Reading based indie quartet Sundara Karma have spent the last two years slowly but surely building up their following through a steady release of EPs and singles. 2016 saw the band become a noted entity in the indie community as they embarked on seemingly endless touring throughout the UK, released two singles and were named Breakout Artist Of The Year by DIY Magazine; all this setting the hype for the release of their debut album, Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect, on January 6th 2017.
The tone of the album adheres to the title, with themes such as youth culture, freedom and nostalgia being prominent throughout. In fact, the whole album seems to be a lovechild of Britpop; wicked singalong anthems with melancholic undertones. This can be seen most obviously in “She Said,” which was released as a single in September 2016, and still easily a standout song on the record. The song recalls the story of a girl and boy on a night out, a seemingly simple concept – “it started off with her hair, cuz every night has gotta start somewhere” – and such a narrative seems like it could easily have been plucked out of Pulp’s demo bin. (In fact, even the music video for the song has quite a few parallels to Pulp’s “Disco 2000” video.)
It’s not all floor fillers though, songs such as “Lose The Feeling” and “Be Nobody” feature elements of dream pop, subtle and melodic yet roaring ballads that showcase a rawer side to the band. These songs can easily be imagined as the emotional highs of their shows, lighters (or phones) waving in the air. Traces of lo-fi can be heard in “Olympia,” the first promotional single from the album, as well as “Happy Family.”
The album begins and finishes on familiar notes, the opener being “A Young Understanding,” released as a single earlier in 2016, an anthem about the fears and conformity that come with youth, and followed by “Loveblood,” one of Sundara Karma’s first singles from 2015, a rhythmic homage to Romeo and Juliet. The album’s closer is one of its unexpected highs, “The Night” taken from the band’s first EP, a surprise inclusion on the record, yet the catchy and uplifting track brings Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect to a satisfying end.
The record kick starts 2017 on a high note, and while Sundara Karma don’t bring anything particularly new to the table, something which may be critically panned, the band have successfully created an album of strong tracks; nothing fancy or complicated, but proving that they aren’t trying to be anybody but themselves.