Alfie Templeman is a prolific songwriter. Still only 19 years young, the Bedfordshire-born multi-instrumentalist has released no less than seven EPs and a mini-album in the past five years.
Finally appeasing those who’ve been calling for a full-length since his debut in 2017, recording for Mellow Moon began two years ago, just as the pandemic was kicking into gear. Like many of us, Templeman felt as though he’d just woken up on another planet. Where his calendar should’ve been filling up with shows in support of his EPs and 2021 mini-album Forever Isn’t Long Enough, instead he had to shield due to a respiratory illness.
Templeman’s mental health took a hit from the collective anxiety and abjection of 2020, which has since resulted in his taking anti-depressants. Whereas previous singles – such as Happiness in Liquid Form and the woozy 1990s-inspired Stop Thinking (About Me) – were more buoyant, Mellow Moon sees the songwriter confronting subjects he had previously avoided, such as loss and melancholia.
While these themes have indeed resulted in a deeper and more introspective body of work, Templeman doesn’t present these subjects with the gloom you might expect. The chord progression that tails opener A Western is a precursor to the light-headed, danceable rhythms of You’re a Liar, a track akin to Leon Bridges or even Jungle. Credit for this must go to Tom McFarland, Jungle’s lead songwriter and a frequent collaborator of Templeman.
Once again working from his bedroom at his parents’ house, what had once been a creative sanctuary soon bared its limitations. Thankfully, such limits resulted in more courageous writing. The endless hours that lockdown awarded to Templeman to compose Mellow Moon are reflected in the time he’s taken to blur genre lines, matching the synth-wave rhythms and Two Door Cinema Club-adjacent guitar riffs of Broken with sombre melodies and lines like, “I check that I’m breathing, you never know these days”.
There’s a remarkable flow to this album. Polished pop songs are quickly lifted with glitching fuzz guitar and sweet refrains that Steve Lacy would be proud of. Indeed, the record’s midway point is reminiscent of Vampire Weekend’s recent resurgence, and the standout guitar solo in Candyfloss could be mistaken for a Ventures sample.
Templeman’s attention to the zeitgeist is unwavering. But while Do It is a slice of bedroom-pop sweetness sure to soundtrack countless posts on TikTok, the billowy vocals seem a little self-deprecating and on the nose compared to the stellar work presented up to this point. What follows, though, is Colour Me Blue, arguably Templeman’s strongest song to date. It’s satisfying to hear a lead single from a still emerging artist that’s so unabashedly guitar-driven. Templeman can write accomplished chord passages and arpeggios that are perfect for pop hooks and can make any guitarist grin.
The dynamics of Mellow Moon widen towards its end, with more textural guitar work and space for searing solos alongside right-hand chops reminiscent of Khruangbin and Cory Wong’s recent exploits. It’s at this point, on the melancholic Take Some Time Away, that Templeman foregoes the more modernist, polished production choices of side one and leans into his inner troubadour, heightened by dramatic, wound-string guitar themes and silver-plated acoustic strumming.
Album closer Just Below the Above is further evidence of Templeman’s continuing development as one of the most promising and lively young songwriters in the UK. Beginning in earnest, wandering like a Pink Floyd song from 1975, it soon steps into Arcade Fire territory, laced with rotary effects for an additional measure of Jeff Lynne.
Already on tastemaker label Chess Club, which has been home to Wolf Alice, Easy Life and Mumford & Sons among others, Alfie Templeman is proof that the guitar isn’t dying, it’s evolving. While Mellow Moon might not be as outwardly joyous as his previous releases, the unified and considered approach throughout the album has revealed a stellar songwriting talent that can go anywhere he chooses.
Mellow Moon is out now via Chess Club / AWAL.