Home Counties – Exactly As It Seems

An impressive and fun thrill-ride...

Having played music together in various forms since their primary school days in rural Buckinghamshire, it’s safe to say this debut album from dance-punk six-piece Home Counties has been a long time coming. Having introduced themselves to the world with their excellent 2022 EP ‘In A Middle English Town’, this eagerly anticipated debut, titled ‘Exactly As It Seems’, demonstrates just how much the band have evolved in such a short space of time. 

Listening back to that EP now, you’d be fooled into thinking it was a different outfit altogether – and you would be partially right. The arrival of vocalist and keys player Lois Kelly has not just transformed the band from a five-piece to a six-piece, but she’s also taken them on an adventure into new sonic directions, one that adds elements of 00s dance-pop and shades of LCD Soundsystem and Confidence Man to their post-punk/art-rock sound. Helping them to navigate this tricky fusion is their guitarist Conor Kearney, whose production work holds everything together well. 

Thematically, the band’s perspectives have also broadened since we last heard from them, as a move from rural England into the heart of London has seen their pain points shift too. Across the ten tracks here, they lament over gentrification, elitism, social anxieties and landlord extortion, with Will Harrison’s lyrics and observations always delivered with razor-sharp urgency. 

Opening on arguably the album’s strongest moment, recent single ‘Uptight’ is the perfect introduction to this current iteration of Home Counties. Arriving as a Hot Chip-inspired disco machine, the track contrasts catchy electronic pulses with gripes about going clubbing once you’re over the age of 25. ‘Bethnal Green’ follows this up with a wonderful slice of glitchy and playful synth-pop, packed-in with hooks galore. ‘Funk U Up’ then lives up to its name, an infectious frenzy of stuttering guitars and whirring electronics, as the band sing the anthemic refrain: “We die a little bit we die, it’s gonna f*ck you up forever!”

It’s a joyous opening trio and Home Counties keep the momentum going with ‘Dividing Lines’, their most recent single which is noticeably reminiscent to their peers in Yard Act. It’s still got their own stamp on it though, thanks to a funhouse of synths from Barn Peiser Pepin and some groovy guitar work from Will and Conor. Most of the tracks punch around the three-minute mark here, but ‘Push Comes To Shove’ is a longer cut that presents an odyssey of Underworld-inspired electronica, one that oddly blends perfectly with their rambunctious post-punk riffing. 

After the mad pace of the first-half, it’s about time for a breather and Home Counties thankfully oblige. ‘Wild Guess’ dissects financial woes, fear of social isolation and ecological collapse, starting off slow with hand claps and gentle acoustic instrumentation. It steadily escalates as the track progresses, eventually exploding into an energetic final minute. Admittedly there is a slight element of repetitiveness to proceedings by this point, with ‘You Break It’, ‘You Bought It’ and ‘Cradle, Coffin’ both bringing pulverizing, arcade video game-style synths and more strutting, jittery riffs. Both are still enjoyable albeit a bit samey. 

Title track ‘Exactly As It Seems’ is another highlight though, with shades of The Chemical Brothers, experimental auto-tuned vocals and memorable lines like “Together, merged like Unilever with the rage of Ronnie Pickering – it’s triggering.” Then closing things out with a bang is ‘Posthumous Spreadsheets’, a six-minute dance epic that begins with a gentle meander before erupting into an avalanche of big bassy synths at the climax. 

Overall, this is an impressive and fun thrill-ride from Home Counties, one that pulls together relatable grievances with today’s world and soundtracks them with upbeat, unique dance-punk melodies. Despite a slight moment of monotony in the back-half, it’s a debut that succeeds in introducing their eclectic current set-up while also highlighting their huge future potential. 

7/10

Words: Karl Blakesley

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