Real Terms – Vantage: Album Review

Intricate and accomplished debut album from Liverpool alt-pop experimentalists, Real Terms

Release Date:  24th February 2023

Label: Sofa Boy Records

Formats: Digital

Sometimes, I wonder if I live in a music-proof bunker…

Real Terms have been around since 2017 and, somehow, I’ve managed to completely miss their awesome jazz-and-prog-infused power pop that they’ve just served up in generous portions on their new album, Vantage. 

Admittedly, Vantage is the band’s debut full-length album, but that’s really no excuse; they’ve spent the best part of six years (COVID hiatus excepted) building a solid reputation as a live act, sharing stages around the country with the likes of TTNG, Tera Melos, Cleft and A Burial At Sea, and their well-received EP, Housework, hit the racks as long ago as 2020.  Add to that the publicity and interest that the band has apparently been generating in sections of the music press and I’m ashamed – and hugely disappointed – to have missed them so far.  But – I’ll tell you what – I know about Real Terms now!

Because, make no mistake, Real Terms are special.  The band – John Crawford (bass and lead vocals), David Kelly (drums and vocals) and Christopher “Linny” Lynn (guitar and vocals) are top-notch musicians who combine their ideas and talents to produce a sound that is energetic, intricate and accomplished.  Their music manages to be both clever and light – at the same time – it’s well structured and thoroughly reflects the thought and effort put in, without ever sounding pompous or over-serious.  Indeed, the overall impression I was left with after listening to Vantage was that of three very good musicians having a great time together.

Vantage is produced and mixed by David Berger (who, coincidentally, also produced the band’s Housework EP) and he’s done a splendid job.  The three instruments (and the skills of their operators…) are all utilized to maximum effect, with each taking its turn in the driver’s seat as required, without ever over-populating the sound.  Linny puts it another way: “Dave Berger produced our first EP, so he was the natural choice when taking on a full-length album.  We’d already developed a trust in Dave’s taste and felt really in sync when speaking about music, arrangements or just joking around.  I think he managed to capture our essence as a band on Vantage – those moments when elements of the songs fall apart and come back together in a way that feels exciting to us, something that happens during the live performances that we’re most proud of.”

Vantage came together fairly slowly.  The ideas for the songs were allowed to “breathe and grow” before they were, first, road tested and, only then, committed to tape, and there’s no doubt that this process of maturation has strengthened the final offering.  Linny elaborates further: “I think there’s a confidence and a trust in our ideas.  We wrote these songs faster than our usual standard and it feels like the years we’ve spent playing together has shown itself in the organic way in which the songs came together, and in us trusting our guts.  I think we’re at ease leaning into the simplicity of the idea but equally happy to experiment in quite wild ways.”

Real Terms express their intent right from the outset.  Opening track, Improve, sets the scene as John’s bright vocal, Linny’s tinkly, distorted guitar and a bass/drum combination create a sound that is both tight and haphazard.  The song reminded me of a rougher-edged and heavier Fleet Foxes and I knew, immediately, that I was going to like this one.

The band injects conventional indie rock with some well-thought-through tempo changes for the excellent Kite.  John’s bass covers an amazing amount of ground as he switches between providing the song’s solid foundation and stepping forward to take the lead, and the harmony vocals – one of the band’s particular strengths, it seems – are sublime.  Jazz, funk and prog all get a look-in on Veil Is Thinner, a song that, as much as anything, reminded of The Police in their heyday, before things get even more unpredictable for A Wall of Milk, which, despite its sharp drumbeat and a rhythm that verges on reggae territory, never quite goes where the listener expects it to.

With its multiple time signatures and John’s tenor vocals, Absentee is the album’s closest thing to fully-fledged prog.  Indeed, if David Berger had added a bank of keyboards to the mix, it would have sounded uncannily like Fragile-era Yes.  Thankfully, he just let the soaring harmony vocals and three musicians whose mutual communication is almost telepathic, speak for themselves, and the result is outstanding.  Probably my favourite song on the album.

The Police are recalled once again in the catchy chorus of Frantically Wrong, possibly the album’s most immediately accessible track.  John provides a gutsy bassline around which David’s drums and Linny’s guitar slot in comfortably.  The jazzy backing and the vocals are linked only by a thread in places during the bouncy Weird Arcs, but they never loose contact completely, and the strident Half Alive is jazzier still.  John’s forceful bass and Linny’s screeching Zappa-like guitar are held together by David’s vigilant drums to deliver a cohesive sound that, somehow, makes absolute sense.

I was lured into a false sense of folky comfort by the opening section of A Fading Picture, but the gates of John’s soft, melodic, opening were soon crashed as the band built towards the song’s gloriously violent crescendo.

The climax to this excellent album is teed up by Impose, a short burst of triumphant power-pop that dissolves into a dreamlike world of harmonised noodling – a la I’m Not In Love, before the show is closed by Cacophony, another of the album’s highlights.  With its solid bass, jangly guitar, precision drumming and tuneful vocals, the song is anything BUT cacophonous; John slips in yet more of his deft bass work and some of the harmony vocals are almost Beatle-ish.

It’s a bit early in the year to start thinking about my Album of the Year nominations just yet, but I have a strong feeling that, when December 2023 comes around, Vantage, and Real Terms, will still be somewhere in the running.  An excellent album.

Watch the official video to Frantically Wrong – a track from the album – here:

Real Terms: Website / Facebook / Twitter

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