For the Ears of Dogs to Come begins gently, almost tentatively, which entirely belies the ferocity of the ensuing 45 minutes. This debut LP from Hull quartet The Holy Orders was sent to me on the pretext that if we at FAHH enjoy Jarvis Cocker and Jonathan Richman, we may also enjoy what frontman Matt Edible and band of not-so-merry men have to offer. That initial comparison was a little misleading, perhaps, but only in style: there is musical sophistication here not often associated with debut albums. I took them up on the offer and was pleased to discover that For the Ears of Dogs to Come is a well-formed and meticulously made indie rock package, albeit with a few juvenile lyrical slip-ups. The music is great, though: blistering and jagged, incomparable to anything I’ve heard in a while.
Like I said, opener “Walk/Don’t Walk” begins with an almost palpable sense of melancholy, crystalizing in due time into bitterness. Jilted by a former lover, of course. This time, though, the music accompanying the words is compelling and weirdly narrative: while the opening expresses resigned acceptance and bewilderment at his sad state of affairs, Edible goes on to sing about how he feels so sorry for himself and that all he does is cry, at which point the bassline helps solidify the music into plodding backbeat accented by tortured-sounding guitar burps and blasts. After a minimalist section unaccompanied by the band, they rejoin for a brutal and angular refrain that projects ongoing anger and dysfunction. It’s clear that he won’t be over this relationship for a while, which is a common enough subject to sing about, but the musicianship, songcraft, and guitar overdubs make this tune more memorable. Edible also manages to fit in the couplet “there’s a gram of cocaine with your name on it/it’s cut to hell with laxatives but you don’t give a shit”. “Paper/Scissors/Stone” was the first (and, to my knowledge, only) single the band released from this album, and it and its video are what piqued my interest in this group. Spiky, overlapping, and jutting guitars are met by shaggy, charming vocals – when Edible reaches the high notes at the ends of phrases and when he sings the “ba da da…” interval in the middle, his enthusiasm is especially contagious. The lyrics concern his commitment to a girl who’s his equal, who meets him one for one in everything. It’s a fantastic song, and hopefully one that will get more media attention as the band becomes better known.
“Sherlock” alternates jaggedly between densely produced and claustrophobic sections and airier, more melodic breaks. Its distinct sections are differently accented with stop/start dynamics for drama, but the sincere feeling of the lyrics comes through, particularly in sections when he sings “…said things would be different from last time around/when you racked up your troubles and then you skipped town”. For an angry, exasperated song, it’s fairly restrained musically, and expresses its anger more subtly in Edible’s vocal shakes and falters and James Cooper’s persistent percussion work.
“Breathe” combines elements from the previous three songs into a grand journey, utilizing those familiar spiked and interlocking guitar layers, starting with sharply clipped sentences and moving tentatively into harder sounds. There’s a few different tension-relieving sections, an aggressively ragged, rhythmic one coming just before the halfway point, and a more typically melodic and wistful one directly afterward. This is all executed skilfully and effectively, but I’ve got to take away points for the normative, essentialist banality of lyrics like “your body so slim and beautiful and delicate like within…so jaded and yet so pure.” I get that your song is about a lady leaving you for some other guy and that you miss her, but this is verging on infantile. Shape up, dudes.
“Deviants” is better, featuring abrasive guitar lines that verge on the calculated coarseness of The Holy Bible-era Manics. This severe sound isn’t inappropriate, either, as the content concerns two teenagers spontaneously hooking up and then agreeing to run away together. It’s about the juvenile impulse to rebel against anything and everything available, if only for the half-formed craving to rebel against something. “Retina Burns” takes place at a Terrorvision show (“they played ‘Alice What’s the Matter’”) and is, by turns, both relaxed and frenetic. There’s some more problematic lyrics: “I caught her at the bar while her defenses were low”, but apparently it’s okay because this woman he thinks he’s falling in love with turns out to be a kind of drunk illusion. This isn’t the place to delve further into the underlying rhetoric at work here, but suffice it to say that it’s an issue I’m picking up on.
“Somewhere in this World” is brilliantly barbed, marching on with precision but coming apart at just the right times with the shabby charm this band does so well. The refrain also combines the right amounts of wistfulness and anger. As far as break-up songs go, it stands out among the others on offer here. “To the Gallows” is just as sombre as its title suggests, and shows that The Holy Orders can do rock balladry too, albeit in their signature, pleasingly warped style. Closing track “Dance Motherfuckers” is also the barnburner its title smacks of. There’s a lot of material on For the Ears of Dogs to Come that verges on mclusky and Future of the Left territory, musically speaking, but that resemblance reaches its apex on “Dance Motherfuckers”, from the opening guitar squall, to the asynchronous lurch with which the vocals and full-throttle playing begin. Edible’s shout-singing is great too, and when he yells “listen up, listen up, listen up/we’ll start ripping up your children’s toys/for ripping off the girls and boys” you want to yell and thrash along with him. Seriously infectious stuff.
It’s always exciting to hear such an urgent and vibrant debut album, and one that’s clearly had so much work put into it. That work has definitely paid off. The Holy Orders fall a little short in the lyrics department: you can tell they really like and look up to Andrew Falkous, but it’s going to take some more work before they write words that have the same intelligent and yet bilious blast that his do. It’s a promising start, though, and for those who like their guitar rock loud and definitely left of centre, The Holy Orders are a recommended rite.