Taking their name from Andrew Bird song ‘Plasticities’, London-based indie rock four-piece Whales in Cubicles formed in 2010. ‘Death in the Evening’, recorded at Monnow Valley Studio in Wales with producer Nick Mailing, is their full-length debut album after two years of releasing singles.
Stylistically, Whales in Cubicles don’t seem to be bringing many new things to music on this heavily 90’s-influenced album. Short and to-the-point opener ‘Yesterday’s News’ and ‘Disappear’ have the same combination of big riffs and calm vocals as Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins, the downbeat but beautiful album highlight ‘All the Pretty Flowers’ shows a very Elliott Smith approach to melody and singing, and ‘Golden Medal’ and ‘Nowhere Flag’ have a great deal in common with the more Britpop offerings of The-Bends Era Radiohead.
What the album does have going for it, however, is a very strong set of songs, particularly for a debut album, that wouldn’t have looked out on place on 90’s albums from those aforementioned artists. ‘We Never Win’ is based around simple guitar chords, lyrics and melodies but unpredictable drum patterns, ‘Across America’ utilises a driving bass line that really gives the vocal melody a sense of movement. The album draws to a close with the ambitious but effective eight-and-a-half-minute Find Your Way, the Pixies-inspired vocal melodies and loud/soft dynamics keeping the listener interested throughout. While there are audible influences from earlier alternative rock, there is more than enough imagination and variety put into these songs to make it a lot more than simply 90’s rock-by-numbers.
‘Death in the Evening’ is a dynamic and varied offering from the Hackney group, full of catchy and memorable tracks that Arctic Monkeys/Kasabian collaborator Simon “Barny” Barnicott, who produced the ‘Nowhere Flag’ single, no doubt would have had an ear for. It may not be the most cutting-edge sound of 2014, but for all its references to 90’s legends, it is the work of a band that have a very strong ability for song-writing and a passion for what they do. Which is a lot more important than anything else.