This is a hands-on project for The Futureheads' Dave Hyde and Neil Bassett, ex-drummer with the Golden Virgins. Aside from the fact that these are eleven tracks of very personalised music, Slow Down is also out on the pair's own label, Tail Feather Records. The duo take production and writing credits on all but one of the songs - the exception is track 7, (And the) Pictures In The Sky.
It's also a very cohesive selection of songs, with its own strong identity, rather than the random array of styles that sometimes accompanies this kind of side-project when undertaken on a whim.
While I say Slow Down displays firm cohesion, that is not to say that it becomes samey at any point. Indeed, there are individual examples of specific musical genres or styles that stand out even among the strong characters of the other tracks.
Wolfman Blues is one - I'll talk about potential criticism of this track below, but for me it's always good to hear something a little experimental. From the first off-key, strained guitar strum, you know that's what this is going to be, and it's more about rhythm than tune. It does, however, manage to be at once easy-listening and attention-grabbing, while still progressing musically over its relatively short 110-second lifespan.
Louis' Lullaby rounds off the track listing perfectly, putting Slow Down to sleep with a warm hug. Just as Wolfman Blues lives up to its bluesey moniker, so Louis' Lullaby is a peaceful combination of guitar and bass that soothes and leaves the listener with a sense of relaxation to take with them from their half-hour journey through Slow Down.
Critics will find brief passages of this album self-indulgent at the expense of the greater good, with the entire duration of Wolfman Blues one example of this, a long and distorted instrumental sequence reminiscent of Tom Waits' more experimental album tracks. Further criticism could reasonably be levelled at the low energy levels of many tracks; this is a laid-back, almost lazy collection of music, but deliberately so - as indicated by its title. Take a moment to listen to the pace of the instrumental backing in particular, and the slow-motion delivery of the vocals takes on its own intended significance.
As for the positives, there are plenty. Hyde & Beast have a mature sound, with its own idiosyncracies to share with the listener. That helps to give Slow Down an identity all of its own, rather than it occupying the middle ground between the groups for which its collaborators are better known. As Popsiculture's Dan Penman pointed out in his preview of the album, you are as likely to find references to 60s American rock as to the vocal harmonies of The Futureheads, for an easy-listening and warm end result - think summer nights around the campfire with one bearded guitarist determined to share his skills with everyone present. Only not as cringeworthy.
Final Score: 75%