It’s no secret that historically, Britain has acted as the epicenter of everything in rock music. Almost anyone could spew endless examples of their influential projects; the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin just to name a few. This classic era has even revived a few times, with the bulk of new wave finding its home through bands like the Smiths and Joy Division, and Britpop giants, Blur and Oasis, popping up a decade later. No matter the time period, it seems Britain has a clench on the direction of popular (or sometimes unpopular) rock music.
A new and growing name from this region is, of course, Sports Team. Meeting up at Cambridge University, the group started out as college friends having fun, whilst still working and studying. As their music grew, so did their seriousness, and that path seems to have continued through today. The band’s four-year existence has yet to produce millions of crazed fans, but is impressive nonetheless. With just a few singles and EPs, the group has managed to grab ahold of over 300,000 monthly Spotify listeners; something unheard of for certain indie bands, even ten-years running. This project is the largest step they’ve taken in their music development, being their first full-length release.
The album opens up with “Lander,” a track illustrating the youthful frustration of not having a job, or even knowing what career to follow. Behind exploding cymbals and high-pitched guitars, lead singer Alex Rice enters the fray with some wailing vocals. The song follows a pattern of transitioning from ear-shattering energy, to calmer, bass-driven sections; mimicking the back-and-forth of his silent contemplation and vocal annoyance. The combination of its tame-to-untame nature, and Rice’s ever-changing temperament paces the song in a way that Pavement often does. This influence finds itself throughout the record, and could’ve arguably started at the cover art.
Continuing the themes of irritation is the next cut, “Here It Comes Again,” but in a much different way. The robust sound and flow of the past track loses steam through more staccato guitar chords, and a subtle, descending slide of a background guitar; both of which scream “post-punk.” The topic of discussion shifts with the music as well, to the pain of daily monotony. The lyricism is very repetitive through each verse, pushing the mood that nothing changes. This repetition and lack of energy does eventually switch-up toward the end, where each instrument begins to expand itself. This momentum then follows through on “Going Soft,” where the relatively-smooth guitars are traded out for ones with a bit of grime. There’s an additional bounce and bluesiness as well, but the main highlight is the really great hook from Rice.
The hooks keep shining with the next track, “Camel Crew.” The track often consists of guitars straight from an old Cars song; understated, but with an upbeat rhythm. The chorus then comes with a roar, once again using Rice’s excellent high-volume voice to drive it through. “Long Hot Summer” is easily one of the more mellow songs on the record. It details a homesick, never-ending summer that one can’t seem to get themself out of. In the theme of summer, it opts for a brighter, echoey, tropical sound. The normal crescendo occurs before the chorus, but nothing to the extent of the rest of the tracks.
The production style seems to take a detour on the next song, “Feels Like Fun.” With a much fuller sound, and a fuzzy gloss over Rice’s voice, it gets a little cloudy. Whether it’s to call even further back to lo-fi recordings of the ‘60s, or maybe to keep people guessing, it does grant the track a more unique taste. And by the end, it’s exploded into a legitimate shout, as Rice bellows “And now it feels like fun!” As the pace increases on “Here’s the Thing,” so does the clarity of their anger. Backed by a pretty simple, pop-infused rock track (similar to that of the Strokes), they list the multitude of lies taught to us by adults, parents, and society in general; the champion of which is “If you just close your eyes, then everything’s alright.”
“The Races” features the moment most derivative of Blur on this album. The silky-smooth break from the aggression of the track comes with each chorus. “La la la la la la,” emits a much-needed sweetness, and the mere simplicity of it brings back the ‘90s Britpop legends. Though a bit harsher than Blur, the influence certainly shows itself. Sports Team then takes a trip back to indie-America with a satire on the supposed misery of those easy-off. Its commentary on class could easily be featured on an early Vampire Weekend album, possibly due to their shared high-class-education experience, but with their more straightforward way of songwriting, they make it their own.
Juxtaposing the typical demonization of basic activities in this record, is the song “Fishing.” While listing off a variety of activities “we” no longer do, they suggest one of their favorite friendly ventures being a fishing trip to the Thames; even stating “I don’t need no conversation, please!” The tempo and instrumentation are very similar to an earlier cut, “Here’s the Thing,” only it’s unclear if it has a true purpose on this song. Even with the seemingly ever-present cynicism on this track, it’s in the running for most positive on the album. Few others are as content with a basic life, from the outside.
The group gets sweet-but-sad on “Kutcher.” They find themself reminiscing about a past relationship, equating the two to Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. Listing off multiple examples of decisions made for their significant other that backfire, they make the comparison of the phenomena to getting punk’d. Sadly, as it always does, the conclusion comes with eventuality that Kutcher and Moore aren’t together, and neither are they. The concluding track, “Stations of the Cross,” attempts to combine a lot of the records themes dealing with awful, daily life, uncertainty, growing up, and society. From calling people “empty,” “sycophants,” infatuated with “arrogance and greed,” and more, they make their message loud, as if from rooftops. It’s important to note that while yes, this is most likely coming from a youthful point of view that will hopefully change, it doesn’t come off as a temper-tantrum like it possibly could. Like the rest of the record, it comes with a craftiness; a skillful pen to make it entertaining and informative, instead of a burden.
Deep Down Happy (2020) serves well as an energetic compilation of the band’s old singles, and some additional company. Through a very emotional voice of Rice, and some really tight guitar playing, they manage to revive a sound very reminiscent of older indie groups, like Pavement. But rather than stay there, in that one dimension, they expand themselves to other realms, and specifically British ones. Consistent descriptions of daily British life follow in the footsteps of Blur, and Oasis. Other, new-wave friends are also brought back with some more hollow, echo-filled, stripped back instrumentation on specific tracks. But no matter the style they’re reinventing, they manage to make it fresh and relevant. Social commentary is very clear. Like many generations, they’re losing faith in the society that brought them up; not specific to Britain, despite that being their main reference-point. Luckily, if you’re going to rebel against the status quo, rock is certainly the weapon with which to do it.