As soon as I saw the label Indie Rock as a description for the Cambridge-based The British IBM, I knew that I was about to listen to a pretty creative and mellow album. I was thrilled to give a seemingly innocuous record with early 2000s rock influences a spin to cleanse the palette of the aggression I listen to daily. Play The Game is an album that tends to get better on repeat listens, indicative of the band’s ability to write catchy hooks and upbeat tracks. Additionally, the depressing nature of several songs satisfies the appetite for despondent indie rock that’s been missing since Neutral Milk Hotel stopped being a thing.
From the get-go, there’s a ‘create-an-indie-rock-band’ feel to the music, yet something distinct enough to separate TheBritishIBM apart from the plethora of Arctic Monkeys copycats. One of the personal highlights for me is the mellow and slightly melancholic “Darkness Follows,” which is ripe with groovy basslines and contains a tumultuous ride of emotions. “Man Of The Hour” is easily the standout track on the album, commencing with infectious riffs that lead into what can only be described as radio rock at its most exquisite. The vocal range here is far more robust than any other point on the album, immersing listeners on a vintage-inspired rollercoaster ride to nostalgia.
You can accurately describe this album in one phrase: gleefully melancholic. The fluctuation from distressed and sorrowful feelings to an upbeat attitude is quite frequent on Play The Game. While doleful tracks and rampant misery tend to be innate in the genre, it’s entirely appropriate on this album, and the visceral emotional reactions are more natural than manufactured. At other times, I caught myself moving to the music, demonstrating the efficacy of the music to get even the glummest of music listeners to become the most animated characters on the dance floor.
However, one major flaw with Play The Game is that there’s not a whole lot of diversity. Even with the severe lack of eclectic styles, the overall experience isn’t hampered because we get a glimpse of the immense talent behind the music. The music does seem a tad formulaic at times, with several songs blending together quite effortlessly in the middle of the album, but another intriguing aspect of this record is the constant feeling of deja-vu. With the influences of Arctic Monkeys, Modest Mouse, and even Arcade Fire are almost a little too prevalent. For example, the riffs on “Home” instantly reminded me of the track “The Suburbs” by the Arctic Monkeys, which likely played a massive role in dictating the band’s style way back when.
Despite my criticisms, there’s a lot to like about this record. The easy-going nature of the music is enhanced with surprise progressive rock elements on tracks like “Sunrise Technology,” making this an entertaining listen. While it’s not groundbreaking in any sense, Play The Game has created a new fan of The British IBM in yours truly.
Written by Jonathan Berthold
*edited by Danielle Kenedy