New Gods – Beloved

I might as well get the obligatory mention of Little Red out of the way nice and early. Dom Byrne and Adrian Beltrame flew that particular coop prior to the formation of New Gods, and now here we are. After a promising self-titled EP earlier this year, things looked nicely poised for New Gods: major label, no small public interest, a shit-hot songwriter (Byrne) in their ranks. So why did they slip their debut album into the world as a free download, with little to no accompanying promotional effort?

The mystery only deepens as you wrap your ears around Beloved: it’s very good, a sprawling, uninhibited beast. Byrne is a pop romantic with a wandering eye, and the skill to follow the numerous tangents that take his fancy over the course of Beloved. Plenty of those tangents involve cutting loose with some seriously gnarly guitar, as on ‘Too High’, but synth pop (‘I Love You Too’) and throwback soul (‘Deeper Love’) get an airing, too. Comfortably the weirdest curveball is ‘Caravan Park’, a surreal, largely spoken-word character sketch/caricature of dead-end bogan life. Does it hold together, though?

Spoiler Alert: Yes, it does. The disparate sounds are all employed in the service of uniformly excellent songwriting, and sat behind Byrne’s quavering, sad-puppy voice. ‘Caravan Park’ may be a little bonkers and a little cruel, but even it fits into the broader scheme of the album. And an album it is, rising and falling in momentum, sustaining interest with variations from track by track, but with an overriding sense of purpose and cohesion. You can tell that these guys, or at least two of them, have been here before.