Glasvegas is a band with a lot of good qualities: a sense of humor, a lead singer with a fairly distinctive voice, and lyrics that, though at times weak, are refreshingly sincere, telling stories and exploring emotions without the slightest bit of detachment. These qualities have unfortunately become secondary, masked by the dense wall of sound that has been pushed as the band’s main selling point in the U.S., an old-fashioned stylistic counterpoint to the legions of thin, reedy guitar bands the U.K. has produced in recent memory. But it also threatens to swallow the band, pushing their other characteristics to the back while also lending their songs a numbing sense of sameness, an effect that often feels more like a crutch than a stylistic choice.
This wall also acts as a ready-made criticism repellant. It casts a leveling effect on all the songs, gauzing them over equally with a fuzzy sheen while splitting the difference between the weak (“Ice Cream Van”) and the strong (“Polmont on My Mind”). Beneath the layers of fuzz, songs like “S.A.D. Light” are surprisingly brittle and light on lyrics and substance—surprising considering how hefty the other material proves to be. These attempts at patching become evident again as “Ice Cream Van” sails toward its finish, picking up layers of ambient noise that recall something by Sigur Rós. It’s an appropriate end to the album, but the U.S. release tacks on two bonus tracks, invalidating this outro and diminishing it to a strangely long segue into the dreary “The Prettiest Thing on Saltcoats Beach.”
The wall, however stopgap it may feel in places, is still central to the band’s sound. But other unnecessary touches serve only to undermine: “Flowers & Football Tops,” about the early death of a child, works fine for the first five minutes or so—powerful, affecting, even rousing, until the unnecessary tack-on of a piece of “You Are My Sunshine,” which tips the balance to mawkish self-indulgence. The same problem mars “Stabbed,” which, despite lyrics that seem to hint at humor (“You don’t want to stab me/You don’t know my family/And our capabilities”), plays as deathly serious and is backed by, of all things, Mozart’s “Moonlight Sonata.” This may perhaps be a subtler attempt at humor, turning the entire song into a joke, but if so, it’s out of place on an album that works best when it’s not thinking so hard, punching up the sound into emphatic choruses that collect the extant fuzz into shimmering whirlwinds.
This struggle between potentially strong source material and unnecessarily busy production is constant, undermining songs that may have been fine without so much meddling. An air of sabotage hobbles some tracks and leaves other strong ones like “Daddy’s Gone” and “Go Square Go” to adrift among the weaker songs, all glazed over with the same thick production. Frustrating but intermittently brilliant, Glasvegas could have made a strong EP, but instead stands as a flawed full-length that’s been primped and stretched beyond its means.