The debut EP from Leeds' Valleys, mixes indie and rock with prominent Euro-pop synths, to mixed results. The strongest track is EP opener, 'Ghost' which alternates between verses of standard indie cool, and shamelessly cheesy choruses that bristle with naff-but-enjoyable hooks.
The indie-centric verses bring together loose, winding guitars and languidly casual vocals, against a backdrop of skittering drumbeats. It's the sort of slick, mildly catchy indie-rock that's been done a million times before. Consequently, it won't make all that much of an impact on the listener. Thankfully, the chorus more than makes up for those technically pretty good, but unexciting, verses, as 'Ghost' comes over all Euro-pop. Buzzsaw synths trill away beneath Valleys' angular indie vocals in a very kooky combination, before that synth launches into a full-on Euro-pop assault that'll have you completely hooked. And Valleys seem to know when they're onto a good thing, cramming in the cheesy synths for an end-section that's a pure, synth-pop sugar-rush. The choruses and end-section aren't particularly cool, but they're what makes 'Ghost' such great fun.
The main problem with second track 'Rise Above,' is that the vocals are overpowered by the music. You'll be straining to hear them, particularly during the choruses and the bridge section. This wouldn't be such a problem, if this indie/synth-pop mash up was half as surprisingly addictive as 'Ghost.' Sadly, it's lacking that final, irresistible hook that'd draw you into 'Rise Above's bubbly, synth-pop depths. The choruses bounce enthusiastically along, and the whole thing is fizzing with cheerful synths, but the lack of a strong vocal presence means most of 'Rise Above' plays out at the same level.
Initially, you won't be sure what to make of 'To Be.' It lurches to life with a combination of Valleys' best Euro-pop synths, twinkling chords and knocking percussion. Chances are, you'll be waiting for the guitars to kick in and 'To Be' to begin in earnest. Instead, their frontman starts singing and, although Valleys bulk up their sound with a smattering of growling guitars halfway through the verses, that's pretty much your lot until the chorus. It's such an unexpected approach, and the synth that makes up the meat of the song is so unashamedly cheesy, that 'To Be' just about gets away with it. While it isn't a patch on 'Ghost,' it's strangely impressive how Valleys manage to make this song work.
The instrumental accompaniments may be bare minimum, but Valleys go one step further and relegate them to background noise for the vocally-driven, vaguely trippy choruses. Again, it shouldn't work, but Valleys manage to get away with it, before they launch into a short instrumental that's a sublime and understated swirl of synth-pop.
'To Be' isn't the strongest track on this EP, but it's so unusual, it just might be the one that sticks in your head.
EP closer 'Silver' takes growly indie-rock guitars and slaps some very retro gaming sounds over the top. It's guaranteed to secure your full attention and, like 'To Be,' it isn't a song you're likely to forget in a hurry. However, you'll wish Valleys had just taken the edge off those cheerfully in-your-face, SNES synths, because you'll struggle to hear anything else. Smoothing out the synth's harsh edges, would probably make 'Silver' feel more like a coherent whole, whilst still retaining the quirkiness the synths bring to the table. As it is, 'Silver' sounds like an indie-rock song with a retro computer game soundtrack played over the top.
The verses more effectively bring together the synth-pop and indie extremes of Valleys' sound, mixing shuffling guitars and drums with a faint whisper of cheesy synths in the background. 'Silver' has the makings of a great, quirky indie-pop song, with a little tweaking.
Valleys certainly have a unique formula, and 'Ghost' is a prime example of just how well it could work. One listen, and this is a song that'll be tormenting you for days. The other three tracks, hover around the indie/alt-pop mark, but never quite get it spot on, although 'Silver' and 'Rise Above' come close.
Valleys' blend of indie and cheesy pop occupies a niche, and EP opener 'Ghost' is the perfect introduction to their sound.