The Shop Window: The State Of Being Human – album review

Shop WindowThe Shop Window: The State Of Being Human

(Spinout Nuggets)

Vinyl | CD | DL and Streaming

Released 25th June

The Shop Window release their debut album, The State of Being Human on June 25th via Spinout Nuggets.

Let me just start by saying, there’s nothing better than an album, which after the first play, you want to listen to it all again… immediately. If I were to give you an elevator pitch for The State of Being Human it would be: ‘Imagine it being released on Sarah Records but licensed from Creation. The perfect Indie Pop album with expertly crafted songs, lush harmonies and featuring a variety of classic pop elements from the 60’s to the present day’.

The Maidstone based Indie / Jangly guitar quartet are fronted by Carl Mann and Simon ‘Syd’ Oxlee. They were briefly in the band Westpier signed to Indolent Records, home of Sleeper, 60ft Dolls and Stephen Duffy in the ’90s before parting company. The Shop Window came together a few years ago when Carl returned to Kent and was joined by old friends Phil Elphee on drums and Martin Corder on bass and backing vocals. (You may ask where Carl had been in the intervening years, but we’ll come to that shortly). The lineup was completed when Syd joined them on vocals and keys.

The bands first releases come out via digital platforms in 2020. Early singles Mannequin Lies and Sad Eyes are included here, as well as Out of Reach and Evacuate which were granted a physical vinyl release a couple of months ago.

The State of Being Human is a solid piece of work from start to finish which will resonate with fans of proper crafted songs, especially Indie Kids from the ’80s and ’90s, in the same way that the latest from The Catenary Wires, Birling Gap has.

Rather than me waffle, offering my thoughts and opinions about The Shop Window, I thought it may be more insightful to hear from Carl and Syd themselves.

LTW: Firstly congratulations on the album. It’s very rich and, if it’s not too much of a dirty word, polished.

Carl: Thank you.

LTW: Who produced the album?

Carl: It was produced and mixed by Callum Rafferty.  It was kind of a co-production to a certain extent. The demos were very complete before we went in to record the tracks for real with Callum at his studio in Kent. I sat with him throughout steering the ship as we went.

Not to take anything away from him though as he added a lot, and definitely brought a lot to the table in terms of freshness and a contemporary element to our old school vibes.

LTW: How did The Shop Window come together?

Carl: I had moved back to the UK from a period living in New Zealand and got the itch to make some noise again. Martin (Bass) and Phil (drums) agreed to get in a room with me and blast out the cobwebs. We bashed around and jammed bits of some demos I had knocking about, the first finished song was Mannequin Lies. We soon had 6 songs and booked some recording time to see how it all sounded. It was great but there was still a missing ingredient for me; I asked my old mate Syd from Westpier (Keys/Vocals) if he wanted to come and stick some harmonies down on the tracks. It all fell into place there and then and sounded complete. So, here we are.

Syd: Carl handed me a CD with 6 songs. As soon as I heard them I knew they were something special and jumped at the chance to get involved. Two weeks later I was in the studio!

LTW: I’ve listened to the album a few times and there are so many classic pop elements from Martha and The Muffins to the Stone Roses and  Ride to Teenage Fanclub. Are you all music obsessives?

Carl: Yes, most definitely! We all have slightly different tastes but it all comes together with certain bands. Very happy that you picked up on the influence of the above-mentioned bands. Certainly, The Stone Roses, Ride and Teenage Fanclub have been staples in my life for as long as I can remember. I listen to music for at least 2 hours everyday and probably buy way too much vinyl every month but don’t tell my wife. I love discovering old and new bands.

Syd: Yeah, I think music shaped me completely – certainly from the age of 16 when I discovered THE THE and The Cure. I’d always wanted to be in my favourite bands.

LTW: Who are your biggest influences?

Carl: The bands already mentioned are for sure plus a lot of 80’s and early 90’s indie. Creation Records musical output has always been a big part of my life too. I would add The Smiths/Blur and Sparklehorse to that list as well. We’re fortunate to live in a time where so much music has come before us, so many great songs to draw influence from across genres. Personally, I love anything with great harmonies and jangly guitar melodies, so it could be from any decade really. The ’50s right up to now.

Syd: Yep, right up there with what Carl said. For me THE THE in particular. I’ve always thought Matt Johnson was a genius and it was listening to Soul Mining and Infected that inspired me to start writing words down which then led to me getting into bands. Carl and I were also massive Blur fans and we really bonded back in the early 90s over the Modern Life album.  But, influences are everywhere in my world.

LTW: How did signing to Spinout Nuggets come about? Why were these the best fit for you?

Carl: We don’t have a record deal as such with Spinout Nuggets, as in a signed contract, it’s more a gentleman’s handshake and a mutual love and respect for all things music. They facilitate the physical release side of things and both parties work on promotion. When we finished our album I had a list of small indie labels I wanted to send to, Spinout Nuggets were top of that list because I loved the music they were releasing and the DIY ethic, non-corporate feel about it all. I actually didn’t send the album to anyone else, we heard back from Lee at the label almost straight away and so it was.

They remind me massively of the early Creation Records days from the mid to late ’80s when they were churning out fantastic release after fantastic release. …and they don’t feel the need to tell us how to do our job like many labels would want to do. We’re left to get on with it and create our own path and identity. Lee jumps in to help with things when we ask though. He put the track order together for the album, it was great having his perspective on it. He DJs a lot at Mod events and festivals and ordered the songs as if he was doing a set. It flows really well.

LTW: A couple of you were in Westpier and signed to Indolent Records in the mid 90’s. Were you the ‘great lost Britpop band’?

Carl: Haha! Maybe, maybe not. That was a chaotic time! We were a bit darker than the Britpop bunch so didn’t really fit that mould so well but we enjoyed being around it all while it was happening. Unfortunately the band imploded before we really got going, only one release came out of it all.

Syd: West who!? Yeah, The Shop Window is miles beyond where Westpier crash landed!

LTW: I can’t speak to you without asking about Kylie. Was touring and writing with her a dream or ‘just another job’?

Carl: Well, it certainly felt like a dream at times but I viewed it as a job. I turned it down at first but my flat mate told me to go for it, as it was not long after Westpier split up and I was a bit down in the dumps. It perked me up though so she was right!! I have fantastic memories from those two years. Touring Australia was just the best time ever. Sitting on the grass in the sun, by a lake at Real World Studios, an acoustic guitar, notepad and pen writing a song with Minogue, that is a great memory. The song ended up on a B-Side to a single (On A Night Like This). It was too Mazzy Star to make it on to the pop album about to be released. It’s called Ocean Blue, easy to find on YouTube if you want to check it out. I’m proud of that tune.

Syd – Jammy git!

LTW: Do you still send each other Christmas Cards or exchange witty memes on WhatsApp?

Carl: Unfortunately not in touch any more, life moves on etc. I still speak to her producer and MD occasionally.

LTW: Are you looking forward to doing live gigs? I see you’re touring next year with Crimson Bloom and Jay Tennant?

Carl: Yes, Can’t wait to get out there doing some gigs. We’ve been waiting a long time. The gig in Manchester with Crimson Bloom and Jay Tennant is going to be great. We’re also really looking forward to supporting Thousand Yard Stare in November (London Islington 02) at their belated album launch party.

Syd: Yes, writing and recording is great and we’ve really had time to craft the songs due to the bizarre nature of the last 12 or so months, but nothing beats the adrenalin of being on stage.

LTW: What are your hopes for The Shop Window?

Carl: I hope for us to make many great albums that will stand the test of time and people will listen to for years to come. If we make any money from doing this (enough to eat and pay the bills) that would be a massive bonus. Most important of all is that we enjoy the journey and give it everything we have got. I hope the debut album gives people some joy and puts a smile on faces like music has done for us.

Syd: Couldn’t have put it better myself!

LTW: Sadly we’re all still locked down to a degree. Are you planning to do anything to mark the release of the album?

Carl: There will definitely be Zoom beers amongst the lads on the day. We’re doing the #i40Social for Everythingindieover40 on Saturday July 10th where we’ll all do a DJ set plus playback of the album. I’ll be commenting along about each song from the album as it plays. I think that’s as close to what we’ll get for a launch party in the current circumstances.

LTW: As a seasoned musician, what would your advice be to any youngsters just starting out in bands?

Carl: Learn to trust and follow your gut instincts, they’re nearly always right even if it goes against what you really want at the time. Don’t release every recording you make, give it time to digest and be your biggest critic. Be very patient, sometimes less is more… Let the leader lead. Too many cooks spoil the broth. It works best when someone is steering the ship. Finding balance between band members is key to getting things done so choose who you’re in a band with wisely.

If anything at all niggles you in a recording, it’s not finished so fix it!! Put your time and effort into getting great recordings first. Recordings last forever, a gig lasts until you do another one. Most important of all is, enjoy what you’re doing now and stop thinking about where you’re heading. The journey is where all the fun is had, not the destination.

LTW: Easiest question last, what would be your Top 5 tracks of all time?

Carl: Not easy at all… this list would change on a daily basis… it’s impossible!! But for today…

Ride – Leave Them All Behind
The Action – I’ll Keep On Holding On
Sparklehorse – Happy Man
Beach Boys – God Only Knows
The Stone Roses – I Am The Resurrection

Syd: Blimey. Err….

The The – The Sinking Feeling
The Cure – Just like Heaven
Human League – Love Action
House of Love – Crush Me
XTC – Senses working overtime

The Shop Window: The State Of Being Human – album review

For more on The Shop Window visit Bandcamp, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

~

All words by Iain Key. See his Author Profile here author’s archive or on Twitter as @iainkey.

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