Music publications triumphantly announce when they've found "the next big thing" from the U.K. After the tenth time, it becomes hard to tell if they actually listen to some of these bands for any reason other than the fact that they're (gasp) British. Athlete, the East London foursome, distinguishes themselves from this crowd with an intelligent and quirky mix of delicate keyboards, animated bleeps-and-bloops, jangly guitars and Malkmus-like vocal stylings.
Athlete has slowly been gaining momentum abroad for several years where their debut Vehicles and Animals garnered a Mercury Prize nomination and where "Wires," the first single off their latest album, Tourist, is dominating airwaves.
Childhood friends since 15, Joel Pott (vocals, guitar), Steve Roberts (drums), Carey Willets (bass) and Tim Wanstall (keyboards) performed their debut gig in March 2002 at an East London pub. That same month, their first EP was released on Regal Recordings. Shortly thereafter, they recorded their Parlophone debut in a "tiny little studio with guitars, cheap Casio keyboards and a drum machine," explains Roberts. The evolution of their sound has been fascinating, deftly moving from a more experimental, angular approach on their debut to one with richer melodies and orchestral arrangements. Roberts says that Athlete follows what "bands that inspire [them] like Radiohead and Beck" have done, making sure their follow-up albums completely differ from the first, pushing the boundaries of their sound, yet still retaining their character.
Armed with their fully realized sound on Tourist, Athlete has drawn inevitable comparisons to such bands as Coldplay and Snow Patrol, especially with their hit single "Wires," a dark, soaring track that sees Pott singing to his prematurely born daughter Myla, who spent the first days of her life in intensive care. Roberts says that it is "frustrating when somebody perceives you a certain way before they even hear your music [especially] when I don't think our record sounds like Coldplay." Steve remarks that although "'Wires,' our first single, is an emotive, piano song" in the same vein as Coldplay, "they weren't the first ones to write an emotive song on the piano either."
Athlete plans to dispel any naysayers and convert new fans on their current U.S. tour, which ventures to Philadelphia on Oct. 5th. "There's no bullshit in the songs," says Roberts. "We're just trying to make music that is truthful and from the heart. Hopefully the audience will see where we're coming from."
Athlete will play at the World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut St.) Oct. 5.