Storied Scottish footballer and long-loved former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once famously said of the internal drive that made him such an icon at Anfield: “It wasn’t just a matter of life and death – it was much more important than that.” Though this oft-borrowed line was delivered with Shankly’s standard measure of flinty devilment, it bears a cruciferous truth for any native of athletics, art, or altruism. Fast forward forty years, and another dogged, stroppy, and faultlessly charming dissident-dilettante, this time hailing from Leicester, is administering the same sort of ad-libbed ambushes into the eternally spry soul of Merry Ole England. The bloke is Murray Matravers, the band is easy life, and the aleatoric debut album is Life’s a Beach – all here now with their jagged and oddball energy to help you inhabit the incongruous and under-heralded in your own life, and right on time for a swimsuits-are-scary summer!
If you ever got high and thought it would be super rad if Edward Lear and Budgie would combine their ample genius-insights into something dreamy and dejected, be super excited. Rather than legions of Merseyside maniacs, this band’s swarm of supporters is comprised of all manner of futurist-meets-survivalist English youth, the NME, raging Mario Kart aficionados, all classes of Game of Thrones geeks, every strange animal shape of draught excluder, anyone feeling up a gum tree about life… oh yeah, and one bandmate picked up on a particularly serendipitous night at Horse Meat Disco.
Before we plunge like the half-submerged car on its cover into all of the infinity pools of reasons why Life’s a Beach is rife and peachy, a bit of pastoral easy life backdrop for your ballyhoo. Lead vocalist and writer Murray Matravers grew up on a turkey farm in Loughborough in the Midlands, as far from the English seaside that would inspire his first record as it is geographically possible to be inside his own country. Though he was a confirmed straight-A student, he unceremoniously dusted school at age 18 to woo Mistress Music full-time, collecting his necessity-coin in between by selling jacket potatoes and running a milkshake shop so he could later gallivant around Europe and eventually alight in Berlin for the kind of ayahuascan self-revolutions only that city can spark. Hang on: a reluctant scholar with certifiable street cred, a Dickensian trajectory, the tiniest whiff of Ron Howard, and a resume full of gallinaceous birds plus curated Carb City foodstuffs? Say no more. We’re ultra in!
Since 2017, which saw easy life dropping acclaimed mixtapes Creature Habits, Spaceships, and Junk Food like so many rapid-fire creative conkers, so are hordes of other languid listeners. The firebrand cocktail created once bassist Sam Hewitt, guitarist Lewis Alexander Berry, drummer Oliver Cassidy, and keyboardist/percussionist Jordan Birtles fill out the prankster collective makes easy life go down every bit as easy as that mini-bottle of Poor Man’s Kirsch you still don’t admit you chugged on the clock that day you allegedly hit “Reply All” and the office never quite recovered. Fond remembrances like that should make anyone appreciate the pun in this album’s title. Life’s a Bish for sure, and usually a basic one at that. For the more formal among you, the pun still works as you might recall the word “bish” outside of urban slang means “blunder or mistake,” which is precisely what this record spends twelve well-crafted musical musings benignly addressing.
easy life gently demands the democratization of the madcap. Both the figurative and literal beach in Life’s a Beach is crusty and common. You’re welcome there even if you’re quite affluent, but they’ll have none of your pink sands and OnlyFans mucking up the limp mayhem of their marred mer, thank you very much. This place is much more Bikini Bottom in dire need of barrels of Berocca. To my mind, music has never had enough sacred fools mincing around and producing eccentric gypsum panels of perspective in songs that can deliver body blows to whatever purblind nonsense you’re dealing with today. easy life is a hugely welcome fill for that gap and this record the garnish to any grey afternoon.
Born out of what Matravers has dubbed, “the productivity of idleness,” or what Edmund Spenser and the English pastoral poets used to call, “otium,” Life’s a Beach first makes land with the wistful “a message to myself“ – a hope-filled embargo on all things phony or anxious within oneself or in one’s coterie. Encouraging self-acceptance as second-nature, this mental health missive comes complete with a cartoon video animated and directed by Adult Swim’s own Andy Baker, his Rick and Morty chops on divine display here. Like a Chaplain of the Anti-Chavs, Matravers gamely announces that he isn’t any longer going to paper over his differences with the world, and nor will his appreciation of his worth be neutered by its fickle acceptance or denial of him.
“have a great day“ could be the official easy life motto-song and features little surf-guitar riffs lapping along in 1950s Prom-like undertones paradoxically paired with solid attitude advice like, “Don’t let the seagulls steal your chips.” The lady beachgoer beside Matravers in this dizzy little dream is likewise brilliantly observed: “She’s a fairy / She’s a witch / A magic potion pharmacist / And she’s inclined to take the piss.” Well, hello boys! I didn’t realize we’d met but thank you for immortalizing that occult occurrence in this scorch mark of a verse! “have a great day” has a sweet whistle and lope to it that combine to represent what may be the first and only time a band has managed to conjure Bobby McFerrin and The Beach Boys in the same pet shop of fuzzy sounds.
“ocean view“ is an adorable digi-duet between Murray and a sampled female voice spun up to Smurfette speeds that sound like Ellie Golding on a helium hit. These are then mimed to a new grade of flawlessness by a giant pink fish in the song’s accompanying video. The feminine/finned voice is actually Emilia Ali’s dainty “Loved the Ocean“ and you’ll love hearing it in this new Piscean persuasion. The fish symbolism is one to watch all the way through Life’s a Beach. We get a Nemo-esque cartoon one swimming around Matravers’ fishbowl-like oxygen helmet in the video for “a message to myself” and several other moments of gilled glory throughout the record where it becomes clear that the fish is serving as both alter-ego and spirit guide to our easy life head boy.
“daydreams“ is for when your beach date last week was a total badderlocks baddie but you were, apparently, just the person on the towel next door. There’s such a resigned, classist truth in a line like, “You read my messages but didn’t get back at all / But that’s the privilege of being beautiful,” and, as a result, this tune becomes a shimmering triage tent for anyone made heartsick by the kind of abandonment only digital communication deserts can make you feel.
“living strange”, with its unforgettable and unnerving turns of phrase such as, “Please, I wish you’d listen / I was speaking from the grave before they started digging,” has got a gentleman’s pinch of Jim Morrison breathing under its skin. Meanwhile, the shimmery, cresting wave chorus in “compliments” will complement every wave, both divine and destructive, in your upcoming summer.
“lifeboat“ is an absolute standout with its irresistibly sexy beat encircling Matravers’ defeated energy and this timeless tattoo every person should ink in their own way: “There’s more to life than survival / Find something to die for.” Those listeners who lived inside Michaela Coel’s staggering I May Destroy You as long as this obsessive journalist may already be familiar with “nightmares“ as it made an uncannily appropriate cameo for the ages and sees Matravers making powerful use of the same kind of ‘telephone voice’ singing invented and perfected by the one and only Julian Casablancas.
“homesickness” is a stoned-out love song masquerading as a Byronic ode to a place and person out of reach. The specialty of this song is in keeping the overall hyper-boredom hue that defines the entire easy life aesthetic but including such actively Romantic lyrics like, “If I could bottle up the ocean / We could share a glass or two.” It is rare indeed to encounter a naturally gifted social-linguist at Matravers’ level of observation who does not feel the need to encrypt anything when depicting a feeling that vulnerable.
“music to walk home to“ adjourns Life’s a Beach in synth-dolphin song that morphs into a spoken word Jamiroquai-like jingle that jog-walks through incisive social commentary, men dressed as bananas, “cocktails and disco biscuits,” and the careful aversion of every “vibe vacuum.” This masterpiece is Matravers’ own Ulysses take, an impolitic index of the human condition, collected and stream-of-consciousness muttered on the walk home from a mercurial night.
On this particular evening’s excursion, we listeners are theoretically on the phone with Matravers as he delivers a flaneur’s lesson on the nuances of how staying out all night can put a curfew on everything from your latent anxiety to your stable ability to chew choate sentences. Is the whole sauced monologue likely to have been spoken into the ear piece rather than the receiver of the telephone? An imperial yes! And it is thereby arguably the most precious syllabic shopping arcade of folly-think by a lovable obsessive we’ve had since Joyce and his Leopold Bloom. There was, never forget, that telling potato connection made earlier as well, friends! Gah, Joyce surely salutes your mumblings-in-the-moon-market, Mr. Matravers.
A word on those must-have murmurs: Matravers’ flow is essentially The Streets slid through a Stewie sieve and spray painted with the theatrical moue of Steptoe and Son. He seems to have a scratch orchestra of sundries and soursop sounds spooling through his mind at any given moment, and the ones he chooses to sing are nearly always transitory tramp characters that you suspect he might have plucked out of the nearest dreamworld doss house. This is anything but flow-by-numbers and every lyric seems lightly drizzled with Pennine rain. Matravers’ way with words is much closer to a mosaic of verbal ice floes carrying the carnies and tinkerers travelling round the ring roads of his mind to safety.
Where John Osborne and the Angry Young Man movement were all about highly critical crusades against social alienation, easy life is about blowing bachetti (little kisses) to the beautifully broken. Theirs are highly post-modern reflections done in a subversive, Belle Epoch fashion wherein even Matravers’ glottal stops – one of the premiere trademarks of the classic “Chisit” accent – mimic the pitfalls, pitstops, and pitted skin of every suburban exile under the sun, English or otherwise.
The whole point of easy life is to emphasize with panache that none of this whole being a human business is actually easy at all, and most of it is quite naff, both on purpose and not. As such, Life’s a Beach is a gurning beach record for bruised egos and burnt dreams. For Brits, it’s going to conjure Bournemouth with its 40 tons of detritus (both human and other) and Great Yarmouth for general Martin Parr anti-flash. For Americans, it will take on the cringe-inducing mien and hillbilly hilarity of Panama City Beach (the Redneck Riviera!) or Daytona during its biannual Bike Week, the days of MTV Spring Break in the middle 1990s, or really any given Tuesday. This record is funny the way face-planting on the pavement in front of your high school as you exit your Mom’s belching Ford Pacer is funny, and it funkatizes the Sharpie-scrawled toilet cubicles of any average human’s daily emotions until they become existential decoupage as socially relevant as the vibrant collage work of South Central L.A. artist, Lauren Halsey.
The juice in all these jams is that Murray Matravers and the Gang are the savviest litter-pickers since Sanford and Son, lifting only insouciant philosophies and manly mirthfulness from the inchoate dumpster of our daily lives. This is where Leicester’s Roman name, “Ratae,” and the subsequent affectionate demonym that arose for Leicester residents in its wake, “Rat Eyes” ,becomes really interesting. The easy life lads are clearly born lyrical and conceptual sidewalk scavengers with exactly such piratical eyes, seeming to see everything of their city, and taking even its best points in from a humble, scurrying vantage point equivalent to that of a mouse. They then metabolize all that shufti until their signature sound world exists at the shatter-zone of back alley dives and French-ish fugue states.
However, Leicester’s unofficial animal mascot is not the aforementioned peasant-rodent, but a fox. The area has long been renowned for fox hunting (a decidedly upper-class sport) and the Leicester City F.C. has featured a fox on its crest since 1948. You can easily see great whole chapters of our easy life friends’ fox slyness as well as their interpretation of that animal’s winky reputation for concealing its sneaky intelligence until just the right moment when you turn even an impatient eye toward the visual component of Life’s a Beach.
There are at least two intriguing running themes on this record: car crashes and lemons. The wrecked vehicle metaphor starts on the cover of the album, appears in the tiny pool wherein the “ocean view” video takes place, is given as the reason for Matravers’ unenviable head condition in the “nightmares” video, and winks from under the water when he selflessly throws his fish-love back in “a message to myself.” Likewise, we get romantic maneuvers likened to lemon cheesecake in “compliments,” lemons as a one-word response in the lyrical conversation of “nightmares,” and “easypeasylemonsqueezylife” as the band’s formal Facebook domain.
As these repetitive tropes are artfully threaded through all of the ways that Life’s a Beach presents itself to the world, what these recurrent and carefully placed ideas undeniably show is that Matravers may well appear otiose about all that is not happening in the underwhelming underworld of his manic microcosm, but he is by no means ever haphazard about the way he documents any of those lacks. The placement of sounds and images associated with this record are studied creations, not flippant moods. There is a symmetry and synchronicity in place on Life’s a Beach, and a trail to follow toward a higher set of alert wisdoms than what easy life’s surface shellac of shambles may lead one to initially believe. Listening through and unearthing these secret prizes lends an archaeological thrill to the experience of the album.
Life’s a Beach is wondrously one-size-fits-all and can be worn like a cagoule against the hurricane of humanity’s disorienting games and dread-dervishes, or like a carabiner earring – you never know when you might need some help climbing up out of the gutter you freely laid down in last night. easy life comes bearing a reliable buoy for your summer, and one with the good-grime of the rat and the frisk of the fox, sailing an ephemeral estuary where both are day-drunk on Babycham and twirling Morris staves at all your worst worrying wounds.
Like finely calibrated metal detectors, these Leicester layabouts will leach the lead out of whatever went sideways in your week this time around and remind you not to let the grift upstage your grin. We’ll stop just short of saying this record has enough social stickum to make Manchester and Liverpool fans hold hands and sing “Kumbaya”, but we’re told even a few Teessiders have been overheard humming something about nightmare lemons and banana-suited businessmen. From the turkey farm to the top of the charts. Now, ain’t that a bitch?
(all photos credited to Jack Bridgland)