2:54 - 2:54

It’s sultry, it’s mischievous, and it’s damn near magnificent.

So, what have you been listening to in 2012? It’s a question I’m asked all too frequently and one that, aside from simply listing what’s currently lodged on the hard drive of my iPhone, is getting increasingly difficult to answer. Any stock reply based on one of the “traditional” genres simply doesn’t do justice to the dizzying breadth and scope of what’s currently being produced. It’s no surprise that with free access to virtually every type of music ever made only a click away, this year has already given us Grimes’ “post-internet”, the scattergun hip-hop of El-P, and John Talabot’s shimmering re-imagining of deep house to name but three albums that’ll surely be bothering best-of lists come December.

Indeed, such is the prevalence of invention and electronic frippery that those still reliant on the Holy Trinity of guitar, bass, and drums have been left looking decidedly anachronistic. “Guitar music” isn’t dead – it never was, nor will it ever be – but it is increasingly dismissed as a creative dead-end, a refuge for Luddites happy to endlessly mine (i.e. rip off) the past for ideas and inspiration. Witness the muted response to decent debuts by Howler and Tribes, along with the recent backlash against Best Coast. So it was somewhat surprising that 2:54 – sisters and self-taught guitarists Colette and Hannah Thurlow – generated and sustained such critical acclaim since their ‘Scarlet’ EP dropped last year. Now that their self-titled debut is here, it’s easy to see why.

It’s clear that they decided to focus on mood more than anything else, and by blending influences from the darker reaches of rock, punk, and shoe gaze, they’ve concocted a potent and heady brew full of mystery and intrigue. There’s a simplicity at play evident from the chugging, opening bars of ‘Revolving’ that soon gives way to a blizzard of a chorus. It’s a pattern that’s successfully repeated over all ten tracks – ‘Sugar’ has a eerie, slow-build tension to it that constantly threatens to hurl itself over the edge, while the hints of psychedelia that greet ‘Watcher’ soon give way to delicately layered vocals and a familiar, motoric groove. Even the track names – all but two being a single word – point to a clarity and sureness of purpose that’s rare to see in a band so young.

What’s also remarkable is their restraint. No doubt helped enormously by having Rob Ellis behind the desk – credited for sourcing some “incredible drum sounds” – they’ve avoided falling into the trap that noise equals gloom, and the overblown production that’s all too common in atmospheric rock. Yes, guitars swirl around pulsing grooves and their hazy, layered vocals, but nothing here sounds forced or superfluous and by giving very element room to breathe, some neat details are brought to the fore; the driving bass line of ‘Ride’, the guitar riff layered over the chorus of ‘Creeping’, the call and response mix of treble and reverb on ‘A Salute’ and ‘Scarlet’.

The latter, which first surfaced on the aforementioned EP, perfectly encapsulates the taut energy and drive that the Thurlows possess – an ominously simple riff gives way to a dark buzz that burrows straight into your brain. It’s the perfect mission statement for what they’re all about, and I can see why they were loathe to leave it out. That it slots seamlessly alongside the rest of the material shows that, unlike many others thrust early into the spotlight, they’re not reliant on just a few, hook-heavy singles or doomed to the usual career arc of three months as cover stars followed by an eternity of indifference. ‘2:54’ is the sound of two Fallen Angels back to steal what’s left of your soul; it’s sultry, it’s mischievous, and it’s damn near magnificent.

Tags: 2:54, Reviews, Album Reviews

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