‘Let’s be bold’, Hope and Social admonish their listeners in the song of that title, the third track of this vivid, broad-stroke album. They are very much preaching what they practise. It’s easy to describe them using terms like ‘relentlessly upbeat’ or ‘indefatigably positive’, because that’s certainly their vibe, but to do so would actually flatten out their complexities in exactly the way they refuse to in their lyrics. They are more celebratory than they are ‘positive’, painting optimistic views of a world which includes heartache, poverty and contusions of literal and metaphorical scar tissue.
All Our Dancing Days was released in 2012, right on the crest of the wave that social media unleashed on independent music—a time when Facebook posts went out to all your followers for free, and ‘pay-what-you-want’ was a viable business model for a surprising number of artists. Hope and Social were pioneers of digital DIY, and their musical aesthetic has always been inseparable from that ethic. It’s actually quite hard to put your finger on what this, their third album, sounds like: it’s fair enough to call it ‘indie’, but that doesn’t tell you much. This is not a band that ever sets out to break new ground stylistically, but if I just say it’s ‘rock’ you’ll expect more guitars, and ‘pop’ doesn’t really mean anything specific. These are creative and carefully crafted arrangements, using mainly guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. Hope and Social are a rock band, but not in the swaggering, codpiece-waggling sort of way that term might sometimes suggest. They groove hard, and they make me want to dance. That’s all I got.
The songs are full of happy realism, acknowledging the downsides to life, and never attempting to undercut them with the usual pop-music consolations. They do not offer sentimental visions of romance, or glib ‘chase-your-dreams’ narratives, but something much more plausible and much more valuable. They just spread it all out, the shit and the diamonds glinting in its midst—instead of offering unearned and commonplace insights, they lead by example, and sing the whole thing, with grimy, wounded joy. And that’s not as easy as I may have made it sound. This here is proper songwriting, where the words and music are of equal importance to the structure of the edifice, and where the meaning or experience (or whatever the hell it is you call the impact on the listener) is worth something more than the one plus the other. Lyrically and harmonically sophisticated, but resolutely straightforward. Simple and complex, never simplistic or complicated.
I’m making this sound like a wordy one-sheet, because, clearly, I like this album, and I want to write down some version of why that is. Unlike much of the music that’s most dear to me, there’s nothing outlandish about All Our Dancing Days, nothing abrasive, nothing avant-garde, nothing virtuosic or flamboyant. Except that it is a virtuosically, flamboyantly inclusive and generous record. It picks its spot, and it digs deep, doubling down on all the imperfection and happenstance of the place Hope and Social almost arbitrarily decided to set out their stall. It’s entertaining, uplifting, optimistic, and a bunch of other adjectives that you might be forgiven for thinking make it sound insufferable—but it is also a perceptive and compassionate take on what makes life hard to endure, and it makes a very strong argument for the value and importance of that adversity.