Delirious chatter…clinks of warm cans of beer…Cocteau Twins played at full blast. Lively memories of parties and people live on through This House, the new album from Pale Blue Eyes. The house in question is there on the front cover, the childhood home of the trio’s vocalist and guitarist, Matt Board. Defined by closure and moving on, This House is shaken to its rafters as the band navigate the grief of recent parental loss. Alongside uplifting melodies that dance like no-one’s watching, the album is rich in life-affirming human connections, where music-making becomes a means of recovery.
“When Mum died, five years after Dad, there was this charge hanging in the air, connecting each person in the room,” says Matt. “Time stopped. I felt like I momentarily entered an alternative dimension between life and death. Days and weeks later I’d see my family in every corner of the house – all the reminders, ghosts and memories. Then, gradually, it felt like time for a new start, moving on from the house and my amazing parents.”
While the band’s debut LP Souvenirs captured memories and melancholy from around the death of Matt’s father, This House is its next-door neighbour. The new album was finished in the immediate aftermath of the death of Matt’s mum. As soon as the record was completed, PBE were packing up the contents from their self-built Penquit Mill home studio, financed through endless casual work and a bank loan. The location was a dream – in the middle of nowhere, just south of Dartmoor, midway between Plymouth and Totnes.
The studio was where they spent hours recording and self-producing both records, while supporting Matt’s mum through the decline of a long-term illness. Matt and his bandmate and wife Lucy Board (drums/synth/production) have now returned north, to her native Sheffield, with funk-mad bassist Aubrey Simpson living between Devon and London.
“It’s a more sombre and more ecstatic album, with an urgent desire to remember and enjoy every moment,” says Matt of the record’s life-defining “end of era” moments. “We’ve dealt with loss throughout both albums,” says Matt, “but this time there has been rebuilding – appreciating and relishing the things and people still here.” Pertinently, album tracks ‘Sister’ and ‘More’ celebrate the complexities of relationships between family and friends.
“We wanted to turn a shitty situation into something positive,” says Lucy, “ so we put all our energy into making music that was fun to play live and perhaps open up a way out.” Matt concurs: “The album captures moments of elation and joy alongside the grave mood that eventually engulfed our home. During those tough times we played all over the UK and overseas, buoyed by the thrill of people listening to what we’d been working on… knowing two days later we’d be in a hospice saying our final goodbyes to Mum. The ultimate headfuckery.”
PBE say the new album is a “slightly more worldly-wise sibling” to 2022 debut LP Souvenirs. The latter was roundly acclaimed. “Joyous... propulsive… exhilarating”, said Uncut. Magic of France were impressed: “Ultrapuissante... orgasmique... profondeur infinie.” Line Of Best Fit said, “‘Like all great debuts it’s both a culmination of their beginnings as well as a pointer to the wide open road ahead.”
Mixed and mastered by Moonlandingz’s Dean Honer (Róisín Murphy, The Human League, I Monster), with jam sessions its driving force, This House bounces through analogue tape delays and effects pedals to capture life’s oscillating journey. Celebratory ‘Simmering,’ and ‘Hang Out’ offer peaks, highlighting the importance of pressing the ‘off’ switch. “It’s about enjoying simple moments,” says Matt, “the sun on your face, hanging with friends in the pub, looking at the night sky...”
Any threat of troughs are lifted by motorik rhythms from their Moog Little Phatty and Prophet 12 – thanks to Lucy’s fascination for South Yorkshire synth innovation. The dissertation for her music degree was titled “An Investigation into Sheffield's Alternative Music Scene Between 1973 and 1978, with Particular Reference to Cabaret Voltaire.”
With This House, Lucy’s hometown sounds blend with Aubrey’s evangelical interest in Motown and various funk titans. These diverse touchstones comes through in the PBE album’s blend of pop hooks and psych-rock sophistication. ‘Heating’s On’ is a driving anthem, glistening with ’80s guitar and a trumpet part care of Lucy. ‘Sister’ mixes goth-rock guitar with DIY choral grandeur, a tasty mix of The Cult and Joe Meek. ‘Millions Times Over’ takes feelings of hopelessness and then creates a lovely bittersweet feel via shimmering synths and wistful vocals. The album concludes with the widescreen expanse of ‘Underwater’, a moving, meditative set-piece.
“Mum always said she loved hearing the sounds of the recording process as people would come and go from the studio,” Matt remembers.
Making music as a means to go on, Pale Blue Eyes’ two albums bookend other significant moments, such as soundtracking the Atmos arts-and-housing project in Totnes (featuring a sound-and-light installation by Brian Eno). There was also the time PBE’s beloved old Citroën blew up between gigs, reinforcing a valuable lesson. “You have to embrace the Berlingo!” says Lucy, rolling out the band’s new motto.
“Change is inevitable,” Matt adds. “You have to embrace it all, the good and bad, and the horribly ugly.”
This House is out now. Buy here.