Filling summer festival slots with breezy guitar bangers year on year, Circa Waves have been kicking about since 2013 and become known for crafting the perfect summer hits. Their debut, ‘Young Chasers’, remains their staple record. It’s one full of feel good tracks that set the bar for digestible indie-rock whereas the albums that followed edged away from their uncomplicated sound and gave them ample room to experiment. Far removed from their indie roots, Circa Waves’ latest record, ‘Never Going Under’, finds the band looking at a confusing, uncertain world through a new lens but musically they have never sounded more sure of themselves.
Described as their “most comprehensive” album to date, both thematically and musically, ‘Never Going Under’ was compounded by frontman Kieran Shuddall’s personal circumstances being irrevocably changed by fatherhood. Created during the pandemic, the bands fifth record notes such changes as it exerts some of the stresses, fears and worries that life has to offer whilst remaining hopeful and tapping into an array of different sounds to create a record flecked with emotional tumult and notable moments of pop revelry.
With that hopeful purpose and optimism on full display from the get-go, ‘Do You Wanna Talk’ and ‘Hell On Earth’ barely give listeners a chance to breathe with their fast, breathless pace. Leaning into the synths, the self-reflective ‘Do You Wanna Talk’, which boasts some of the bands earlier indie-rock sounds, benefits from a staccato vocal delivery amid a spree of repeated closed question refrains whilst the bouncy ‘Hell On Earth’, a track that tackles climate change, political catastrophe and the general plummeting of society, is packed with driving drum beats and funky rolling guitars. With a new world constantly changing and seemingly crumbling at the edges, Shuddall’s political commentary is aptly balanced with the vibrant backdrop of stomping electronic beats, thunderous percussion and scattered synths; while it may not become an anti-establishment anthem the way The 1975’s ‘People’ is, there’s no denying it’s compulsion to stand as one of the album’s best.
Speaking to that uniquely modern phenomenon of genuinely not knowing what type of world we will end up in, Circa Waves’ fifth record finds the band expressing things they never have before. With soaring instrumentation and urgent lyrics that beg to be screamed back by fans, ‘Carry You Home’ touches on insecurities and the sacrificial purity of love. The indie-electronic track, which is classic Circa Waves at their best, is full of clean, self-assured vocals as Shuddall hits homebound with his narrative about striving to be the best possible version of himself. “I just wanna be the best I can / But I’m not sure if I’m the man,” he sings over the dashes of twinkly electronics and zippy guitar lines. “And I’m supposed to be superman / But I’ve just cried in my hands.”
Even with its formulaic, well-trodden structures in tracks such as ‘Carry You Home’ and ‘Hell On Earth’, ‘Never Going Under’ is a solid, electronica-saturated addition to the Liverpool-based bands discography. It sees Circa Waves adapting and evolving in an ever-changing industry, becoming a self-sufficient machine, and pinpoints a new fearlessness in Shuddall’s creativity, one that has resulted in his most honest songs yet. Though it may not be their most daring record to date, it’s certainly one where they’ve taken most risks, and their blend of indie-rock and electro-pop certainly pays off.
Words: Shannon Garner