In the days of yore, maybe not quite back to the time when carriages were drawn by horses, but a time that feels distant enough in our digital streaming world to feel remote, you might recall that artists wrote these peculiar things called “B-sides”. They would take up the flipside of a single and constitute a dumping ground for wanton experimentation if the mood took or – as was more often likely – a home for dog-eared off-cuts not deemed stellar A-Grade matter.
Not only did B-sides provide a service for creatives wanting to keep the pipes flushed and in optimal nick, but they appeased fan club obsessives desperate for any note – bum, or otherwise – from their heroes, whilst also satisfying the suits in Record Company Towers who simply wanted more product to push for their shiny CDs, cassettes, or 7-inch singles.
These days, there’s no real home for material that fits this bill or performs this function. Like the world waking up after Edison laid out his plans for the light bulb or in the wake of Steve Jobs standing on a Cupertino platform and telling us about the iPhone, the landscape has altered. The world is different. And so, artists are left with no natural reference-point for output that would otherwise fit that B-side mould.
The psychological consequences are two-fold: a) artists might mistake trash for treasure; or b) they may refrain from spreading their wings for a play-it-safe (haven) of the tried and tested, believing the stakes are simply too high. It’s with this in mind that you can’t help but look upon bright-eyed and callow indie upstarts The Lathums and their second album, From Nothing To A Little Bit More. First though: this is no failure. The musical cart has not ploughed into the ditch. But it does embody some of the perils foreshadowed above.
The Lathums’ 2021 debut, How Beautiful Life Can Be, was a delight, packed with supple, blue-collar indie that seduced listeners and made a deserved mark. It was, in part, thanks to frontman Alex Moore: a vocalist and songwriter of rare calibre, capable of enunciating the struggles of a young adult in a hostile world. The good news is Moore’s lyrics have gone up a notch. The bad news is the melodies are often weaker.
‘Struggle’ is a promising start, though. Atop the delicate tumble of piano, Moore laments changing fortunes, shifting sands and loss, pleading, “I feel like I can’t escape / What now?”, before finding strength and resolve. It packs a lot in less than four minutes. Elsewhere, ‘Lucky Bean’ is all fun and fireworks, sounding like The Housemartins in their pomp. And the sonic whirlwind the four-piece create on ‘Facets’ is so invigorating that you half-expect them to leave terra firma altogether to dance with the stars.
Amid the positives lies the pastiche, however. The Lathums’ Achilles heel is that they can saunter down paths too well-trodden to be entirely welcome, such as the familiar rockabilly rumble of ‘I Know Pt 1’ or their voyage into Big Piano Ballad territory with ‘Turmoil’ – a routine too formulaic and stale to make much of an impression. Likewise, ‘Crying Out Loud’ sounds so rote it might as well be “The Lathums, brought to you by ChatGPT”.
The energetic ‘Sad Face Baby’ fares much better. With verses evoking latter-day Kings of Leon, had the Followills been raised under the grey skies of an industrial northern town, the track mutates into something unmistakably Lathums-esque for its chorus. It’s both punchy and catchy as hell.
Best of all, however, is ‘Land and Sky’. Starting out with a stuttering, syncopated pattern, Moore explains, “I am old at heart and odd a lot / But this will never change… You’ve seen my charms / But not my scars”. Musically, it’s an occasion where the formula is ditched, and the band allow inspiration to lead their noses into the unknown. Untethered from the myopia of self-perception and self-restraint, they soar. It is this album’s ‘Artificial Screens’ and it’s, quite simply, brilliant.
The band deserve credit for their willingness to wear their heart on their sleeve, to speak for those of us who quietly need these songs and what they say. These are songs stuffed with candour; lyrics that make no bones about the troubles their writer is navigating. Moore puts in such an emotionally charged vocal performance throughout this record that he could ignite a fire from the dampest wood.
That said, From Nothing To A Little Bit More suffers from a slight sophomore slump. If you strip out the B-side material that occupies parts of this LP, however, there’s a cracking EP to be found. There’s no doubt that there’s much more to come from this talented group. This time around though, rather than a little bit more, what The Lathums have given us, sadly, is a little bit less.