Album Review: The Futureheads

rant (nul records)

UK Indie quartet, The Futureheads, are back with their first record since 2010's The Chaos, delivering an entirely a capella album through their own label, Nul Records. A brave concept, Rant sees the band continuing with the sound that made their name; interesting and refreshing harmonies combined with some truly unique and surprising cover versions.

According to the band, this a capella project was initially born after doing a Radio 1 Live Lounge session back in 2010, where the band reworked Acapella by singer, Kelis. The record is essentially a melting pot of a capella songs, not written specifically for the project, but offering a wide scope of unexpected additions by some of the band's favourite artists. I guarantee you won't find another album that features the RnB grooves of Kelis and the Black Eyed Peas, mixed with the theatrical dynamics of Sparks, as well as Folk standards sung in rounds. Of course, not out of character for The Futureheads, we all remember their cover of Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love, which became an Indie staple back in 2004.


Rant also sees the band revisiting their back catalogue, delivering instrumental renditions layered with highly well-executed four-part harmonies. Naturally, there are a lot of 'Ba ba ba's' and 'do do do's', but once you've got over the preliminary 'where are the instruments?' thing, the intriguing character and high standard of the vocal pieces are revealed in all their glory.

Of course, I'm not saying that by choosing to include versions of age-old Folk songs and putting their own interpretations on them has created fresh, modern classics, but their confidence, knowledge and talent is outstanding. The Old Dun Cow and the 13th century English round, Summer Is Icumen In are strange, interesting and terribly quaint. This sound has always been part of The Futurehead's personality, and now, Rant, is the perfect opportunity to delve deeper and embrace it.

The album starts off with Meantime, a track taken from their 2004 eponymous album, which manages to keep the fast-paced energy up through tongue-twisting vocal accompaniment and rhythmic layers. Moving on the to Black Eyed Peas', Meet Me Halfway, the band creates a calm and melancholy affair using steady two-beat 'Oh's' to lay out the chordal structure of the original song and the lead vocals seem pained and almost confession-like in their delivery. With ease, The Futureheads have mananged to turn a monotonous pop song into something quite stunning. Robot is another of their own tracks, showcasing the true versatility of the band's voices as they hurtle through the four-part Bohemian Rhapsody-style arrangement that appears towards the end.

At this point, the album devotes itself to historic Folk songs (aside from the Sparks cover), such as Richard Thompson's Beeswing, taken from his 1994 album Mirror Blue. The track tells a sad story through a surprisingly embellished arrangement - much more so than the simplistic, beautifully written original - but the voices of The Futureheads seem to equate to much more, with swirling harmonies, finger clicking and clever arrangements. Thursday (from 2006's News And Tributes) sees an eerie atmosphere created by sustained, breathy 'Ooh's', but after a while, the vamping 'Ba ba ba's' that provide the rhythmic accompaniment get a little too much.

Summer Is Icumen In sees an instant shift in the mood of the album, transporting the listener back to the days of morris dancing and Old England. It just makes you want to skip around in meadows and, to be honest, I don't know whether that's a good thing or not? The Keeper is definitely one of the more upbeat songs which is easy to sing-along with due to its familiar Folk melody and the predictable (in a good way) chord patterns. Sparks' Number One Song In Heaven is a prime example of a cover version; to produce a totally new performance of the original song, and in doing so, alter the listener's experience and perspective of it. The electronic elements, which feature so strongly in the original are not only omitted instrumentally, but are re-created through inventive and compelling vocal arrangements in a way not previously imagined.

Below, you can watch The Futureheads performing The Keeper live from the station sessions on the 23rd of March 2012.

After this album, It's clear that Folk music is a genre that lends itself extremely well to this vocal style. Not only have they highlighted their musical abilities by bringing old standards back to life, but have taken current tracks from the mainstream environment and showed that when done well, a fully a capella album can be successful. However, their strength in showcasing their a capella talents could at points also become the band's weakness, very occasionally becoming overwhelming. It just goes to show that although our musical heritage has grown from ancient traditions such as Gregorian chant and instrumental music, the nature of today's society has left us dependent on the need for musical instruments.

Any Joe Bloggs can feature an a capella track as a 'fun' addition to an album, but The Futureheads have gone that one step further. They put their necks on the line and have, so it seems, come out triumphant.