Sunday 8 June 2014

Champs - Down Like Gold

Album review by KevW for

Is the boxer on the cover of this début album by Isle Of Wight brothers Michael and David Champion meant to show that, compared to other islands around Britain, their home has on occasion punched above its weight musically? Over the years it's given us The Bees, Hefner man Antony Harding, and is home to former Rolling Stone and The Pretty Things founder Dick Taylor amongst others (we'll just gloss over Level 42, yeah?). Either way, as Champs, this pair are proving they can be a match for most. 'Down Like Gold' contains some stunningly beautiful music (recorded in a converted water tower at Queen Victoria's former residence, Osborne House) and sometimes sounds like a huge collective of vocalists and musicians rather than a duo.

Once you bring harmonies into the equation (barring gospel) then thoughts immediately turn to overused comparisons such as The Beach Boys and Fleet Foxes. Well, those much aped bands must be an inspiration to a point, particularly the latter, however, if the classic cliché of “pastoral” is used for the American bunch, then here it can be substituted for “choral”. This isn't, as far as I can tell, a religious record by any means (although the gorgeous single 'St. Peters' is perhaps a reference to the Vatican), but at some points listening to it sounds like a religious experience. Musically we get piano and guitar with some expertly used percussion and drums that craft a heavenly atmosphere, and the hum of organ fleshes things out, but really this is all about the strength of songs and, above all else, the glorious vocals. A prime example of how they turn decent songwriting into something more stately would be the title-track, but there are many more.

Champs ease us into this otherworldly wonder with the gentle dreampop/Americana of 'Too Bright To Shine', a song that could be very simple, but the precision attention to detail that pervades each of these ten songs makes it become quite magical. They do up the pace once or twice. Single 'Savannah' is what The Delays have spent a career trying to sound like and only achieved in rare flashes, it's very impressive guitar-pop, and same can be said for 'My Spirit Is Broken'. Champs even show a desire to experiment more with the sample-based second section of this song. Unless you knew, you'd think it was another track entirely, and this could bode well for not treading the same path on future releases. It's that collision of voices that raises the standard above what most bands reach though, and you can hear this (along with that expert arranging and producing) on 'Pretty Much (Since Last November)', the roof-raising 'Only A Bullet Knows Where To Run', the more upbeat, incredibly pretty baroque pop of '8mm Desire' and 'I C Sky' with its haunting atmosphere. They sign off with another indiepop track, 'White Mountain', and this is a culmination of all the good points displayed throughout 'Down Like Gold'. These brothers might be Champion by name, but they're also champions by nature: a gorgeous introduction.

Champs' website

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