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If the post-punk revival of the last few years has taught us anything, it’s that our idea of what “guitar music” should sound like has remained stagnant since the genre’s first wave. After releasing their EP Grand National in 2021, Liverpool quartet Courting sought to be an exception to the rule, proving themselves a force to be reckoned with in an increasingly crowded class of new bands. Now, they’ve returned with their daring debut album called Guitar Music, of course.
The record’s title is tongue-in-cheek, but frontman Sean Murphy-O’Neill says they weren’t looking to criticize the genre — just enhance what they could accomplish with it. “We wanted to expand on what guitar music could be,” he tells Alternative Press, “and say, ‘There's no reason that this has to be an uninteresting, generic art form when compared to pop artists or rappers.’ I think both of those genres allow artists to very freely take from other spaces. Whereas in rock, I feel like there's some weird, old-fashioned ethos where bands don't borrow from other genres.”
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Guitar Music feels like a sampler of recent music history: Think jittery punk combined with hyperpop innovators like SOPHIE or Charli XCX or more experimental efforts from JPEGMAFIA and then blend it with touches of everything from Brian Eno to 100 gecs to Katy Perry. Still, from the deadpan delivery and thrumming bass of lead single “Tennis” to the glitchy gentrification anthem “Loaded,” the album manages to feel like a fresh, cohesive statement rather than a collection of influences.
To capture their singular vision on record, the band decided an unorthodox recording process was in order: First, they worked with Rob Whiteley in Liverpool to track all of the songs, then traveled to London to pull everything apart and put it back together again with producer James Dring.
“Instead of doing it live in a room together, we gathered all the stems into one place,” Murphy-O’Neill recalls. “I handed [Dring] these songs broken into pieces. We were like, ‘All right, let's put them back together. Let's take out things it doesn't need. Let’s add what it does need. Let’s make it weirder.’ What I actually approached him with when we made the album was, ‘Would you like to make a record that’s really fucking weird for a rock band?’ That's what interested him.” While leaving room for experimentation, he stresses that their first full-length body of work, clocking in at a brisk 32 minutes, was purposely concise: “We wrote nine songs and struggled with them until they were completed in a format that we were happy with. The [debut] albums that we tended to love the most were short and snappy: all killer, no filler.”
Alongside the evolution in sound, the band hit their stride in lyrics that read like fragmented storytelling, homing in on a knack for taking celebrity culture, online discourse and antiquated notions about popular music and deconstructing them completely. In a world where “fame” is so omnipresent that it doesn’t mean anything anymore, they look to examine (and occasionally poke fun at) the concept altogether. Even if that aspect doesn’t speak to the average listener, they still render pretty much any situation to be laugh-out-loud funny; it’s hard to think of a different band describing a transactional relationship like they do on “Tennis”: “You’re a night in the Holiday Inn/I’m a breakfast bar with an unusual toasting conveyor belt.”
Murphy-O’Neill confirms it’s an “online record,” but the band attempted to counteract the cynicism with earnest sentiment: “We were stuck in that mode of just writing things that were more abstract or political to avoid having to face writing more personal songs. I think we set ourselves that challenge because at the end of the day, personal, emotional music will always be more effective, regardless of genre.” The result is as thoughtful as it is sinister, taking both the music it was inspired by and the ideas it explores seriously — even if stereotypical guitar culture won’t.
“I hope people don't judge this album as if we're an indie band trying to be shocking, and more that we just really like the music that we’re making,” the frontman says. “The best thing you can do is completely trust in your own creative process, and even if you come up with something at the end that isn't great, you can't overthink what you're doing. It's very important to trust your intuition.”