It’s tempting to think that you have all the answers, screaming your gospel every day with certainty and anger. Life isn’t quite like that though, and the debut album from London four-piece TV Priest instead embraces the beautiful and terrifying unknowns that exist personally, politically, and culturally.
Posing as many questions as it answers, Uppers is a thunderous opening statement that continues the UK’s recent resurgence of grubby, furious post-punk music. It says something very different though – something completely its own.
Four childhood friends who made music together as teenagers before drifting apart and then, somewhat inevitably, back together late in 2019, TV Priest was borne out of a need to create together once again, and brings with it a wealth of experience and exhaustion picked up in the band’s years of pursuing “real life” and “real jobs,” something those teenagers never had. "The process of making music had always been very cathartic for us," they say, "and we probably didn't realise that until we stopped doing it for a while and realised what was missing."
Last November, the band – vocalist Charlie Drinkwater, guitarist Alex Sprogis, bass and keys player Nic Bueth and drummer Ed Kelland – played their first show, to a smattering of friends in what they describe as an “industrial freezer” in the warehouse district of Hackney Wick. “It was like the pub in Peep Show with a washing machine just in the middle…” Charlie laughs, remembering how they dodged Star Wars memorabilia and deep fat fryers while making their first statement as a band.
The gig might’ve seemed innocuous – not to mention humorous – at the time, but it remains their only live gig to date, and may well end up going down in legend. Having pencilled in gigs for the rest of 2020 and readied debut single “House Of York,” a searing examination of the Monarchy set over wiry post-punk and fronted by a Mark E. Smith-like mouthpiece in Charlie, the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a precedent for launching a band during a global pandemic, but among the general sense of anxiety and unease pervading everything at the moment, TV Priest’s entrance in April with the release of “House Of York” served as a breath of fresh air among the chaos, its anger and confusion making some kind of twisted sense to the nation’s fried brains.
It’s the same continued global sense of anxiety that will greet the release of ‘Uppers’, and it’s an album that has a lot to say right now. Taking musical cues from post-punk stalwarts The Fall and Protomartyr as well as the mechanical, pulsating grooves of krautrock, it’s a record that moves with an untamed energy. Over the top of this rumbling musical machine is vocalist Charlie, a cuttingly funny, angry, confused, real frontman. “I found singularity at the bottom of the Mail Online comments section / HAHAHA, laugh it up,” he deadpans on new single ‘This Island’, and the tales he weaves across the new album feel plucked straight from the country’s collective consciousness right now.
A song Charlie wrote in response to "a parochialism that feels rampant in the UK," “This Island” addresses creeping nationalism in the country. "It's a howl of frustration, and is a bit incoherent," the frontman says. It's a word that could easily seem like he's putting himself down, but the incoherence here, and across the entirety of Uppers, is one borne of trying desperately to seek enlightenment, while also basking in the unknowability of things. As incoherent as a good old fashioned debate down the pub, it’s a brave and honest admission of not having all the answers, something that will undoubtedly connect widely in 2020.
According to Nic, Uppers sees TV Priest "explicitly and outwardly" trying to avoid narrowmindedness and avoiding conflicting points of view. "There will never be a solution if it's just heads banging together," he adds. Uppers sees TV Priest taking musical and personal risks, reaching outside of themselves and trying to make sense of this increasingly messy world. It's a band and a record that couldn’t arrive at a more perfect time.