Hooton Tennis Club is a four-piece consisting indie-rock fans Ryan Murphy (vocals/guitar), James Madden (vocals/guitar); Callum McFadden (bass) and Harry Chalmers (drums). Formed back in 2013, the boys have an album and a number of singles already under their belt. Having met one another at Upton by Chester High School, they forged a shared musical love and a connection was formed. Rising to prominence in a quick space of time – getting spots on BBC Introducing by 2014 – it has been a jam-packed past two years for the band. Showing promise and originality on the four-track E.P., I Was a Punk in Europe (But My Mum Didn’t Mind); they have toned down the wordiness but upped the ante. That E.P. was a described as being trash-indie with psychedelia thrown into the melting pot. With a colourful band painting adorning the cover: Highest Point In Cliff Town was produced by The Coral’s Bill Ryder-Jones and saw the band play European headline shows – critics raving and celebrating a band hungry for success and armed with the necessary tools.
Little is known about the boys behind the music. There are a few interviews available online but they are not your in-the-face-take-a-look-at-us merchants; all desperate for attention, egos sagging from their pockets. A certain modesty and maturity can not only be found in the personalities (of the members) but the music too. The band’s debut L.P. mixed shades of Parquet Courts and of-the-moment contemporaries, the album was certainly fresh, relevant and of-the-times. If some of the lyrics (on that album) hinted at mature shoulders beneath young heads; the music was a gleeful and fun-loving exploration into various genres and alleyways. Vibing from Ryder-Jones’ experience, cheekiness and experimental nature – the music had an improvised edge but was not lazily tossed-off; always consummately professional and focused. Not letting the dust settle of wasting any time – a lot of their contemporaries take years between albums – the boys have been back in the studio, and a year on from their debut, unveil their sophomore effort.
Big Box of Chocolates hints at unpredictability, variety and an assortment of flavoursome tunes. It is the band’s coming-of-age statement and whilst retaining the colourful inventions of their debut, pushes their sound and sees the quartet assess heavier tones – looking at bittersweet loss and love’s tribulations. Described as a sort of Merseyside-based Murakami – Japanese surrealism and northern wit – that is enough to get the juices working overtime, surely? The droll storytelling and blend of optimism and cynicism is back but is joined on its quest with a new-found narrative; one that brings in the likes of Lauren Laverne (more favourably than Sleaford Mods did) and Bootcut Jimmy. The band members – whilst drinking excessive amounts of tea, bird-watching and growing their facial hair – batted lyrics to one another and laid down ideas quickly – gathering that spontaneity and urgency down onto tape. Has this more ‘sedate’ recording setting affected the band’s debut-era youthfulness and spirit?
Growing Concerns opens a Big Box of Chocolates with an orange-flavoured tangy treat. Kicking percussion and a woozy, punk-edgy lead vocals find the frontman sitting around “feeling so assured”. Sound samples – a dog barking – and a forty-day trek – a distant vocal declaration that adds new dimensions – provides some quirkiness and obliqueness. Mixing shades of Blur into the fold; the song has a distinct swagger and mystery. Perhaps not as explosive an opener as one would hope: it is an intriguing lead-off that contains plenty of yowling guitars and confident performances – the band providing plenty of twists and turns along the way. Following the locomotive, eccentric and ravaged tones of the opening track: Bootcut Jimmy the G has some ‘60s edges and a racing narrative. The song’s hero is a “genius” – perhaps an ironic statement – and someone that provokes imagery.
Dressing like “an old man” and creating some mirth: the band shows a real flair for words, story and wit. Sit Like Ravi – the band creating an album dedicated to people they know – shows the sonic variety and compendium of ideas at their disposal. Gentler and more contemplative than any song on the album: a lilting, compassionate song where the boys put their hearts out there. Current single Katie-Anne Bellis looks at a departed flatmate; a departure that causes sadness in the ranks. She is moving uptown and is an observational slice-of-life commentary that demonstrates how real and relatable the band is. Lauren, I’m In Love is about, one suspects, the aforementioned Laverne – keeping the lead company during the day (via the radio) and providing warmth and sonic sensations.
Big Box of Chocolates is not a coincidental title. Songs, whilst looking at real figures and modest themes, vary in tone and sound but retain a distinct Hooton Tennis Club vibe. A few of the tracks do sound too close to one another and shades of Blur are evident in many numbers – other bands make their way into the album, too. A slight lack of originality and some sameness does not detract from a sophomore record that not only overcomes the ‘difficult second album’ curse/trope but sees the band mature their sound without losing their essentialness and vitality. Constantly engaging sonically; always lyrically interesting and vocally arresting: a sturdy and solid album from a band that has a lot more to offer. It would have been nice to see more of the oddity and quirkiness of the debut and a little more spit and drive in general. It is a playful album that creates smiles and shows ample depth and nuance. Big Box of Chocolates is a selection of songs with few nasty surprises and bad aftertastes (I’ll stop with the chocolate analogies!). By no means perfect, but ripe with memorable and heart-warming songs: a real treat from one of our more promising bands of the moment.
Big Box of Chocolates is available on 21st October through Heavenly Recordings.