The Family Crest – The War: Act II
Baroque Pop | Indie Rock
Second only to the thrill of discovering a great album completely out of the blue, is the rush of being blown away by an album that you had modest expectations for. Sometimes it feels great to be wrong, and this is just such an occasion. For you see, as great as The Family Crest’s last record was, its vibrant and uplifting brand of orchestral indie rock frequently luring me back in over the past few years, I had some reservations about the inevitable follow-up. As fantastic as Act I‘s highlights were, it did lose momentum in its latter half with a few filler tracks. Subconsciously I assumed that all their best ideas had already been packed into the project, and so didn’t feel much hype for whatever came next. I certainly didn’t write off the follow-up completely, I was sure there’d be a few standout moments, albeit nestled amongst more filler than before. I was geared up for Act II of The War to still be good, but still ultimately offer diminishing returns – the way sequels so often do.
I’m delighted to report that The War: Act II is one of those rare sequels that builds upon and surpasses its predecessor. This is The Family Crest’s Empire Strikes Back, their Godfather Part II… their Paddington 2 if you will. It’s a record crackling with fresh inspiration, and further bolstered by such an exquisite execution of those ideas. Though bands that incorporate orchestral elements have become relatively commonplace over the years, The Family Crest do an admirable job of carving out a signature sound all their own. At their best there’s a sense of grandeur and sophistication that wouldn’t sound out of place being played to nobility at a historic opera house, and yet there’s also so often a playful feeling of wide-eyed wonder and joyfulness that bursts into life like the Holi festival of colours.
There’s so much of that present in Act II. Lead single ‘Pride’ finds the perfect intersection between accessibility and ambition much the same way the best moments of Act I did, and listening to ‘In Your Arms Tonight’ feels like drifting above a vibrant jungle canopy full of birds of paradise. The autumnal Nick Drake-esque verses of ‘Her Song’ give way to an emphatic chorus carried by delightful harmonies, while ‘The Garden’ is a sublime slow-burner that builds toward a cinematic crescendo.
But where Act II shines brightest is often in its more ambitious moments, where the band push their style to fill the mould for a wider scope of different moods and atmospheres. ‘Hearts On Fire’ plays around with hints of disco as some glorious saxophone steals the spotlight, while ‘You Are The Beginning’ has a darkness and tension to its instrumentation that makes it feel like the soundtrack to a chase sequence in a gothic horror game. And while Act I lost momentum in its latter half, Act II ends on a high. The more stripped back and melancholy ‘We Evaporate’ gives frontman Liam McCormick’s incredible vocals room to shine, the climax of ‘Baby, You’ve Got Your Legs’ sounds like the encore at a rambunctious New Orleans jazz bar, and closing track ‘Cold, Cold, Cold’ boasts operatic levels of drama and bombast.
The record’s only minor misstep is ‘A Love Song’, whose simple title is indicative of its faults. The austere arrangement feels frustratingly bland and beige when surrounded by such glorious technicolour, and it’s much the same story when it comes to lyricism. A refrain like “I love you, I’ll always love you” doesn’t quite cut the mustard when the same sentiment is delivered with far greater flair on the next track, album highlight ‘The Tree’; “Here in the winter, we shed off our leaves/Though seasons will change, my heart, love, it heeds/For the warmth in your glance, in your lips, in your warm embrace“.
The War: Act II went from being an album I nearly overlooked in a busy month of new releases, to being the new frontrunner for album of the year, in the space of one listen. I love records that unfurl their majesty over multiple listens, but there’s something to be said that for an album that dazzles you right from the off. With this latest record The Family Crest keep you guessing at every turn, never knowing what form their grand theatrical ambitions will take next. It’s an absolute treasure trove that you owe it to yourself to experience.