‘First The Tale Then The Head’ is emotional, bruising, and sometimes sci-fiy blend of Zen philosophers, jaunt guitar licks and Baroque bangers. Rising from a lonely snippet of Alan Watts (English philosopher of LSD Easternism), the tone of the record is set by ‘Nineteen’, with its swirling riff and lyrics about maturity’s imposition. ‘Even With Teeth’ sounds even more upbeat (somehow) for a song about squander and self-loathing, with a Smithian sensibility in everything expect the vocals. Unexpectedly then, ‘Living Like Ghosts’ starts like the bastard sprog of Talking Heads’ ‘Once In A Lifetime’ and The Cure’s ‘Lullaby’, morphing into pristine chorused guitar, chanting things like ‘Break away / Break away’ and ‘Time now to brace yourself / To face yourself and break the building blocks in’.
The instrumental ‘Rome’ ushers in the last act, with speedy guitar-picking smoothed over by gravelly violin. As a closer, ‘Everyone Looks Better In Sepia’ works a lot better than ‘Nineteen’ did as an opener; a droning exorcism of care, ‘We think a lot and then we die’. With orchestration smudging in from ‘Rome’, it exhibits the traumatic euphoria of early Bloc Party’s ‘Blue Light’ (for want of a better touchstone), a dizzying reorientation of perspective.
As a whole, the EP works best with the transcendentalism of its first and last tracks, giving a grand sweep to the idea of life’s indeterminacy outside the context of growing up and finding your way in the world. Moreover, each song offers a reconciliation of living and not knowing how to live, because as Alan Watts puts it, ‘You are something the whole universe is doing, in the same way the wave is something the whole ocean is doing’. Perhaps more could have been done to vary the arrangements, but on the whole ‘First The Head, Then The Tale’ is a unusually unified if musically un-psychedelic meditation on adolescent anxiety.