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The Homesick
The Big Exercise Richard Foster , February 12th, 2020 09:57

The first album on Subpop from Dutch underground pop group The Homesick is a rare joy, finds Richard Foster

Sometimes things in life fall into place so perfectly that it feels like an extra agency, such as magic, is at play. Such is the case with The Big Exercise, The Homesick’s debut for Sub Pop. The record is clear evidence that the unassuming, but single-minded Frisian trio have grabbed their chance to test their creative mettle in a bigger league, and exploit the resources that are suddenly at hand. They’ve always been a potentially great band, as their last LP on Dutch alternative label Subroutine suggested, but The Big Exercise is majestic, a true statement of intent.

If there is one overriding emotion I associate with listening to The Big Exercise, it is happiness. How nice, how life-affirming it is to hear young people making beautiful pop music, taking what has gone before and remoulding it into a form packed with future energies. Numerous associations popped into my head whilst having the record on repeat these last few weeks. The existential remove of Animal Collective, the precise pop of Field Music, Van Dyke Parks at his most impish, the glittering, quasi-religious insights on Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream or The Stone Roses’ debut, the Volendam sound even. It could be the Dutch digital generation’s take on Palingpop. It probably isn’t just, or even any of these things, as the band members - and their inner circle, such as multi instrumentalist Lyckle de Jong - are all musical omnivores, guzzling indiscriminately on pop’s past like a bunch of lads on the sauce who’ve miraculously discovered a trestle table full of prawn mayo sandwiches.

It’s difficult to know where to start with The Big Exercise, such is its effervescence. One can simply revel in seemingly microscopic sleights of hand that imbue the record with a sum greater than its parts. There are gorgeous chord changes, such as on ‘Pawing’, where the bass hops along, lifting the achingly beautiful plucked guitar part in the bridge. Last December’s single, ‘I Celebrate My Fantasy’, has enough clever twists to fill a whole record. It’s so exciting to hear the clarinet and piano parts mirrored by the guitar lick that apes them, or be wooed by the clarinet’s reappearance, which signals the drop to the beautiful, almost religious refrain. Tracks like ‘Kaïn’ are full of tiny, precise workings that seem incongruous if highlighted but nevertheless fit together beautifully like the mechanisms of a watch. The title track is a masterpiece, too; fizzing with energy and overflowing with peppy flourishes. The more I listen to this track the more incredible I find its construction, and the more I revel in the band’s curiosity and wit. Listing the good bits is truly a long naming of the parts: the monkish chant of the vocals, the busy fretwork, that terrific lick that sounds like a sped-up harpsichord, or the brisk “brang” of the ending. I wonder how on earth they will manage to make this sound work in their live shows.

A word should be said about Erik Woudwijk’s drumming, which manages to be at once the record’s heartbeat and incredibly unobtrusive; a ticking engine that packs real emotional punch. Take the time to listen to the way the ever shifting, mesmeric tick of the rhythm lifts a mercurial track like ‘Leap Year’ or the way his skin bashing provides the martial backdrop for the dramatic last track, ‘Male Bonding’ (possibly their greatest to date).

The band’s inner resolve also hits home in their lyrics. Unsurprisingly, being young provincial lads, The Homesick have always sung about being young provincial lads. But there is no “look at me” horror show swagger here. The Homesick sing about subjects in a way lads often find difficult to express. Tracks like ‘The Small Exercise’ or ‘Focus on the Beach’ reveal thoughts that are open, honest, direct and possessing a sense of almost religious remove. Lyrics about going outside and enjoying the sun, smelling armpits, feelings of insecurity, dreams, undeclared love all get magically served up in a way not really heard - or maybe sensed - since that Stone Roses debut or Open Season-era British Sea Power.

I have been watching and promoting music from the so-called “Dutch underground” the best part of twenty years, often to my own material and spiritual ruin. In that time there have been many beautiful and inspiring moments from bands that really did deserve much better. And they will continue to come. In my humble opinion though, only a few acts have really transcended local industry mores and enlightened amateurism to make something of truly wider, lasting appeal. And maybe none more so than The Homesick with this record, which should surely sneak through the gates of classic pop heaven.

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