Department M Album Review

Department M recently released their self-titled mini album through Fierce Panda. Led by Owen Brinley, formerly the front man of Grammatics, the Leeds-based quartet fully explore their expansive indie/electronic palette over the eight tracks on offer.

As part of Fierce Panda’s Pandamonium festival, Department M are headlining a special free entry show at The Old Blue Last on Friday 10 January. They are also giving away a free MP3 of the song J-Hop from the album over on SoundCloud here.

Ostensibly a creative vehicle for Owen Brinley, Department M have spent the past year cautiously yet crunchingly developing a fascinating, fizzing sound which combines the heroic synths of yesteryear with a cutting contemporary electro sensibility. Depeche Mode, Air, Talk Talk, Cabaret Voltaire and – of course – ELO are just some of the names referenced in their company, and fair play too – Owen Brinley is decidedly not a man afraid of a saxophone solo. Bolstered by a four person-strong live line-up this is an act which can straddle the divide between the shiny retro-obsessed Classic Pop magazine and the cool dark alleyways of modern East London.

In March Department M released the I’ll Fax You An Apology/Black Boutique single on local label Hide & Seek. In June, they released the The Second Prize/Absentia single through Too Pure. This handy Department M mini-album brings together most of the songs on those first two releases, throws in future single Miscellany – due out in January 2014 – adds a couple more toweringly sombre tunes and waits for the light to come pouring out of the sky.

Department M

Department M

Visitor is a scene builder for the album; it’s dramatic and dark. It’s shortness adds to the tension just as short sentences add to the drama in a book. pHARMACY on the other hand resembles an 80s pop song spin off. There’s your echoing drum beats, dramatic synths and soft, feminine vocals which all make this song sound like something that’s been futuristically transported from the 80s to now. The vocals are particularly soulful and melodic on pHARMACY.

I’ll Fax You An Apology is a song with swooping, emotional vocals mixed with electronic rock style music. It really is a unique sound.

J-Hop is the latest track to be given away for free by Department M. J-Hop starts with angelic harp sounds and relaxing synths before the dramatic drum beat is introduced alongside the vocals which are full of attitude, “We ply/By the logic of the reasoned minds/And one last time I’ll come to your body/What do you need?” The chorus on J-Hop is brilliant. The lyrics “If I could keep you closer” are accompanied by disorienting synths and chaotic melodies and drum beats which add to the tension and climax.

The Second Prize changes the tone of the mini album – the offbeats introduce a happier, more upbeat tone despite the lyrics in the first verse which juxtapose the upbeat melodies, “We’re alive by the second prize/You mirror me fucking bleach the lies/So dry/So dry/So dry”.

Miscellany is the next single to be released by Department M in January 2014. It begins with classical compositions introducing a completely sombre side to a previously hectic album but this soon changes. The odd drum beat kicks in against the melodic vocals – at first it sounds like nothing on this song compliments each other but eventually it all sinks in together building a fantastic song for releasing as a single. It’s the quirky song on the mini album to say the least. It’s completely chaotic but not unlikeable. Brinley’s vocals during the chorus are particularly clever – he uses his voice’s capacity as much as he can to create another layer to his songs.

Absentia is based around a flowing over-driven hip-hop drum loop and smooth swathes of analogue synthesiser. This is a track that uses space as an instrument. The swooping vocals of “I’m breathing out/I’m breathing in…” and the dramatic drum beat juxtapose the floating noises of the synths. It has a mystical sound that will have you hooked in a second.

SleepWalker uses Brinley’s vocals as the main instrument which hasn’t been done on the rest of the songs on the mini album. The cascading synths compliment Brinley’s feminine vocals and the superb harmonies heard on this track. This is a track that uses absence as a positive rather than a negative. Brinley’s vocals shine – they are angelic, soulful and full of emotion. This is the underdog song on the mini album.

Department M’s self-titled mini album is out now.

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