When William Blake published Songs of Innocence and Experience, he opened up a broad discussion about growing up and the fading absence of innocence as we transition to adulthood. The carefree attitude and fluidity of childhood develops into a superficial facade of maturity as our dreams fade to a wisp. It’s a poignant subject that’s been explored many times in art but Face+Heel’s debut album Our Prince’s Quarry delves into this further.
Admittedly, upon first listen, the thematic density of Our Prince’s Quarry may not be immediately apparent. Instead, you’re more likely to be allured by Sinead’s wistful vocals or the pensive ambiance. And sure, if you’re only interested in the pure aural experience, it’s a delectable album full to immerse yourself in. But you’ll get so much more out of it after each and every listen as you engross yourself into its motifs.
Right from the beginning with album opener ‘Pier Video’, you get a sense of the unreserved narrative that has been weaved. The analogue tones (some parts of the track were recorded onto a rental video store that Luke worked in) immediately convey that Face+Heel have no intention of hiding behind masks. Something that earlier management teams they worked with were unhappy about as they bumptiously blurted (I imagine), “if you could make this much poppier we could sell this”. You have permission to roll your eyes.
As result, Luke Taylor and Sinead McMillan decided to go it alone but we can only be thankful that their management teams were so short-sighted. And actually, this in itself is reflection of the themes within Our Prince’s Quarry.
When asked about the arrangement of the tracks, Face+Heel confessed that tracks set in West Wales [‘Our Princes’ Quarry’, ‘Pier Video’ and ‘Tripping at the Royal Welsh’] “feel wilder, more fluid and freer.” On the other hand, you have more structured pop songs like ‘Mansions’ which are “meant to take place in the city thinking about home.” It’s ominously reminiscent of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.
Many of us like to cling on to our blithe and insouciant sensibilities we carry with us from childhood but the presence of adulthood and the pressures of city life erode that. This is unreservedly highlighted in ‘We Can Swim’. On the surface, you hear an 80s-flecked synth-pop track but behind its jubilant fascia is a commentary on the ruthless flooding of a village called Dryweryn to make a reservoir for Liverpool in the 1960s.
However, where the album shines the most is not when it directs its questions at an ill-judged decision but when it’s introspective and asks itself questions. ‘City In Me’ is more direct with its self-reflection as Sinead wonders “Don’t know why I bought you here out of fear, just do what you can” while the expansive instrumentation in the title track is more sonically brooding.
Face+Heel push this desire for pensive tones further in ‘Tripping at the Royal Welsh’. It’s a powerfully stark observation of our relationship with cities compared to the rural areas many of us have grown up in. Sinead is particularly unequivocal when she croons “We drive we work, forget what we’ve learned, we moan that nothing that we want ever comes true. We’re too far, we’re too few.”
Asked about where this vulnerability came from, Luke and Sinead agree that it was achieved by “writing with freedom and being honest with ourselves whilst doing it.” So we really do have to thankful that their previous management teams forced them away. Despite feeling jaded after this affair, they found the conviction to produce and create the music that they would enjoy. It’s something that many artists can agree with. But then they chimed in, “that and putting the chords in the right places.”