Foy Vance – Signs of Life
In my experience, the hardest albums to write about are usually those from bands and artists you love. It’s easy to write about something new, when you’re pressing play on a record with a blank slate, but when you already hold a strong opinion of someone it gets very difficult to write around your pre-existing bias. You either end up singing a record’s praises and glossing over its faults, or the record cuts you deep by falling short of your high expectations. Having been one of my favourite artists for a good few years now, I was fully expecting to dive into Foy Vance’s new album with this exact same all-or-nothing approach, but in a curious turn of events Signs of Life feels remarkable as a result of being average.
While there’s nothing on this release that feels like a major misstep, there’s a fair chunk at the album’s heart that consists of forgettable filler tracks. The kind of songs that just fall away into the background far too easily. Some, like ‘People Are Pills’ and closing track ‘Percolate’, just feel much too listless and lethargic, almost oppressively dull and drowsy. While tracks like ‘Time Stand Still’, ‘System’ and ‘Hair of the Dog’ do at least have a bit more energy, they instead are hampered by overly repetitive hooks and arrangements which quickly lose their appeal. This is the final nail in the coffin for the latter in particular, as ‘Hair of the Dog’ also feels like an exercise in wasted potential. The interesting left turn it takes into funky R&B territory is let down by how little the idea gets developed. Between this and the half-hearted build of ‘Resplendence’, a few too many tracks just come across as promising but sadly half-baked demos that haven’t had enough time or energy invested in them to be fully realised.
That said, the album is not without its gems. The airy folk and understated electronics of ‘If Christopher Calls’ is inescapably charming, while gorgeous opening track ‘Sapling’ reflects on the things we take for granted, and how they often overlap with the things we most fear to lose. I love the contrasting light and shade of ‘Roman Attack’, how it veers from a sparse acoustic arrangement to wild staccato bursts of energy and aggression. It sets itself apart on the record, and Foy’s catalogue as a whole, and offers a glimpse of what the record could have been had more of its inventive moments had stuck the landing to this degree. But it’s the penultimate track ‘It Ain’t Over’ that most pulls at my heartstrings, and it’s here that my own bias burns brightest. I heard this track when I first saw Foy live many years ago, and had never heard it before or since until now. Hearing it again, so fully realised, the nostalgia hits like a freight train. Doing my best to remove my rose tinted glasses, as both the album’s longest track and perhaps Foy’s most expansive arrangement to date, I like to think it has a unique presence that still stands proud as the album’s highlight.
Normally being average is the biggest sin an album can commit for a reviewer, and the main reason most submissions are turned away. It’s so much easier to shower praise or criticism than it is to make interesting observations about something inherently uninteresting. But Signs of Life is the exception, having arrived at the centre thanks to earning a perfect balance of both ends of the spectrum. This is far from the big breakout record that I always find myself hoping for, it’s not a record that will introduce many new fans to Foy’s work, but for those already familiar it does thankfully still have a few moments of brilliance worth sticking around for.