York indie-pop favourites The Blueprints have wasted no time following up their 2012 EP The Shipping Forecast (reviewed here) – it’s not even 12 months later and they’re set to release a second EP entitled The Mountaineer this week. It’s also worth noting that there’s been a line-up change since I last discussed the band, with Sophie McDonnell stepping in to replace departing keyboardist Tom Williams. Sophie is no stranger to the world of The Blueprints, however, as she already featured on The Shipping Forecast’s ‘Black & Blue’. You can now stream the new EP via bandcamp using the player below, so get to it!
If opening gambit ‘Laws Of Nature’ seems familiar then it’s probably because it has an air of The Blueprints’ own ‘Walk’ about it, which is certainly no bad thing. A similarly pacey number to its predecessor, its driving verses lead in to some wonderful three-part harmonies in the chorus – which, perhaps, could be cheekily re-appropriating the words from Radiohead’s ‘Electioneering’. The song ends with an anthemic “woah-oh-oh” finale, which if you were feeling churlish you might call indie-pop-by-numbers – but if that was the case, would the result be such a pretty picture? No, that’s what I thought.
Next up we have ‘Another Breakdown’, which is perhaps the most upbeat song concerning depression that you’ll ever hear, with its swelling guitar and implacable rhythm section giving it a feel that’s anything but morose. The positive tone is aided by the fact that the song ends on a determined note – “It takes a long time to make a little bit of difference/But a little bit of difference lasts a long long time.” The record has some great lyrical hooks throughout, but ‘Skeletons’ is perhaps the pick of the bunch, with numerous memorable lines that contrast the similarities and differences between people. It combines the realisation that we’re all “carbon, red cells and DNA” while observing the way someone stands out from the crowd – “how is it you stand up and shout/when others barely have the courage to speak above a whisper?” Elsewhere, attentive Blueprints fans my recognise ‘Echoes’ from the demo version that appeared on the band’s Neon Sketches EP in 2011, but it’s much more fleshed out here – the piano takes the lead to add some muscle to the sound, while additional melodic flourishes come in the form of more beautiful harmonies.
Following the format of their previous EP to a tee, closing track ‘Icebreaker’ is a more laid-back affair than the previous four tracks – but importantly, it proves that The Blueprints are more than capable of turning their hands to something other than jaunty indie-pop. It’s expansive in all the right places thanks to its stately cello lines and the way that the reverberating guitar and piano combine – yet it’s also restrained where it needs to be, with the bass and percussion adopting a ‘less is more’ style that lends the track additional space. Its melancholy tale of a lonely life aboard an icebreaking ship is nevertheless tinged with hope that liberation will eventually come – “a hundred days can seem just like a lifetime/but a lifetime I can wait.”
Anyone who wants more of the catchy, guitar-led songs that are the band’s calling card will find that The Mountaineer satisfies that urge admirably – indeed, it seems that the recent line-up change has only served to aid them in honing their craft even further. But perhaps the most exciting thing about this EP is that, in ‘Icebreaker’, it contains the first realisation of a previously hidden ambitiousness in The Blueprints. Should the band aspire to make a full-length record, then there’s no doubt that everyone (myself included) would be more than satisfied with an album of 10-12 indie-pop tunes – but I can’t help but wonder if their best moments might come from thinking outside of that box.
If you’re free in York on Saturday 14th September then the band are playing an EP launch show at Fibbers, with support coming from The Lottery Winners, Bull (who I really should get round to writing about), The Buccaneers and JLife (who thankfully are not some sort of hybrid JLS/Westlife tribute band). Sadly I am not free and this disappoints me greatly – so do me a favour and go in my stead would you?
The Mountaineer is released on September 14th on Sweet Sue Records.