, March 6th, 2017 12:03
I suspect that many people reading this won’t have heard of The Homesick. Which is right and proper. After all, they are a very young band from a small provincial town in The Netherlands (Dokkum, in the proud province of Friesland, if you must know), on an independent Dutch label, Subroutine. This review of their debut LP, Youth Hunt, probably won’t make too many waves. But the reason I’m writing it is that I believe (after breaking a rib, suffering food poisoning, being sick in a street during a standoff with some local ruffians and somehow contracting a very unsightly skin infection on my legs in their cause) The Homesick have the potential to be one of the great pop bands if they stick at it.
This record is a solid first step in that direction.
A certain amount of meeja chatter has already been building up around them in their homeland over the last couple of years. Mostly it’s the sort of terrible, unthinking cut-and-paste, sub-Vice reportage that take Vile Bodies’ Green Bowler episode to whole new layers of yawning, narcissistic hell. But, like British Sea Power a good decade before in Britain, The Homesick have an indefinable something that encourages this kind of well-heeled froth.
The attraction they hold is possibly down to the fact that the band occupy a unique position in the recent revival of Dutch alternative pop. Acts like Rats on Rafts and Amber Arcades have recently gained a measure of deserved commercial and critical international success, after years of grinding round the squats, festivals and venue circuit. But The Homesick should go one further. The band are at once a summation of the low-level, DIY independence and pop nous that has been the hallmark of that alternative scene, and - given their complete and utter indifference to the Dutch pop industry as a whole - the first creative break with its legacy.
The Homesick also remind me a lot of British Sea Power, without having anything really in common with them. For one these Frisian scallies exude a strong, confident image without any whiff of uncertainty or ego. They are a friendly, approachable trio, happy to stay in a world of their own making, happy to let others find ambiguity and eccentricity out of matters that are - to them - perfectly straightforward. They show a strong imagination at play; using facts. And all three readily dismiss over-analysis as metropolitan silliness. Why can’t you drive around your small town in a monstrous, decommissioned German military vehicle after all? This record confirms those beguiling contradictions. We get weird but very moreish songs about Dark Age Christian martyrdom (‘St Boniface’), teenage Christianity (‘The Best Part of Being Young Is Falling In Love With Jesus’), being fashionably bored (‘Near The Water’), or trendy food habits (“Eater of Meat’). All the while being acutely aware of being a hit with The Girlz.
Their songs are a collision of the work outs favoured by their mates Rats on Rafts, a sparkling understanding of pop (their true claim to greatness) and menacing non-ballads that conjure up a killer mix of Jozef K and Beta Band. To wit, The Homesick make weird, challenging pop music; perfectly formed, hermetically sealed. Sometimes their songs feel like they are about to launch themselves into Tamworth-era Julian Cope territory, only to step back on the brink. To use another Tamworth-era Cope obsession as a metaphor, they are pop music’s Dinky toys; lumpish, charming and utterly indifferent to fashion. Their sound is a blank canvas where others project ideas, hunches, or dreams onto. John Robb of The Membranes, who knows a thing or two about good bands, saw them live and wrote that they reminded him of a number of long lost Factory acts. This list will grow as more people see this weirdly amorphic band.
Now and again the tracks on Youth Hunt chug along in the menacing, stop-start manner of the Unimog alpine rescue vehicle that their drummer Erik drives round Dokkum. Take the extended mumblings of ‘Matthaeus’ or ‘Eater of Meat’. Or the opener, ‘Half Aryan’, which is immediately moody and exciting in the way Jozef K’s ‘Radio Drill Time’ is moody and exciting, or Can’s ‘Father Cannot Yell’ is. For one, the song’s lyrics are at once throwaway and killer. “I’m a mad man, with the gift of modern culture” is an instant earworm. Secondly, it’s an absurdly basic, but utterly all-embracing song. Clarity and mystery a comin atcha from the back of beyond. The fact that the track is, in effect two songs in one, two great missed pop opportunities, doesn’t matter.
There is another contradiction the band exemplify. Professor James Kennedy (he of the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht no less) once told me that he saw one Dutch attitude towards the world as that of “Provincial-International”. A display of pride in a town or city, coupled with a preference to play out dreams and on a bigger stage. This is what marks The Homesick out. They are the epitome of “Provincial-International” in alternative guitar pop music. Unashamed if not quietly proud of their roots, the band have somehow bypassed all the nonsense of proving themselves to their fellow countryfolk and stepped out, perfectly formed, onto what feels like a bigger stage. Even if it’s not apparent to that many at the moment. A contradictory statement? Maybe, but then again, given this band, I don’t think so.