Wednesday, April 13, 2016

We Were Evergreen: A Fresh Look

I first discovered We Were Evergreen at the 2011 Green Man Festival. They played a brief set on the Green Man Pub stage (now the Walled Garden stage), and it seemed like everyone present was very taken with the French trio's sweet, sunny, and slightly silly brand of indie pop. The songs they played that Saturday afternoon were all superb examples of what I refer to as 'Orange advert music'; that is, the sort of music that played over those twee mobile phone adverts you used to see in the cinema.

You know, before Orange merged with T-Mobile, became EE, and hired Kevin fucking Bacon to be in their ads. Happier times.

If you're not sure what I'm on about, have a listen to Penguins & Moonboots, one of the highlights of WWE's Green Man setlist:

My joy at discovering this delightful group was soured only by the subsequent discovery that I couldn't buy their CD because every copy had already been sold. And so it was that my music library remained a sad, We Were Evergreenless place until just over a year ago.

Sometime in early 2015 (roughly three and a half years after Fabienne, Michael and William graced the Green Man Pub stage), I happened to spy a copy of Towards - We Were Evergreen's full-length debut - in my local HMV. Before that moment, I wasn't even aware that WWE had released a full album, but recalling the good time I'd had at Green Man '11 (and the equally good time I'd had when I saw them again at the 2012 Sŵn Festival), I snapped it up without a second thought.

The shop's suicidally reasonable pricing didn't hurt - this CD only cost me £1! No wonder HMV Queen Street had to close down.

Sadly, when I first listened to Towards, I was...well...disappointed. The wide-eyed tweepop that had so charmed the Green Man crowd back in 2011 had morphed into something more complex and less, y'know, fun. Just listen to Daughters (Towards's lead single) and tell me whether you think it sounds like the work of the same people who sang Penguins & Moonboots:

If that song was Orange advert music, then this is iPhone advert music. "Those halcyon days of pay-as-you-go are dead," it says, looking you dead in the eye. "Quit living in the past and download some damn apps."

Disenchanted, I gave Towards only a few token listens before moving on, I guess, to something else.

However. A few days ago I came across Towards in my iTunes library and, for whatever reason, I decided to give it another try. And you know what? With the benefit of hindsight, I think I prefer Towards-model We Were Evergreen to the ukelele-toting cuties who made Penguins & Moonboots. If this album underwhelmed me last year, then I think it was the victim of expectations: I was expecting more syrupy-sweet adorableness, and Towards felt like a let down because it contained something else. It didn't matter that the something else might have been good in its own right; that didn't even enter the equation, at least not when I first bought this CD. Perhaps my inner child was sad that the big kids from Green Man had stopped singing about yodelling yaks and grown up, or perhaps I just didn't put any effort into enjoying Towards because it only cost me a pound.

Whatever. I've been listening to Towards with fresh ears this week and it's actually a very strong set of tracks. The more complex songwriting and the preference for loops and electronics over ukes and youthfulness may upset the small part of me that wishes I'd never turned 13, but the rest of me now appreciates that this makes for a more engaging, more immersive listening experience. Towards has a depth - and a darkness - that I'm not sure an LP's worth of Penguins & Moonbootses could have matched, and to be fair, there are some superb pop hooks to be had here, all of which seemingly evaded me the first time around. The aforementioned Daughters is a good example, as is the very danceable Belong:

With all of this in mind, I'd like to offer my sincere apologies to We Were Evergreen for my lukewarm initial reaction to their grown-up (but still very enjoyable) first album. I promise I'll keep an open mind for the next one...which, judging by this new track uploaded a few months ago, may not be far away:

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