Of all the teenage rites of passage the pandemic has put a stop to (spontaneous snogging, hanging round shopping centres unmasked, going to school), the sweat-sodden, full-body experience of the moshpit seems the most likely to be among adolescence’s permanent losses. Rowdy crowds are a fixture of teen-heavy gigs, from rap to EDM to hyper-polished pop. For a band like Sea Girls, the impact would be especially acute. Having constructed a reputation from years of energetic live shows, the four-piece now make the kind of instantly familiar, big-chorused, gnarly-guitared indie designed to facilitate catharsis and connection on a mass scale. In other words, their music is machine-tooled to get the pit pumping.
While they wait for a post-Covid world, Sea Girls (a double misnomer: they’re a group of lads who mainly hail from landlocked Leicestershire, the name taken from a misheard Nick Cave lyric) must rely on the headphone appeal of their meat-and-two-veg rock. To describe their style as overwhelmingly generic isn’t so much a criticism as an indisputable fact – if you try hard enough, you can hear pretty much every guitar band from the last 40 years in their debut, from Mumford and Sons to the Cure, the 1975 to Echo and the Bunnymen. There are post-punk revival riffs, plaintive Britpop-style singalongs, glittery synths beloved of the Killers, shades of grunge and U2-level bellowing – often all in a single song. On Do You Really Wanna Know? it’s even possible to detect strains of the kind of 90s novelty rock practised by Barenaked Ladies.
More often than not, this everything-goes approach cancels itself out, becoming a pleasant if unremarkable backdrop to frontman Henry Camamile’s easy charm and the band’s gratifyingly buoyant and soothingly predictable melodies. Yet however straightforward and effortless they sound – sometimes it feels possible to intuit the lyrics and the melody just seconds into a song – it is worth remembering that you don’t get a cache of endearingly effervescent hooks free with your first Fender Squier.
And as much as it retreads old ground musically, there is something timely about this record. In a recent interview, Camamile, who is in his mid-20s, said that he channelled his experience of being a “sad post-teen” into his lyrics. That term, with its inherent wistfulness, is the perfect evocation of the much-studied sense of arrested development felt by a generation of young people, whose financial precariousness has had a knock-on effect on their ability to achieve the usual milestones of adulthood.
Adolescence turning sour and the ensuing feelings of stasis permeates every part of Open Up Your Head. Young love feels impossible to leave behind, and the effects are equal parts reassuring and depressing. (“Forget it just for now but I will always be around,” moans Camamile over the taut groove of Closer.) Change is repeatedly – and unconvincingly – invoked: “There’s no going back, who needs memories,” Camamile tries to insist halfway through an album comprised of wall-to-wall reminiscences on Damage Done, while Moving On opens with the dubious assertion: “Moving on is easy, I read it in a book.” Meanwhile, the sense of psychological unease present on the likes of Do You Really Wanna Know? suggests the future will never be quite as rosy as the past.
This particular strain of melancholy will be exacerbated, no doubt, by the after-effects of the pandemic. Sea Girls are not sages; they aren’t even trailblazers. But by using old tools and well-worn paths they’ve managed, rather impressively, to capture something of the strange, stultifying state of contemporary youth.