Listen to Slow Club's Complete Surrender streaming this week via WFUV and NPR Music before its release on July 15 on Wichita Recordings.
Sheffield, England — the setting for The Full Monty and part of the British equivalent of the Rust Belt — seems an unlikely spawning ground for the wistful pop of this duo with a deceptively static name. But from the youthful, acoustic-and-harmony-based pop of their early material to the more elaborate arrangements of 2011's Paradise, Slow Club's music has always had an upful sheen that's sometimes belied by melancholy lyrics and melodies.
For Complete Surrender, their third full-length, singers and multi-instrumentalists Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor have moved on from their earlier releases, streamlining and refining their songwriting while hauling in a truckload of R&B influences from several different eras. Northern soul has been a strong tradition in the north of England since the 1960s, and here the duo has brought a crate-digger's expertise to their soulful sounds.
There's a heaping spoonful of Motown in "Suffering," some Supremes/Bacharach flourishes on the title track, Philly soul strings in "Not Mine to Love" and a giant Stax Records/Otis Redding influence and a bring-the-house-down vocal from Taylor on ... er ... yes, a song actually called "The Queen's Nose." (The title, which comes from a children's book and 1990s BBC TV series, will be baffling to anyone who isn't a Brit of a certain age; the song's lyrics address heartbreak, music and, apparently, pregnancy but not the book or show, at least not overtly).
While not a retro album, there's definitely a silky '60s groove to much of Complete Surrender.
"We wanted to make a straight record — drums, bass, organ, guitar, maybe strings," Watson says. "The idea behind it was to be a bit more reserved." Indeed, Taylor is a singer of rare subtlety and skill. She doesn't bowl you over with showboating and Aguilera-style pyrotechnics. You just suddenly realize, wow, she's killing it on that chorus.
The duo has already released a pair of videos from the album: the title track, which finds Taylor unexpectedly glammed up and dancing, and the Rocky-themed "Suffering You, Suffering Me," where she's anything but.
The group — which has toured with Mumford and Sons, KT Tunstall and Florence and the Machine, among others — did a quick Stateside run last month but will be back for a full tour in September. Slow Club expands to a quartet (and sometimes more) in a live setting, and while the group's show is dazzling for any number of reasons, the sight of Taylor playing the drums in a cocktail dress while belting out a soulful ballad is particularly not to be missed.—Jem Aswad