I’m rather hesitant to confess that, like many other teenagers at the time, I decided that The Shins were my new favourite band after watching The Garden State at the impressionable age of seventeen. Maybe that’s because, from what I remember, that entire film seems like an extended version of one of those cringe-inducing endings to every episode of Scrubs. But when I first heard Larsen B’s Musketeer, the saccharine harmonies and charming folk arrangements transported me right back to that summer of 2004 when I would listen to Oh Inverted World in my brand new Peugeot and believed my A Level art project might change the world. I’m of the opinion that if an album can capture a sentiment that’s worth preserving it deserves a place in my record collection. And like The Shins’ début, Musketeer, with its nostalgic country leanings and its vocals that can seem at times both wistful and naïve, is an album that crystallises perfectly that fragile and fleeting sense of youth.
But that’s enough about The Shins, because that’s about where the comparisons end. Larsen B, after all, are from Hertfordshire, and the album betrays a distinctly British songwriting style. Indeed, type their name into any search engine and (after stories about the Arctic shelf) likenesses are drawn to bands like Coldplay and, inevitably, fellow banjo-wielders Mumford and Sons. Musketeer’s piano-led tracks like Codeine and Drown By The Sea, along with singer Paddy Smith’s effortlessly lilting falsetto, do warrant the comparisons to Chris Martin and co – but don’t be misled: this début album is far more expansive, orchestral and celebratory than, say, Parachutes. Lead single Marilyn is a fast-paced and uplifting pop song with a catchy chorus that would be right at home on Radio 1’s daytime playlist. Slower tracks like the gorgeous Atlantis utilise that of-the-moment country sound without sounding cloying. Red Indians And Witches is pure Brian Wilson-inspired pop escapism.
If my descriptions sound to you like musical anathema, you might fall into the camp who have criticised Musketeer for being ‘too nice’. And of course it’s easy to be cynical when there’s been a sudden influx of British folk acts who all look as though they’re trying to recreate the Rabbit Heart video by Florence + The Machine. One look at the album artwork for Musketeer will probably do little to reverse your suspicions. However, if you cast aside your preconceptions you may just discover that Musketeer contains more than a few pop gems, and marks the beginning of an exciting career for an undoubtedly talented band. Since when was ‘nice’ such a damning word?