Champs - Down Like Gold (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
CHAMPS, aka brothers Michael and David Champion from the Isle of Wight, have delivered a striking debut album in Down Like Gold, which completely justifies the early hype surrounding them.
Recorded at Studio Humbug, an old water tower inside the wals of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s retreat on the north of the island, this often hints at the cold, sparse surroundings that may have helped to inspire its sound.
But it’s equally capable of delivering some upbeat moments that border on the euphoric. And that ability to mix things up, from the beautifully melancholic to the shimmeringly epic, is what we really like about them.
As thrilling evidence of this, try listening to the opening and closing tracks. Where Too Bright To Shine is achingly fragile, with an organ accompanying the delicate vocals (which talk of threading needles through the starscape), White Satellite has a broad sweep that offers up a crowd-pleasing grand finale.
Perhaps more tellingly, both disarm in different ways with Too Bright To Shine almost impossibly sad as it laments “think I lost her in my head”. You may well shed a tear at its most poignant moments.
And if you’re pondering at that early stage whether the whole album might be similarly sparse (or Fleet Fox like), then former single Savannah arrives to swiftly ease away any of those concerns (if, indeed, there are concerns of that nature).
The track coasts along on a memorable piano riff, above which are placed the fragile, even bruised vocals of the Champion brothers. The pianos certainly enable the track to get noticed, while the almost falsetto vocals add an extra edge that endears. Some belated guitars also lend the track some extra grit and combine nicely with the pianos.
Pretty Much Since Last November strips things back down, yet combines this with some cute vocal harmonies and guitar hooks, while Only A Bullet Knows Where To Run evokes thoughts of snowy plains, hunters and cinematic vistas thanks to its beautifully arranged pianos, well realised beat structures and euphoric choruses.
My Spirit Is Broken, meanwhile, embraces a vigorous folk-pop groove that renders it instantly accessible and ultra radio-friendly (complete with bittersweet lyrics), while 8MM Desire also has a more upbeat vibe to its instrumentals which lend the album a warmth that neatly offsets some of its more chilly moments.
Elsewhere, St Peters has a slow, deliberate, acoustic-based approach that’s once again entirely beguiling, while title track Down Like Gold is a thoughtfully constructed, slow-building epic that evokes the spirit of the great acts of the past from Simon & Garfunkel to Paul McCartney.
In short, Champs have delivered an album that looks likely to rate among the best debuts of the year. There’s so much to admire.
Download picks: Too Bright To Shine, Savannah, Only A Bullet Knows Where To Run, My Spirit Is Broken, St Peters, 8MM Desire, Down Like Gold