Album Review: Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer

There’s something refreshing about a band that doesn’t mess around – no pretensions, no gimmicks, just brilliant songs. Sweet John Bloom didn’t hang around long enough last year for us to get a proper handle on them, with a single-sided 12” vinyl the sum total of their output to date. But while they’ve been away, the band originally formed from ex-members of Daniel Striped Tiger, Four Eyes and Lost Twin have gained an extra member and spent time figuring themselves out, as well as putting together a raft of material for their debut full-length. A full-length which contains 15 songs and doesn’t top 35 minutes. I like to think they set themselves a challenge: “Hey guys, how many songs can we put on our record while still avoiding filler?” 15 sounds about right. There’s a lot packed into the songs that make up ‘Weird Prayer’ to suggest that they took some cues from both the sound and general ethos of Guided By Voices without deciding to go all in and release three records in a year, as GBV did in 2012.

There are other 90s touchstones referenced throughout SJB’s debut – a bit of Pavement here, a bit of Drive Like Jehu there – but the quartet’s style is entirely their own, kicking off with the energetic post-punk of ‘Shapeshifter’ and allowing their album to go in whichever direction it likes from there. The memorable hooks come thick and fast, and we’re three songs in before you know it. The album moving up a gear with ‘Moving Target’, which is all flailing drum fills and free-flowing guitar, before sliding into the acoustic-led ‘Bury Ruby’ without missing a beat, shifting its focus with almost alarming speed. There are times when several songs will just pass you by, but that’s not to say there are tracks here that fail to make an impact; the real genius of SJB’s approach is that the record doesn’t start sinking in before its third or fourth listen. Expect to have a new bunch of favourite tracks with each exploration of the album.

Behind the boundless enthusiasm and raucousness, there are darker themes lurking, with ‘Blood Moon’ addressing the topic of suicide with painful clarity (“It happened in the morning on an ordinary day / They found him without warning (they wouldn’t say which way) / The details aren’t important / Just wish I got to say, ‘so long’”), while the difficulties of romantic relationships are explored within the context of a furious argument in the brief and bracing ‘Tell Me’. Personal turmoil is set against chiming guitars and well-executed harmonies on ‘New Identity Crisis’, while the title of ‘Death; And Everything’s Paid For’ pretty much speaks for itself. The album’s far from the light proposition suggested by the first few tracks, but in having taken the time to flesh themselves out, SJB have discovered some hidden depths that suit them very well indeed.

The energy audible on ‘Weird Prayer’ can seem overwhelming at times, but the band’s bloody-minded determination more than makes up for it. Stuffing as much as possible into 35 minutes was a risky move, but surprisingly, every song on the record hits its target after a while. It’s easy to forget that Sweet John Bloom have only been a band for the guts of two years, and they’ve come on in leaps and bounds since last year’s EP. Who knows how they’ll have progressed as a band in a year or two? In any case, if you’re looking for a frantic guitar rock record that provides you with adequate bang for your buck, get on this – you won’t be disappointed, as it makes use of every second.


‘Weird Prayer’ by Sweet John Bloom is out now on Tiny Engines.

Sweet John Bloom links: Website|Twitter|Bandcamp

Words by Gareth O’Malley (@riversidemethod)


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