Childhood ‘Universal High’ / Superfood ‘Bambino’ – Review

16 Oct

In 2013/14 Superfood and Childhood were a part of a loose Britpop revival, largely centred around Birmingham. Whilst they didn’t receive the acclaim of the more prominent Peace and Swim Deep, they were arguably the most talented bands on the scene. Live, Childhood were particularly impressive; they bathed themselves in dizzying light shows and casually immersed the audience in murky, modern psychedelia. Superfood had a more traditional rock set up but released an almost endless stream of potential hits – ‘TV’, ‘Superfood’, ‘Mood Bomb’, ‘Melting’ etc. Producer, songwriter and frontman Dominic Ganderton clearly knew how to write ear candy. The first time I saw them, Wolf Alice were the support act, and of the two it was Superfood who seemed the more likely to become megastars.

But what do I know. Superfood stalled whilst Wolf Alice scored a number one album and NME covers. Childhood fared no better, and ultimately their live charisma and stage presence didn’t translate In to a particularly brilliant debut album. Tellingly, both bands have ripped up the rule book for their sophomore records, embracing Soul, r&b and disco in valiant rebranding efforts.

Of the two, not that it’s a competition, Childhood’s ‘Universal High’ assuredly stands out. Their shimmering new sound is a natural fit with Ben Roman’s breezy vocals and the band’s laid back rhythm section. Acclaimed producer Ben Allen manages to make the transition from psychedelic rock to psychedelic soul easy on the ears; the mix is rich and deep with generous layers of backing vocals, warped synthesisers and jazzy bass lines floating in and out of focus underneath gorgeous melodies and guitar hooks. They hit their stride quickly with ‘AMD’ and ‘Californian Light’, two songs about nostalgia that also sound nostalgic for an inexperienced past. Later on, when the melodies float too far in to the ether and the hooks become diluted, the band’s consistently interesting sound still makes every song enjoyable if not always memorable.

On their second record Superfood, broadly speaking, trade in the lead guitar for a sampler, and the result is an airy, experimental album that feels brave in some respects but also a little faceless. From the bland, muted tones of the album cover inwards, ‘Bambino’ is an oddly sterile, bloodless pop record that feels far removed from the colourful maximalism of debut ‘Don’t Say That’. On that record Superfood proved they knew their way around a recording studio whilst keeping the focus on songwriting. But the production heavy style used on ‘Bambino’ impedes their natural enthusiasm and energy. They sound one step detached from their ideas – particularly on the undercooked singles ‘Double Dutch’ and ‘I Can’t See’. The pretty backing vocals, full bodied baseline and breakbeat of ‘Witness’ is more like what I remember from the first album. It has a deft melody that even Damon Albarn would be proud of. ‘Need a little Spider’ is another catchy throwback to the baggy decade that feels more fully realised than much of the album.

‘Bambino’ and ‘Universal High’ are risk taking records that understand the futile position contemporary indie bands are in. The most successful groups of their generation, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Nothing But Thieves and Royal Blood, largely achieved their (actually pretty minimal) success through compromise and diminished expectations. When that is one possible outcome, why not go your own route? ‘Universal High’ and ‘Bambino’ aren’t going to change the world but they set Childhood and Superfood on interesting new career paths that will hopefully lead to new and equally experimental albums.

Childhood ‘Universal High’ – 7.5/10

Superfood ‘Bambino’ – 5.5/10

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