When was the last time a piece of music stopped you in your tracks? For this writer, Strange Boy's 'Annunciation’ (from the ‘Annunciation' EP) did just that upon release back in the fading light of 2017. It was five minutes of pure beauty with the refrain, "How things just fall apart,” grandiosely delivered over a pulsating electronic backdrop.
Now, several months later, they’ve managed to do it again with ‘Suburbia’ lead track from the new ‘Suburbia’ EP (out now). Featuring a thudding club beat which gives way mid song to lush synths and a male / female vocal duel [courtesy of rising Icelandic artist JFDR], it’s further proof of the rare disarming quality that Strange Boy possess.
The band consists of Kieran Brunt and Matt Huxley who began working together in 2016 after meeting at Glastonbury festival. "Kieran had just finished his A levels,"explains Huxley. “I remember we stumbled across Jamie xx clanging in some quite ropey mixes in one of those tiny bars. Then I made a remix of an organ piece by American composer Nico Muhly that Kieran heard, and we started sharing music."
Brunt, who provides the vocals and lyrics, was educated in the world of choir music and had planned to become a professional opera singer but: “had a freak-out about whether it was a good idea. So, I picked up the guitar again, wrote a couple of tunes and called Matt."
Both members maintain impressive hinterlands beyond the Strange Boy stable. Brunt has started a project with Erased Tapes scoring choir sections for Nils Frahm and has worked in music preparation for Terry Riley and Evian Christ.
“A huge amount of my work in the last couple of years has been collaborative, so I’ve been lucky to learn about writing and producing from people with much more experience than me,” he explains. "I really enjoy being given some music and asked to play around with it and love the first stage where I’m just writing loads of ideas and recording demos. I’m currently doing that on a dance music record, which I’m enjoying a lot.”
Huxley continues: “All my other stuff is collaborative, be in film or theatre [he’s scored soundtracks for BBC documentaries and live theatre], where the music is definitely in service of the work…it definitely refocuses Strange Boy as a space for us to be uncompromising."
The pair decamped to New York City to record the tracks that make up ‘Suburbia’ with producer Jake Aron (whose previous credits include Grizzly Bear, Snail Mail and Solange) at his Brooklyn studio. The results of this collaboration are instantly noticeable through the widening sonics and trademark shifting dynamics of tracks 'Hot Breath’ and ‘Lie Together’ (a response to the outcome of the Chilcott Inquiry).
“It had been through a lot of iterations,” recalls Huxley about ‘Hot Breath’. “There is a version hidden deep in my laptop featuring some pretty crappy breaks that I made after having my head blown off raving to Goldie - and we really didn’t have it together. We stocked up on bagels and holed down for 24 hours in this flat beneath the train line and emerged bleary-eyed with what we have now. Incidentally, the violins in the bridges of that tune were all recorded straight into my computer using the inbuilt mic - you can hear street noise and train rattles if you listen closely."
Tangible progress on record then but what about life away from the studio? “Despite having played in loads of bands and orchestras as a teenager, for a long time I thought of myself as purely a composer and producer and hence didn't really perform much,” says Huxley. “I think I forgot the rush of being on stage. But it's so great!”
Brunt continues: “We try to make our gigs quite intense, with big contrasts between the highs and the lows, and the best shows are always when everyone in the room is giving their undivided attention. I think for that reason we’re not very suited to the guitar band gigging circuit, which is perhaps why we mainly just play our own gigs. We have done some really fun support slots though recently with Baths and Talos and will be doing more in the Autumn.”
The apparent lack of 'buzz' surrounding Strange Boy creates the paradox of wanting them to remain your beautiful secret but knowing full well they deserve to be appreciated by a bigger audience. It’s only a matter of time before the latter comes to pass.
- - -
- - -
Strange Boy play London’s Archspace on August 7th.
Words: Nicolas Graves
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.