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Real Lies
Lad Ash Luke Turner , April 29th, 2022 09:47

Real Lies' second album may be the first great London record of the year, finds Luke Turner

When Real Lies first appeared ten years ago I couldn't help but call them the Pet Shop Geezers, so perfect was their meshing of pop that sits just leftfield of the obvious, and Kev Kharas' half-sung, half-narrated vocals of suburban nights and longing seen through a male lens. Now, their long-awaited second album (debut Real Life came out in 2015) takes that blueprint and makes it fuller and more sophisticated yet touched with a sense of innocence, naivety almost. The title, Lad Ash, might be a pointer for this, evoking a masculinity scorched of ego and self-delusion, hungover and held back not by simple regret, but by looking at your own past and wondering if, in the contemporary parlance, you'd been your #bestself and if paradoxically, that was as good as it was going to get.

This reflective, evocative sensation comes through beautifully via Real Lies' musical mastermind Patrick King's odd collaging of sonics – there's a lysergic warmth to this, like being in a taxi through the city at dawn, MDMA embers still glowing in the brain to a soundtrack of the driver's hits radio and the rhythms and voices of the club you've just left. Yet it's one tinged with sadness – that dial-slipping cab ride is definitely a solitary one.

Underneath Kharas' third-muttered, third-rapped, third-sung lyrics of lost friendship, drugs and coming of age, the dial flips between '90s house-inflected pop, sparse electronica like early New Order, and – I mean this as a compliment – 'Boss Trick' has a hint of peak-period, 'Fairground' Simply Red. A blast of urban London as soundtracked by Burial frequently comes through the window from someone else's cab at the traffic lights. 'Late Arcades' and 'Since I' are twinkling bangers, 'Your Guiding Hand' a great, rattling goth epic meets sooty techno pumper with strong hints of Underworld.

Kharas' musings on boyhood to manhood, a sort of North Circular Aidan Moffat, are tempered by the vocals of Zoee which contribute to Lad Ash occupying a sort of retro-futurist space that makes me think of Chromatics' Kill For Love, but one brought up on a very British diet of late night Channel 5 sex comedies, cheap drug scores, foxes bloating in the central reservation, house parties where the drinks are mixed in cracked mugs or, as 'Late Arcades' finishes with a squawk, seagulls that nick your hangover chips.

This is definitely a London record (probably the only one this year to reference Patrick Hamilton's 20,000 Streets Under The Sky trilogy of the mid-1930s and the controversial Woodberry Down development), with all the euphoria and melancholy that the city brings, the lyrics often speaking of a city where the quest for the party increasingly has to keep a step ahead of rapacious landlords and moaning neighbours. Part of what makes it such a great album is how the the sound of the record might most immediately suggest Burial or The Streets, but the feel of it is closer to Suede's masterpiece, Dog Man Star. Like that album, Lad Ash is a homage to the "love and poison of London."

With its exploration of masculinity turning from adolescence to a wilder twenties and then the shift into what lies beyond, this also feels out on its own – it can often feel difficult to put a toe into exploring what it is to be man in Britain in 2022. Perhaps there's even a guilt at doing so too and there's a wry acknowledgement and self-awareness when, in 'Since I', Kharas references this "sad lad reminiscence." Almost like Sleaford Mods' unruly yet romantic nephews, Real Lies manage to navigate this fraught and pimpled terrain with a tender grace, sounding like little else around at the moment. You'll often find your best mates among those who don't fit in.