EP Review: Children of the Pope – Committed to Cynicism

Spela Cedilnik

Much as the more avant-garde, cutting edge section of the alternative UK music scene is giving those who know where to look plenty of satisfaction these days, there is also another way of being experimental, a path less trodden and perhaps somewhat underrated that can nonetheless lead to very exciting results; one that looks back as much as it looks forward. To incorporate openly retro sounds in one’s songwriting and manage to turn them into something new and relevant is no small feat, and so the growing number of bands engaging with this pursuit, sometimes with unexpected outcomes, are to be celebrated: not only for bringing back into prominence the type of musical quirks that once made history for rock and pop, but also for endeavouring to make something completely new out of the well-loved and familiar. Children of the Pope are one such band: listen to their recent output without paying too much attention, and you might, just about, deceive yourself into thinking that you’re listening to something out of the late 60s to early 70s, potentially on the morning after a very long night out you only partially remember. This is, however, even so, music for the 2020s, and on a second listen its true nature becomes apparent: far from being a nostalgia operation, it has an additional edge which could only be achieved by a band that has gone through the experience of punk, post-punk, and synth-rock, and has come out – thankfully unscathed – on the other side.

Committed to Cynicism, Children of the Pope’s newest EP, out now for Isolar Records, is in a sense an involuntary manifesto for this process. Recorded, according to the band, ‘in the hottest days of 2021’, the haze it captures might not be the one experienced after a night out on the town, but perhaps the collective one we all went through as we came out of the enforced stagnation of the lockdowns into a scene that was itching to get going and become even more ambitious. Its choice of title might feel like a warning about its contents: nodding openly as they are to the most classic of early rock glories (think the Animals, the Kinks, Beach Boys, and the Beatles in their psychedelic years), Children of the Pope do so with an additional edge that is entirely their own, and which is very sharp indeed. With titles like Thalidomide Boy, Junkie Girlfriend, and Hipster Genocide, one goes into the first listening forewarned of the fact that the cynical attitude heralded by the name of the record is somewhat of a red thread linking its tracks together. The ability to blend this sharp, and sometimes challenging, sense of humour with a love of the surreal and a genuine playfulness is one of the strongest suits of the band. There is a feeling sometimes that in recent years we have all become far too preoccupied with playing it safe, and to see grassroots artists taking a gleeful foray into rather unsafe territories is equally intriguing and liberating. 

The other strong suit for Children of the Pope is, of course, their sound. Rarely is a band, this relatively early in their career, so consistent in its output and so clear on what kind of voice it wants to have. Committed to Cynicism is really a record meant to be listened to in one go: made up of four tracks, all relatively short, it has such a high degree of internal cohesiveness that it just makes sense to go from top to bottom and just get lost in the flow of it – which is certainly facilitated by its broad, airy sound, something rarely heard in recent British music outside of the work of a couple daring outliers (one thinks of Fling or some of Jessica Winters’ work, although the general vibe here is still different, more classic rock than pop). This is a band that has plenty of live experience to capitalise on, and the energy from their live sets is certainly crystallised in the studio, but the additional ability to play around with distortion and a production that is in places deliberately, and effectively, intrusive adds further layers to these versions of the tracks. While embracing that hazy feeling that is the inheritance of classic psychedelic rock, Children of the Pope have managed to keep their sound full-bodied and, for lack of a better term, unmistakably loud: crank up the volume on Committed to Cynicism and the EP will reveal its full potential for being positively booming – and any music which is still capable of maintaining a floating feeling while blowing up the amps has well deserved its kudos.

It would be intriguing to see whether this same feeling, of a record that flows like a single song in many parts, can be replicated in a more expanded form in a long player. An album attempting such an operation would be unusual and daring enough to be much more than a simple curiosity, and Children of the Pope have both the brazenness and the intelligence to try it. If they do, I will be eagerly waiting to give it a spin. 

Listen here:

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