After two decades away, Departure Lounge return with a strong collection of melodic, quirky indie-pop songs and cinematic instrumentals.
Cult UK indie-experimentalists Departure Lounge are back, with their first album in almost 20 years – ‘Transmeridian’. Fronted by Tim Keegan, the band, who are based in Brighton, on the South Coast, and, er, Nashville, reformed in 2019 to play two live shows, but then decided to make a record. The majority of the songs were laid-down in 24 hours at the residential Middle Farm Studios, in rural Devon, by the group’s original line-up: Keegan (vocals/ guitar), Lindsay Jamieson (drums/ keyboards), Jake Kyle (bass/guitar drums – ex-Blue Aeroplanes, Robyn Hitchcock) and Chris Anderson (lead guitars/keyboards).
Things get off to a low-key start – opener, ‘Antelope Winnebago Club’, is a short, atmospheric, piano-led instrumental, but then we’re suddenly hit head-on by the killer second single, ‘Australia.’ It’s anthemic and life-affirming, jangly guitar pop that sounds like classic R.E.M – think ‘Green’-era – but with a different singer. Keegan’s vocals are deeper than Stipe’s and delivered in a more deadpan style, but it’s no surprise to find that Peter Buck plays the chiming Rickenbacker line on it.
‘Timber’ is a lovely, folky ballad with plucked acoustic guitar and simple organ chords. It has echoes of The Go-Betweens and also Michael Head’s cosmic Scousers, Shack – funnily enough, the album is released on Head’s label, Violette Records.
“I’m available and I’m cheap,” sings Keegan on last year’s playful comeback single, ‘Mercury In Retrograde’, which has a cute, retro Casio synth sound and brushed, jazzy drums. ‘Mr. Friendly’ sounds like The Charlatans and Belle & Sebastian having a knees-up at a glam rock theme party – there’s more organ, but this time around it’s been cranked up.
The songs are interspersed with cinematic instrumentals. European-sounding ‘Al Aire Libre’ is the best one – it’s gorgeous and haunting, with whistling and Mariachi trumpet. Imagine Ennio Morricone hanging out in a bohemian Parisian café.
With its piano and Mellotron strings, the beautiful, honest and hopeful ballad, ‘Don’t Be Afraid’, is very Lennonesque: “You won’t be forgotten – you’ll never be alone. You’ll make mistakes – nothing is lost. You’ll find your friends – just be yourself.” Liam Gallagher would give his monobrow to have written it.
Final song, ‘So Long,’ has ‘doo-doo-doo’ backing vocals, strummed acoustic guitar, tinkling piano and a groovy bassline – it’s like a stripped-down ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, and the title is a very apt way to finish a record that’s arrived two decades after its predecessor. It’s been, ahem, so long since most of us have checked-in to a departure lounge, but ‘Transmeridian’ is definitely worth checking out.