Released at the perfect time, Children of The State return with their first offering for 2020 in the form of the optimistic Big Sur.
Immediately from the bass-led intro, Big Sur sounds like a song for a film, feeling worthy of a montage with it’s Beach Boys inspired surf guitar and doowop influenced rhythm. Its instantly their most easy-listening feel-good song, a sense that’s been evidenced in their live performances of the song ahead of the release. Falling into a catchy rhythm as the instruments merge nicely to create a nest for John McCullagh’s vocals, the track almost forces a sway from your body lacking the interruptions or extras of their previous releases, leaving the listener free to vibe along.
Skipping on the additions of saxophones or extra vocals that were featured on the band’s 2019 release, Big Sur feels like their most refined release yet. Produced by Ian Skelly of retro-rock staple The Coral, it feels like the band have found their footing in this release, working with the instruments they have to create a sound that feels wholly united and transfers seamlessly to live performance. Maybe it’s this refinement that allows John McCullagh’s voice to really shine through as Big Sur is his best vocal performance yet, never missing a beat or faltering. This performance feels the most natural, allowing the personality and unmissable vintage influences in his voice to translate; the perfect voice to lead this 60s/70s inspired band. Hearing traces of the rhythm of Brian Wilson and the heavy northern accent and resulting personality of John Lennon or Humbug era Alex Turner, McCullagh leads the way in the band’s unique merge of 60s Americana and unmistakably northern British grit.
While McCullagh takes lead on the vocals, Nathan Keeble’s performance pulls together the music, as his heavier, rattling guitar breaking into each chorus keeps the song from becoming stale. Merging perfectly with Corey Clifton, Conor O’Reilly and Harry Eland’s performance on bass, drums and keys, their song united to create a soft backing during the verses, allowing the lyrics to take centre focus. But Nathan Keeble’s guitar bridge comes in with a heavier sound when it starts to feel needed, preventing the melody from becoming sickly sweet or repetitive.
All in all, Big Sur makes the most sense out of all of Children of the State’s releases. Lyrically, the song is more visual as opposed to the previous metaphor-heavy releases, allowing it to feel breezier. Obviously still taking influence from literature, sharing the same name as Kerouac’s later 1962 novel, Big Sur adopts the novel’s rich setting and nostalgic romance, but prevents from straying too far down the path of this darker influencer, instead turning to the surf. Working perfectly with the mid-60s Beach Boy’s influence but also having traces of Dennis Wilson’s more poetic Pacific Ocean Blue, the Big Sur lyrics have the same depth as previous releases but feel more open, optimistically observational, like they’re stood on a coastline as opposed to sat in a corner with a Ginsberg book.
This feels like a continued move forward as each release seems to be a development, already coming a long way from their Beatnik inspired debut EP, Kill Your Darlings. It feels like with each release, Children of the State are stepping into their authenticity, taking influence from the literature and music history they’re obviously plugged into, but no longer trying to replicate their idols.
Uniting and refining the talent already in the band rather than seeking out external additions, Big Sur is the band’s most bonded and completed release yet, making us long for sitting in the sun or swaying in a crowd even more than we already were.
Image credit to Sam Crowston