My first introduction to Overhead, The Albatross was stumbling across the winding track ‘Think Thank Thunk’ in 2013. It quickly scored a place in my collection and I went looking for more of the Irish band. But there wasn’t much, with only a single song release between then and May this year. I had written the band off as one of “those bands”. The ones that tease you with so much promise and potential before the realities of life and funding album recordings bring everything crashing down. However, I was (thankfully) wrong. May 2016 saw the release of their debut album album, Learning to Growl and oh how it has been worth the wait.
RELEASE DATE: 13 May 2016 LABEL: Self-released
The first track ‘Indie Rose’ gently lulls listeners into the album before cutting dramatically to a marching, pouncing guitar and drum line. This continues, electronic tones tugging playfully at listeners’ ears with melody before soaring away to finish the song. ‘Telekinetic Forest Guard’ is where the strength of the band begins to shine through, which is their approach to percussion and fullness of sound. The drumming is phenomenal, from the tension-filled build up of tapping that evolves fluidly to the snare snap before the plunge into melody at the halfway point as well as Gavin Harrison-eque use of cymbals to accentuate other instruments parts. The guitar isn’t afraid to join the drums in rhythm either, relinquishing the melody to other instruments.
This is a side effect of their other strength, the fullness of their sound. With drums, three guitars, bass, piano, keyboard, occasional vocals, violin, cello and brass instruments combining, their crescendos are overwhelming. It would be all too easy to be tempted to deploy all of these at once and muddy their sound, but the band avoids this problem masterfully. This is most evident in ‘Daeku’, a track that wanders from echoing vocals against a bubbling keyboard melody to clear violins mixing with a singing guitar line. But it’s not all about the melody, with the tense and pacey ‘HBG’ giving the bass guitar its time in the sun, delivering a rollicking midline solo and ending the song with a crunch.
‘Theme for a Promise’ and ‘Leave It To My Ghost’ are the shorter tracks of the album. While they serve as a break to the longer pieces and continue the albums atmosphere, they feel a little wasted and Leave in particular feels a little generic. But the band’s quirkiness really fills each of their longer songs, especially the meandering ‘Paroxysm’ that starts from stately piano and whirrs of electronica and gradually adds elements until a churning electronic climax. Even songs which are closer to the more standard post-rock template such as ‘Bara’ are infused with it, turning what could have been just a crescendocore song into something so much more.
The band realises all of the potential shown in their previous scattered tracks. By the time the last ringing note of the album has faded away, I simply just want more. And that’s the biggest compliment I can give.