Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: Beneath Your City; As You Dream by Robberie

You're sitting in a pub in Sheffield. The beer is warm, all the chairs have arms, and it's open mic night. Currently crowded into the makeshift stage area (actually just a corner of the room that's been cleared of chairs and tables) is a band called Robberie, a local three-piece armed with acoustic guitars, a glockenspiel, a melodica, and a tambourine. They are certainly one of the better acts you've seen this evening - right now they're playing a song called Journeyman, which spins the story of a lower-league footballer into a moral about how you don't have to be famous to touch people's lives. The singers pull off some nice harmonies and the song goes down well with the regulars, who are probably thrilled to hear something that isn't yet another cover of Hotel California.

Robberie's short set is a highlight of the night - the two or three songs they play are fun, original, and quirky without ever being, y'know, quirky. As you head to the bar for another round, you promise yourself you'll track them down on SoundCloud, but in the end you forget to follow up on this mental note and Robberie more or less disappear from your memory.

The first time I listened to Beneath Your City; As You Dream (Robberie's debut album), I heard Journeyman and I heard Everyone's a Geek and I decided that Robberie were basically an above-average open mic act: fun songs with nice melodies and a bit more personality than most, but nothing that I'd still be listening to many months hence.

Upon playing the album again, however, I started to notice the other songs. My Story, for example, finds the band back in that pub, sitting quietly with their friends having just vacated the stage for the next act. Here we hear a far more melancholy side of Robberie, as the singer asks of the people around her:

"Where in my story is it that you belong? 
Are you a friend I’ve known for years, but one that’s now moved on? 
Perhaps you’re someone new, who I see here every day, 
But who’ll be gone tomorrow, and who is here to stay?"

Indeed, the lion's share of Beneath Your City; As You Dream is tinged with a beautiful sort of sadness, and whether Robberie are critiquing commercial radio stations on In The Next Town (Same Old Radio) or thinking back to mixtapes made for youth club crushes on The T-Shirt Song, they tend to do so with a weariness and a poignancy that you wouldn't expect if all you'd heard of Robberie was Everyone's a Geek.

(Side note: when I first added Beneath Your City... to my iTunes Library, it inexplicably decided to sequence Everyone's a Geek as track one, whereas it's actually track three. This made the song feel even more detached from the general mood of the record than it does in its proper place, as if it was a trailer for a totally different album. I don't dislike Everyone's a Geek, and it's certainly one of the more immediate numbers here, but it's noticeably goofier than the other songs so it doesn't sit very well once you've familiarised yourself with the whole CD. The retro games console-style synth sounds are cool, though.)

My favourite track on this album is probably This Dancefloor Needs Me, an aching and quite tremendously gorgeous ode to being that one wallflower who sits on the sidelines while everyone else is enjoying themselves. It's a bit like How Soon is Now?, but instead of The Smiths' industrial indie rock this track has a wistful melodica part that's far better-suited to the subject matter at hand.

With all of this in mind, I'd like to amend my initial judgement of Robberie's music as the sort of thing you'd hear on open mic night down your local. Certainly, many of these songs seem like they were informed by bittersweet evenings spent drinking in old man pubs, but having spent some time with it, I'd clarify that Beneath Your City; As You Dream has enough depth, feeling and nuance to deserve a far larger audience than any pub could possibly hold.

Beneath Your City; As You Dream is available from Robberie's Bandcamp page.

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