erasing clouds

The Guild League, Speak Up

review by dave heaton

The Guild League has been a band, not just a one-person show, for a while now, but still I have a tendency to think of it as the Lucksmiths’ Tali White’s travelogue side project. That’s based on strong impressions set by the first album, where he set travel-journal entries to song. I had that tendency until now – their third album Speak Up washed that clear away.

It’s not just that there’s clearly a band playing now: a six-piece band, with rock instruments that fill the songs up and horns that burst in and make it tempting to use the word “ska”. It’s also the outlook of the songs themselves. These are not first-person journal entries; they look outward to society, call out to people. It’s activism music, not with one agenda, but a populist call to ‘let our voices be heard’.

Speak Up opens with an underdog anthem, a song declaring that we’re ready to be the nagging annoyance that tirelessly bugs the powerful. It’s a hopeful song, too: “one day our day will come / that’s one thing you can count on.” The next song asks, “if not now then when? / if not you then who? / can I get a witness?” If outspoken leader seems an unlikely role for White, he wears it well. He doesn’t just sing out his positions -- for hope over cynicism, heart over cold logic, people over profits – as if they are simple routes for everyone to take. He conveys the difficulties of these choices. But the Guild League’s music also embodies the side they’re on. This is a firecracker of an album that explodes with the boisterous sound of hope.

The most sullen songs on Speak Up don’t have that more low mood to signify sulking. They project the contemplation that goes into these struggles. They’re weighted with thought, with the mulling over direction and choices and consequences that goes on within each living person. In a way the album continually tracks an attempt to break out from the dull existence that it can be easy to slip into. White’s lyrics describe that complacent state as clearly as the alternative. On “Where’s the Color”, he paints a vivid picture: “smoke-smell clings to sweat-soaked jeans / once you spoke well / now you lean and sway / and the day dies unfulfilled / unseen.”

The observant side of lyric-writing that the Lucksmiths consistently nail is present here too. And even their recent interest in bird-watching; in “Limited Express” he uses birds as a metaphor for our own longing to speak aloud: “the ragged fledgling wattlebirds all soaked down to their down / well they still find time to bicker and to squawk.” One of the album’s most detailed narratives, “Limited Express” puts inner feelings of loneliness and defeatism within the context of a city’s physical elements. The song ultimately sees the city as a conversation that the song’s protagonist longs to jump into.

One of the quietest songs on “Speak Up” describes the ways ideas grow within us, using detailed comparisons: “quiet enough for you to hear / a child born to the unprepared”. Speak Up is an effort to draw those ideas out of us. As he sings in “Where’s the Colour?”, “speak up / speak up / ‘cause there could be some truth in the things you say!”


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