New Music: Spring Offensive – Hengelo

This is one of those songs that can invite different appreciations – an instinctively personal take perhaps, and an understanding informed by the facts behind the tale. Once you’ve read the inspiration, you might never be able to get back to your own. So here’s the track – think on for a while and then I’ll tell you how it is for me:

Maybe there’s little difference between the personal and the real. It’s clear enough that our protagonist is someone run away from home, escaping from financial worries and bad memories (“It’s too full of the ghosts I know”). For all of us, there will have been times that we have wanted to be free, if only for a few moments, maybe for a night’s uninterrupted sleep or a clutch of days untarnished with pressure and responsibilities. I can think of times when it wasn’t even a case of running away, just of being somewhere with no connection to my normal life, just a warm bed, safe and unfindable in a friend’s spare room, “so glad/for everything I carry on my back”, briefly gaining respite from everything else. There was the catch for me – the personal pull. I know at least a fragment of how that might be.

The music and the harmonies enhance that power: sweeps of keening, moaning backing vocals; the melancholy, vibrating guitar hook; the low growl under the first few lines; the bullying drums echoing life’s relentless pressures. But how many of us would take this further and generate a new life in order to escape the trials of our presents ?

What Spring Offensive have done is to strip away all back story, or at least to leave any drama in the hands of the narrator. He tells us “I am a wayward son I am a wrecking ball.” But we already trust this lost soul – someone made him think has harshly of himself, right ? The band present us with the raw emotions involved – the fear, the loneliness, basic needs, the desperate desire for feeling safe. Which is really what Robin van Helsum did to the German authorities when he emerged from the forests in September 2011 after a trek from his home of Hengelo. He claimed a life lived in the woods, the deaths of his mother and father, and he transformed himself into Ray. What they were given was the forlorn child, the figure with whom to empathise. They struggled to work out where he was from and he took everything they cared to give him in terms of support. Eventually they found him out. We don’t know what traumas he did or didn’t face, what advantages or disadvantages he might have had to cope with. You can read the news reporting and work it out for yourself. Seems a generous portrait to me – but it’s an arresting one and supporting evidence for the burgeoning reputation of this Oxford band.

You can expect the release of “Young Animal Hearts”, their debut album, on 10 March. You can also catch them headlining at the Hoxton Bar and Grill on 24 April. Do it.

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