It should be amazingly easy to hate We Were Evergreen. Their band shots alone bring bile to the eyes, all pastels and laughter and papier-mache animal heads and swimming pools – pretty much a marketeer’s wet-dream for youthful joie de vivre. There’s the videos with their cutesy lo-fi and recycled Michel Gondry, tiny instruments and hand-made props everywhere, and the press releases that dare to mention Alt-J. And then there’s all that happiness, that somehow these three Parisians have managed to live in London for four years without being ground down to dead-eyed husks with nervous tremors and skin discoloration: that alone should have us baying for a deportation order and sealing off Folkestone to stop them getting back in.
Yes, seething hatred would seem to be a given. And yet somewhere along the line something goes wrong, the vomit slowing to a honeyed trickle and the gnash of teeth to a low hiss as the edges fight upwards and suddenly, horribly, there’s a smile in its place and limbs are threatening to dance. It’s quite a shock the first time, like Theoden having Saruman’s poison drawn from him.
Certainly on those early listens there seems little that stands out on Towards, We Were Evergreen’s debut album, little that’s particularly innovative or original: this is alt-pop by way of Oxford’s Blessing Force collective, wide-eyed and hook-laden like Trophy Wife or Jonquil or I Was A Cub Scout, melodies to the forefront and song lengths at around three-thirty. Opening track proper False Start rides in on wonky synths and carnival percussion and the kind of vocal narrative that owes rent to We Are Scientists, all first-person and slightly maudlin, whilst Best Things trades on choruses and ukelele and more than a hint of Under The Sea. Tambourine Like A Crown jaunts slightly irritatingly on Mardi Gras swagger and lyrics about dancing in the sun.
Which is fine and all, in moderation. Luckily the light casts shadows: Quicksand strips back to moody loops and reverb swells, whilst first single Daughters builds from simple ditty to a dark and dramatic wash of percussive clatter, singer Michael Liot nicely counterpointed by Fabienne Débarre’s siren song.
She’s underused, actually, the decision to foreground Liot as lead vocalist throughout in a break from the more ad-hoc approach of the EPs supplying consistency but denying us the more interesting voice. Débarre’s appearances provide the highpoints across the album, from Overnight’s slightly sinister opening loop to her beguiling verses on Dormant, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with Liot’s efforts, there’s little that’s memorable about them either.
To be honest though that’s an issue with Towards generally – that so much of this can pass by barely registering a memory. It’s certainly not for want of effort, either: the production here is immaculate, and the list of instruments that make up the sounds across the twelve tracks is genuinely daunting, providing just enough sonic variety to stave off the nagging deja vu that the songwriting provokes. It’s a shame because there’s loads to like here, from the bass riffs to the harmonies and the subtle piano, but it just doesn’t stick like it should.
But hey, give We Were Evergreen a festival field, the air warm and the sun low in the sky and they’ll kill for sure: these songs will be catnip to that crowd, danceable and undemanding and cute whilst just – just – staying on the right side of twee. Heck, we’d better enjoy them whilst we can: there’s no way the band can maintain this level of serotonin for long.