We’ve spoken at length about our love for the much-missed Stagecoach before and have hosted the first releases from frontman Luke’s Barham’s solo project Uncle Luc. ‘I Write’, ‘Farewell Monsoon’ and the songs featured in his mini movie ‘Owner of the Loneliest Song’ hinted at a more stripped-down sound than his previous band, but with no less pop hooks and memorable melodies. Now Uncle Luc is ready to release debut album ‘Humblebrag’, on 22 September via new label Super Fan 99 Records.
Following Stagecoach’s triumphant final gig at Brixton Windmill, Luke spent last Christmas with family in the glorious sunshine of LA and says this change of setting at the most wonderful time of the year simply inspired him to start writing again: ‘Songs were like loose change falling from my pockets’. With this renewed enthusiasm, it’s perhaps surprising that the opening track ‘Leader Boards’ is a slightly sombre affair. Retaining the slacker style that quickly became Stagecoach’s trademark, there’s some self-depreciation in the lyrics as Luke sings ‘So I guess I step back into the arms of Britain and continue my mission to fail’ and states how ‘Sucking was always part of it’. The delicate development of the instrumentation has a hint of Adem about it, which is always to be encouraged. This genteel style is elaborated upon on the recent single ‘Farewell Monsoon’ which finds Luke delivering some witty one-liners and observations amongst some Brian Wilson-style psychedelic pop: ‘So long monsoon, you had your joke, getting me wet in June without my coat on. You heard before this song stop screwing up your face, that metaphor was ace and you know it’.
The Pavement meets Neil Young-esque guitars that open the charming ‘Happy Too’ find Uncle Luc veering into a fuller sound for the first time – and it works so well. A slice of nostalgia about teenage life and love – ‘There’s a show I might go to, that band from Tennessee, If you want, you could come with, I’ll score us fake ID’ – it also offers a more contemporary reference with talk of watching ‘the Human Centipede’. Despite everyone being happy at first, things take a turn for the worse in the second verse as the relationship begins to fizzle out: ‘I’ll return to where I came from then we both can be happy, because lonely was happy too’ is sung over distorted guitars that recall Adam Green’s ‘Dance With Me’.
There are elements of Dawes and Bright Eyes in the reflective stylings of ‘New Illusions’, which tackles the subject of how things tend to get less exciting as you grow older: ‘Each day I look for new illusions, because nothing much impresses me’. A real country song with some impressive atmospherics, it’s aided by impressive slide guitar and is a real grower – you’ll notice all the subtle nuances the more you listen to it. Luke also delves into his inner Conor Oberst (we all have one, don’t you doubt it…) on the deliberately low key ‘Oldest Friend’ – an ode to reacquainting with someone or something, perhaps just music in general… Although our A-Level English teacher had real issues with describing Victor Frankenstein’s creature as ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’, she claimed he wasn’t a monster as he just tried to live the life he was given, we’ll let Luke off… The song of the same name is another of those indie-pop hits that’s instantly hummable thanks to its joyous melody, that is at odds with the subject matter. Talking about how hard it must have been for the ‘monster’ as he started to discover his background, it’s a heartbreaking tale: ‘Frankenstein’s Monster looks lost, he’s just figured out he was human once. Two bolts in the head, he’d already lived several lives, several deaths.’ The second half finds Luke talking about another literary legend– the one and only Sherlock Holmes: ‘Focus was his weapon and results were seamless’.
The centrepiece of the album and the song that is sure to make any Stagecoach fan smile, cry and remember the good times is surely ‘Still a Country Song’, an honest appraisal about how and when the band decided to call it a day: ‘The last festival the band played, we watched Ash as the sun set. They opened with ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ and all I wanted was one of those’. With a Spector-esque big band sound, it could almost be Luke’s memoirs as he remembers stopping for petrol and the band making the unspoken decision that the end was nigh – it’s an ode to going out on a high with friendships still intact and to be proud of what you’ve achieved. There’s some sadness in Luke’s voice, but the overwhelming feeling is one of pride and fondness for all that Coach achieved during their career and how he’s proud they never tarnished their reputation and decided to split at just the right time. There are elements of the Noel-fronted Oasis songs in the delivery and lyrics like ‘This is where it ends, no breakthrough hit, this ends. It’s run its course, how we loved that 10-year horse we gambled on’. It’s a fitting footnote to Stagecoach’s career.
Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, ‘Humblebrag’ is a short and sweet record where Luke Barham discusses all about his life, memories, experiences, hobbies and hopes while also paying respect to all his influences. It’s personal and heartfelt throughout, and it will be a joy to welcome Uncle Luc into your family.