By the Sea: Endless Days, Crystal Sky (War Room Records)

Second LP of sublime shoegazing synth pop from Merseyside quintet

Released Aug 18th, 2014 via War Room Records / By Richard Lewis
By the Sea: Endless Days, Crystal Sky (War Room Records) Following on from the shimmering jangle of their 2012 eponymous debut, Merseyside diviners of gorgeous melody By the Sea return with a ten song set of immersive shoegaze/synth pop tunes. As the Bunnymen-esque title hints at, a recent absorption with elegiac 1980s indie (New Order, Cocteau Twins) and a greater reliance on textures created by synths and harmonies, the album aligns the band with the present wave of US dream pop frontliners Real Estate and Wild Nothing.

Produced by the returning Bill Ryder-Jones, increasingly in demand for his skill behind the recording console faders, everything here is thrown into sharper focus than before, the vocals clearer, the drums crisper, the guitars chiming with church bell-like clarity, the synths more enveloping.

Wrapped in a cover that seemingly resembles an aerial shot of a city at dusk, which more prosaically transpires to be the floor of a Birkenhead train station (no, really), the (almost) title track sets the pace at the top of the LP. Audaciously motoring along for over a minute and a half before the vocals swoop in, the new changes wrought on the band’s sound are front and centre. Now firmly established as a five piece, the two guitars take a back seat to the diaphanous synths, the buried-deep melodies coming into full bloom after repeated listens. ‘You’re the Only One’ second is a perfect optimistic/melancholy three minute pop gem, where the tune and lyrics dovetail, matching sunburst guitars with seemingly downbeat lyrics.

Imbued with the same sighing atmospheres as the aforementioned Wild Nothing, the excellent ‘These Days Fall’ and the interweaving guitar lines of ‘Youth’, showcase singer Liam Power’s newly located Ian McCulloch-esque vocal croon. Challenging ‘You’re the Only One’ in the all-out pop song stakes ‘Emily Says’, seemingly an escapee from New Order’s Brotherhood, an amalgam of Peter Hook basslines and music box guitar arpeggios joins the modest stockpile of songs by Pink Floyd and Simon and Garfunkel that feature the titular heroine.

Lead single ‘I See a Crystal Sky’ opens Side 2, (was a Hounds of Love theme of giving the Sides separate names at work here?) an exquisite concoction of ringing guitars, translucent synth textures and slowly rolling rhythm section. Elsewhere ‘Another Way’ anchored by a Phil Spector drumbeat is given ballast in the choruses by the Liz Fraser-esque presence of fellow Wirral native Minnetonka on backing vocals, the track slow-burning its way into the memory, possibly the summit of the LP.

‘The Stranger Things’, provides contrast, the fastest track present piloted by charging guitars, hinging around the intriguing chorus ‘Misery, you’re the strangest/Just lie to me/like you promised’, before lurching into a Barney Sumner-worthy guitar break. Penultimate cut, the synth steeped ‘At Your Window’, effectively a duet between Liam Power and Minnetonka is the biggest departure in the band’s catalogue so far. Revolving round a sparse synth pulse and fizzing electronic beats, inspired by deep ethereal pop of the Drive soundtrack, the track gives an intriguing hint where the group may be headed next.

The wistful ‘Wild September’ brings proceedings to a close, a snaking chorus pedal guitar line giving way to a coda of luscious synths and treated guitar that slowly ascends skywards. 'Difficult second album' hurdle surmounted with laughable ease, By the Sea's cloudbusting journey continues apace.