.