By Less Lee Moore
Can we just go ahead and define ’80s music as a genre? I think enough great music was made during that decade and enough time has passed that it qualifies. Especially when so many bands continue to profess their love for the ’80s through amazing music (School of Seven Bells, The Chain Gang of 1974, Weep, White Lies, etc.). With their latest EP, You and I in Heaven, Tyburn Saints carry the torch with a firm grip and full hearts.
If the ’80s are a genre, then Tyburn Saints are certainly one of my favorite subgenres, that proto-shoegaze, jangly, dream pop veering deliciously close to goth. Think The Lucy Show, The Church, The Chameleons. Tyburn Saints also show how many so-called ’80s “revivalists” (remember Electroclash?) are doing it wrong by focusing on synthesizers and dance beats, forgetting completely about what made much of the decade’s music so powerful and memorable: guitars.
You and I in Heaven is a kaleidoscope of shimmering jewel tones, steeped in reverb and delay pedals, a sonic pool in which you would willingly drown. Singer Johnny Gimenez possesses a rich, lustrous voice that’s by turns deep and plaintive. The band has a real gift for adding little touches that completely transform their songs into instant classics. Ghostly harmonies fill the spaces between the instruments, yet leave enough for the songs to breathe. Lyrically, the tunes are not straightforward narratives, but evocative glimpses into complex little worlds, which expand as you step into them.
The title track is gorgeous. There’s a rushing drumbeat towards the end when the song changes, and a heavy bassline supporting the lyric “Don’t follow me up that hill” which absolutely slays me. “Last Time I Sing For You” conjures up imagery from Hamlet (“drops of poison in the ear”) and features a wonderful guitar feedback solo.
The EP’s masterpiece is “You Don’t Send For Me, I Send For You.” It begins with a riff aped from Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” but then travels elsewhere. The line “Don’t think I dream of you” is sung slightly different from the previous lines in the verse and set off by a bit of guitar jangle. This gives it such an emotional hook that when it’s repeated later, it’s like a visit from a dear friend. After that line, the opening riff is repeated and then the song completely transforms and becomes something even better. There’s a bridge within a bridge. It’s an amazing piece of work.
“Broken Bottles,” the final track, has a driving beat and gothic lyrical content. You might think a line like “I can’t follow you to the grave” could not be sung with a straight face in this metacritical, ultra-ironic millennium, but it works. The song also has a glorious fade-out, something that is precious and rare these days.
Another reason the song’s potentially pretentious lyrics work is because they also reference Sixteen String Jack, an honest-to-goodness dandy highwaymen who was executed in 1774 (clearly the inspiration for one of Adam Ant’s musical personas) and the Holy Maid of Kent, a.k.a. Sister Elizabeth Barton, executed not for her prophecies, but for the ones that didn’t suit Henry VIII’s plans.
Both of these real-life characters, as well as the Gentleman Jack also referenced in the song, were all executed at Tyburn, a village located in what is now London. And thus Tyburn Saints becomes more than just a cool name for a band, but a peek into a fascinating bit of history.
You and I in Heaven does not sound like a cheap bid at nostalgia. It genuinely sounds like a lost classic from 1983 yet—ironically—it also sounds timeless. You need to hear it.
You and I in Heaven was released on March 27. Tyburn Saints will be playing in New York at The Studio at Webster Hall on Friday May 11 and in Allston, MA at The Great Scott on Sunday May 13. For more check out their website on Bandcamp, where you can stream tracks and purchase the EP.