For the Love of Letting Go

Kowalski step out of Two Door Cinema Club's shadow with an effervescent debut album

Poor old Kowalski. It had all seemed so good for them. Big name supports and endorsements from Snow Patrol, a string of well received singles, a strong local following. And then – nothing. For a year or two, they seemed to vanish off the face of the earth, whilst all manner of young pretenders stepped into their immaculately cool boating shoes.

One of those bands was Two Door Cinema Club, or ‘Kowalski Jr’ as more than a few unkind pundits labelled them. Two Door Cinema Club were three young guys, fresh out of high school, with a laptop for a drummer: 'The best drummer in Belfast,' those same pundits were keen to throw in. And one of their number was Kev Baird, the younger brother of Kowalski’s Paddy Baird, so it all seemed very cute and innocent.

But then Two Door Cinema Club went stratospheric, swallowing up everything Kowalski had achieved, before going on to surpass it in almost every conceivable way. And poor old Kowalski were left on the sidelines, watching the little guys do everything they’d ever set out to do.

Back in 2008, Kowalski were using twinkling synths, bouncy, tropical sounding guitars, and wispy, but surprisingly supple, vocal melodies. That, of course, is exactly the formula that Two Door Cinema Club used to become international superstars. So it’s almost surprising that they’ve stuck with it and are finally getting round to releasing an album.

Right from the get-go, For the Love of Letting Go screams that Kowalski are determined to stick to their guns. The glittering synths are still there, the bouncy, tropical riffs and rhythm guitars still abound, and the yearning vocals of Lou Price remain at the centre of things.

But whereas Two Door Cinema Club exhibited a kind of European sophistication – thanks, in no small part, to their expensive stylists – Kowalski always feel more natural. They certainly have their eye on the prize, but they come across as an approachable, self-deprecating bunch, which can go a long way in winning over new fans.

Tracks like ‘Outdoors’ and ‘Get Back’ have been around for a long time now, but if anything they sound even better now, marked by deceptively complex melodies and arrangements that positively drip with an effervescent pop sensibility.

Two Door Cinema Club’s success lay in their microcosmic view of pop, focusing on one or two key elements, but Kowalski have always been maximalists, and every square inch of space on this album is filled with sound. This is big music, and it’s all the stronger for it.

‘Our Secret Life Alone’ is a real stand-out highlight of this record, slap bang in the middle, it positively explodes with life. Listening to it in the sun, I loose myself in a daze – as if looking at a rock-pool on a beach and being almost blinded by the glare of the sunlight on the water, before noticing that the pool is, in fact, teeming with life, and the fish are swimming to the beat of the drum.

Album opener ‘Forfey’ conveys a similar sensation, and despite the overabundance of synthetic noise at times, there is something strangely ‘rural’ about Kowalski's sound, a sense of wide open spaces and wind-swept fields, that lies in marked contrast to the urbane and sophisticated music of Two Door Cinema Club. If Two Door are a finely tailored suit and a pair of Ray Bans, Kowalski are shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.

If there is a criticism, it is the distinct lack of tone on the record. Everything sits in the mid-range, every song features similar production techniques and sounds, and after a while the melodies begin to blur into each other, giving For the Love of Letting Go the feel of one long, long song, rather than a collection of individual pop classics. In isolation, they all sound great – don't get me wrong – but as a whole, they can loose themselves in each other.

But ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Even when your ear inevitably tires a little, a track like ‘Longer the Night Lasts’ comes in, and you forget about things like Two Door Cinema Club, and you start to get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, Kowalski were right to hold this album back until we really needed it. By heck, they were right to do so.

For the Love of Letting Go is available now via Bandcamp.