Temples ‘Sun Structures’ – Review

3 Apr

I saw Temples supporting Mystery Jets at the tail end of 2012. They stood on stage, in heavy winter coats, barely moved, and basked in their own hipster-coolness. I’ve never seen such a blatant case of image over substance, and it was one of the least convincing live performances I’ve ever witnessed (and believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of shocking support bands over the years). The album suffers from the same illness as the live show, just to a much lesser extent. On the surface this is a beautiful album – every instrument is authentic, every sound-effect is spot on, every groove looks and sounds the part. Dig a bit deeper though and you realise that Temples really have nothing new, or that interesting, to say. At all. Like, nothing. Still, they look great not saying it.

First single, and opening track, ‘Shelter Song’ could quite comfortably have come in a time travelling machine from 1967. I can’t think of another debut single that Mojo magazine deemed retro enough to include on one of their monthly covermount CDs. And fair enough it is a great song, but boy does it try really, really hard to be cool. It’s placed right at the start of the album and everything that follows is an attempt to repeat this song’s success, which makes listening to this album like looking in a mirror whilst holding up another mirror and getting lost in all the reflections.

The title track is a glorious slice of sunshine pop that features a spot on Eastern riff and an exquisitely mixed vocal melody. ‘Mesmerise’ is nearly as catchy, and once again expertly produced, with a bright and sticky chorus that recalls The Byrds at their most spaced-out. On these early tracks, Temples demonstrate a knack for writing accessible psychedelic pop – which is a hard thing to pull off – even better bands like The Horrors and MGMT have struggled recently. Temples noodle a bit but never stray too far in to the realm of druggy indulgence; in one sense its classic psychadelic pop. But that’s kind of the problem. It sticks too closely to a formula that was created decades, and decades ago.  By doing so Temples lose sight of something rather obvious…

Temples have forgotten that the defining trait of psychedelia was its ability to break down barriers, both musically and figuratively. Temples are so interested in re-creating particular niche sounds that they lose sight of what psychedelia is supposed to do. They never get lost in the music and they never allow you to get lost in the music because they’re so busy ticking boxes. If you want an example of a band who took the signifiers of psychedelia and did something new with them, look no further than Tame Impala or Foxygen. Temples have made a solid album, but when you’re mining a sound that places so much emphasis on originality, and fail to be in the slightest bit original, then that’s a fairly big problem.

If the album was a marathon, Temples would be one of those guys who sprints for the first quarter and is so worn out that they tail off completely before the finish line. The seven minute long ‘Sand Dance’ is that bit in the marathon that runners call hitting the wall. Temples don’t go any further. But look, who can begrudge Temples making an album in the style they have clear love for. If I knew how to make a guitar make these sounds, and possessed the patience to work on it, then I may well be inclined to make an album like this. But does it make me want to listen to more Temples or does it make me want to listen to more Beatles and Grateful Dead? Temples have the potential and talent to be a great band, but they need to embrace the most important facet of psychedelia, and open the door to the 21st century.


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