The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

REVIEW: Childhood – ‘Universal High’ (Marathon)

  • 7/10
    - 7/10


Following a successful debut album, Childhood have taken their time over its follow-up ‘Universal High’, and it pays dividends.

Indie quintet Childhood enjoyed a rise to critical acclaim three years ago with their debut record, Lacuna. The band scored the assistance of producer Dan Carey, who has worked with the likes of The Kills, Franz Ferdinand, and Hot Chip. The record allowed them to perch comfortably in the sudden wash of ‘90s shoegaze and psychedelia influence that infiltrated indie rock in the early 2010s, also giving the band the clout to support Johnny Marr and tour with Bombay Bicycle Club. What this meant for Childhood however was that they had set themselves up for a classic case of ‘second album syndrome’.

With the assistance of Ben H. Allen III and a relocation to Maze Studios, Atlanta, Childhood manage a clean-cut reinvention of themselves on Universal High. The band embark on the feel-good factor of the previous era, we hear them use everything from big instrumental finales to the smooth, volume decreasing fade-outs we hear in older records. The album cover is itself is composed from a vintage photograph of a black gospel choir, almost to indicate that Universal High was pitched on the premise of asking “Can we have some of this? But make it indie.”

The impeccable attention to detail is what carries this record forward, small details tie together each track, making them similar but clearly distinguishable, a craft many bands fail to muster. The track ‘Monitor’ is a clear case of this, in its final minutes the song breaks down into a simple bass guitar and drums instrumental, eventually fading out on a strung note, although this seems irrelevant, it provides a concise, smooth ending to the record.  The title track ‘Universal High’ is a simple piano led track, but differs itself with engaging, sweet hints of xylophone. ‘Cameo’ is melodic and dreamy track, with a deep funky bassline, as the third track, and as the third track, it establishes that this is the direction Childhood has taken with this record. Chronologically, the album works well from start to finish, almost as if it has been rendered for a format without a shuffle.

The lead single ‘Californian Light’ is a dream-like modern take on soul, with singer Ben Romans-Hopcroft singing in a falsetto. Despite the title, the video is a visually low contrast tour of a cloudy South London. It becomes apparent that Childhood has entered the territory of numerous clichés and generic rhyme schemes, but they utilise them so successfully, it’s seamless. Romans-Hopcroft even states himself “Another cliché is how I’ve been / I’m glad that no one really cares”.

‘Too Old For My Tears” also highlights this, the song is reminiscent of classic ‘70s quartet soul, relying on a simple chorus, verse, and breakdown structure. The direct address creates the vintage feel of the song, it plays upon what we hear in classic love songs. The song speaks directly to a lover, the chorus sings “But oh baby, I’m down on my knees”. A simple google search of “I’m down on my knees” renders a range of love songs with similar themes, songs that describe “begging please” or also rhyme “knees” with “sees”. But Childhood uses this almost as a proclamation that these things are timeless, and don’t have to be cheesy. The same technique is used on ‘Don’t Have Me Back’ but it goes further in channelling a classic feel in its heavy trumpet infusion.

Universal High is a big play upon on the comforts of classic rock and soul, embarking on a ‘diet’ Danger Mouse sound. But Childhood also interweave the simplicity of early 2000s indie rock song writing, for a simple and enjoyable second album. (7/10) (Benita Barden)

Listen to Universal High here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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