Chicago – I have a confession to make: I’ve been listening to the new July Talk LP for weeks now, but a combination of being too busy, while simultaneously procrastinating when it came to what little down time I did have, mixed in with an enormous amount of self-induced pressure to give Touch its due attention has left me waiting till the absolute last minute to write what I hope will be a fitting review. I’ve been staring at my laptop, as the clock ticks towards midnight, seemingly ever so fast, with the more red wine I sip down. I first heard the Canadian band back in 2014, when July Talk headlined Chicago’s Beat Kitchen, in support of its 2012 self-released, self-titled debut. I was blown away! Back then, I wrote: “When I’m old and gray, and looking back on my most memorable musical moments, I know that July Talk will make my top ten list for the greatest live performances.” That still holds true. Never had I experienced a show like the one this masterful five-piece – composed of Josh Warburton, Peter Dreimanis, Ian Docherty, Leah Fay, and Danny Miles - had put on. It was pure visual and sonic satisfaction! The chemistry between the band’s two fronting members, singers Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, was arousing and intriguing, making you want more.
The band has finally returned with its sophomore effort, Touch (Sleepless Records) - giving us all a little bit more excitement with sultry tunes, savvy lyrics, and a more polished and cohesive album. When I talked with Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay in 2014, the two had been working on new material for album number two. In a Best New Bands interview, Dreimanis said:
We’ve been testing out a lot of new stuff on the road. We’re planning to make writing a priority this year. Because we feel the most comfortable on stage, it’s imperative that we test new songs in front of audiences before we record them. We also have a very extensive demo process of recording each song in multiple styles to find the right feel.
One listen to Touch and it is clear July Talk worked each and every song out to perfection! Touch also shows listeners how much the band has grown over the last few years, having toured over twenty times. In a press release, Dreimanis said the inspiration and sound for the new album came from looking “at our live show and what was fun about it, what kind of people came, and what sense of community you felt in the room.” Touch explores human connection, from friendships and politics, to romance.
Album opener, “Picturing Love,” tackles society’s unrealistic expectations concerning love, sexuality, and relationships, with a sound fresh to July Talk. “Now I Know” also has July Talk exploring new territory, with its futuristic sound and distorted guitar. While “Picturing Love” and “Now I Know” embrace more of an electronic feel, “Beck + Call” embraces the rock edge July Talk became known for, and urges you to thrash around with the beat, letting your hair fly in every direction.
Heavy metal and punk influences ooze from “Johnny + Mary,” with striking drums, blaring guitar, and scratchy screams from Dreimanis. Halfway through the album, the surprising track, “Strange Habit,” slows things down, echoing sounds of trip-hop from the 90s and 00s, evoking memories of Portishead, making for one of the strongest songs on Touch. “Push + Pull” is at times reminiscent of 80s pop, thanks to those synths and Fay’s voice, but the guitars and Dreimanis’ vocals bring in elements of 90s grunge, at times sounding akin to NIN. “So Sorry” starts off hard, with Fay evoking early Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs with her vocals sounding remarkably similar to Karen O.
“Jesus Said So” and “Touch” are perhaps the songs most similar to the material found on July Talk’s debut album, with Dreimanis’ husky voice pairing gently with Fay’s angelic vocals. “Jesus Said So” critiques conservative stances that much of the world has been seeing with Christianity and politics intermingling at a fever pitch. While as a U.S. citizen I can fully relate to this song, I understand that well before we saw the rise of Trump, Canada was facing its own conservative fervor, with fear of immigrants and Muslims. Though, luckily for Canadians and its Southern neighbors, the people of Canada elected liberal feminist Justin Trudeau. Given what’s been happening in the U.K. and the States, it’s safe to say not just Canadians will relate to “Jesus Said So.”
Maybe it’s the wine or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve recently fallen in love, after being closed off to relationships for so long, but I find myself relating heavily to the final song on the album, “Touch.” The song begins with Dreimanis singing, “No one gets to get this close / You told me to fit right in where I was needed most / We had to wait / Anticipate and come of age.” Fay enters with, “We had to keep each other in a cage.” Later, the two sing, “We get so tired and lonely / We all need a human touch / Don’t wanna give ourselves away too much.” I recently read that millennials are having less sex than previous generations. Some say it’s because we work too much. Some say technology has left us unable to have real meaningful relationships. Perhaps years of poorly designed sex-ed curriculum, with an emphasis on abstinence has ruined us? Or maybe most of us are just jaded, products of divorce? Whatever the case, I think it’s safe to say we’re all a little lonely and desire to be loved… and touched.
Touch is available for purchase HERE. July Talk is currently on tour in Europe. The band returns for a North American tour later this month. Follow July Talk on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.